Gran’s “Portrait d’un Inconnu”
Beirut - Arabstoday
Body language is a glorious thing. Sometimes, body language – gestures, postures, gazes into the distance – is of great importance in (sometimes inadvertently) conveying what cannot be expressed with words. The noise people emit from their gobs may be the most tedious drivel imaginable, but all that can be undone by listening less and devoting more attention to how they array themselves before, during and after communication.The body is the theme unifying the work of artists as diverse as Hussein Madi, Catherine Gran and Bahram Hajou in “Face a Face,” the new show at Aida Cherfan Fine Art Gallery. This exhibition features paintings by nine local and international artists, all of them with their own approach to, and goals in, representing the body.
The oil-on-canvas “Femme Timide” (121.5x46.5 cm) is the show’s sole work by Czech-born French artist Franta. It depicts a nude woman standing with her hands covering her face. Franta uses dark blue and grey hues for the body. The background wash is dappled with highly evocative smears of orange, blue and red.
This application of texture and color palette – to both the female figure and her context – conveys an aspect marbled three-dimensionality. The bashfulness, or shame, of the woman’s posture adds an additional layer of implied narrative to the work. From the title (Shy Woman in English), you assume the subject isn’t a consenting nude; the rest is left to the imagination.
Two mixed media-on-canvas pieces by Syrian artist Bahram Hajou both focus on women. In “Confidences Bleues” (Blue Confessions, 140x120 cm) portrays a pair of women. One, standing, is clothed in a blue dress, while the other appears to be sitting on a table, nude but for what could be a brusque application of form-accentuating flour or whitewash to her breasts, belly and thighs.
Both women seem to be scrutinizing the artist (and therefore the onlooker), as though we’d disturbed an intimate moment. The understated expression of accusation in these figures is enough to make you feel awkwardly voyeuristic.
All figurative, the works exhibited in this collective show represent the body in many different ways.
French artist Jeanne Lorioz is known for her exaggerated depictions of female figures in feminine postures, her object being to mock commercial representations of feminine beauty in popular media. In her acrylic-on-wood piece “La Fugueuse” (33x24 cm), Lorioz’s figure is rendered clutching a bemused-looking female doll by the throat. The lady’s expansive, ribbon-accentuated posterior faces the onlooker, her black dress set off by white embroidery at the neck and hem.
There is a delicious ambiguity in this figure. On one hand she could be a formally dressed, rotund little girl, whose upbringing is alluded to in her less than maternal way of holding her doll, and in the title of the work (The Runaway Girl in English). On the other hand, the figure’s outfit approximates that of a domestic servant (perhaps a nanny) in a bourgeois European household. In that case, it may be the perplexed-looking doll that was caught in the act of escape.
“La Musicienne” (141x110 cm), an acrylic-on-canvas piece by Lebanon’s Hussein Madi, portrays a woman sitting on a chair with an oud in her lap. Though the artist has deployed a bright palette of reds, oranges and greens, the figure is rendered with remarkably flatness, which – along with the way her arms are arrayed on the instrument and the look of anesthetized irritability in her expression – radiate boredom.
The depiction of the figure is thus at cross purposes with the “cheerful tradition” expectations evoked by both the folk music motif and the bright colors Madi uses to depict it. Bright colors don’t always make for cheerful work.
“Portrait d’un Inconnu,” (120x120 cm) the oil-on-canvas piece by Russian-born Catherine Gran is a tour de force of color and texture – the latter laced with cubist jokes.
Here an anonymous man (his anonymity assured by his being portrayed from the neck down) sits, nonchalant, on a bright red (perhaps leather) sofa, besieged by an array of boxes and unfolded paper. All the other elements in the scene – including the man’s wardrobe and the hound that lies on one of these boxes, looking knowingly forlorn – are variations on a theme of grey or brown.
Gran’s palette underlines the apparent contradiction between the tranquility of the man and his dog and the cubist chaos surrounding them. It may take a moment or two to realize that the application of red to represent the sofa provides a framing device, directing the onlookers’ gaze to the center of the work – which happens to be the man’s crotch.
And why not. Artists do depict bodies so they can be looked at.
The collective exhibition “Face a Face” is at Downtown’s Aida Cherfan Fine Art Gallery until Feb. 7. For more information please call 01-983-111.