BEIRUT: “Space and Time,” the debut exhibition in Verdun’s Espace 9 displays the works of Lebanese artist Aziza Assad. As the title suggests, the works on show ruminate on the themes of space and time – themes that might be in sync with Assad’s travels and exhibitions in Paris as well as in Lebanon.
That said, these motifs are not addressed in an obvious manner. In a way, Assad’s canvases suggest these notions with an experimental and subtle approach. Her style can be seen as abstracted, geometric, and cubic.
Indeed, “Composition 31,” an acrylic from 2011, represents cubic and rectangular forms in different sizes. They are placed on top of one another and resemble the bent shapes of Sol LeWitt’s “Wall Painting 527.” In fact, Assad refers to her work as “Nouveau Realisme.”
“For as long as I can remember, becoming an artist was my ultimate goal,” she told The Daily Star. “Even as a child I was attracted by art in general. All sorts of art, styles and even elements inspire me from our everyday life ... but my work is definitely inspired by cubism.
“Nouveau Realisme is a form of modernism that incorporates fragments of the world into the work,” she continued. “It is in opposition to abstract art as it is a direct appropriation of reality. It is a way of bringing life and art together.
“I think I am in constant need to discover and experiment with new techniques, materials and styles. I have an insatiable thirst for new possibilities,” Assad added.
Her works emulate a variety of approaches – portraiture and collages (like “Composition 25”), vertical lines (“Composition 20”) and cube-ish compositions such as “Composition 19.”
Assad’s interesting color palette evokes a dark, industrial space. It juxtaposes dark shades of gray, off-whites and blacks with cool bursts of pastels – pink, green, and vibrant red. Assad’s paintings create nostalgic, almost looming, vistas reminiscent of futurism.
“Composition 27” is an acrylic-and-collage on cardboard work. Part of the artist’s 2013 architecture series, it depicts an ensemble of vertical lines, and elongated rectangles which, along with the grays and reds, form what seems to be a modern building.
The contrast between the texture of the acrylic and that of the collage gives the painting an extra layer. The vertical geometrical composition resembles 20th-century grid paintings, such as Paul Klee’s “In The Current Six Thresholds,” 1929, mixed with Mondrian’s colors. This recollection of the 20th century, particularly architectural modernism, concretizes this idea of an implicit “Space and Time.”
The painting prefers to show rather than tell.
This is also the case with Assad’s portraits, which represent abstracted women in similar styles. All have common characteristics – elongated necks, pointy faces, big eyes, Mona Lisa smiles, and 1950s coiffures. They seem to create mirror images of one another. This may suggest a specific epoch in history, perhaps even the way women were idealised in the portrayals of mid-20th century Lebanese art.
This idea of mirroring is reinforced in “Compositions 36” and “Composition 39,” in which – for reasons obscure to the painter herself – the same woman is depicted in different colors.
“This woman has somehow become an obsession for me,” Assad explained. “I am constantly trying to paint that image that ‘haunts me.’ As for who she is, your guess is as good as mine. Maybe discovering her identity would kill the mystery.”
It might be suggested from the painter’s exhibition theme and other works that “the woman” herself has become a space. Her re-emergence in several paintings may be a revisiting of a space throughout time as the paintings were completed in different years.
“Space and Time” is the first solo of Verdun’s newest exhibition space. Espace 9 is well organized and, in this exhibition, has arranged the paintings by size and theme. The intimate setting of the gallery provides a closed space where the viewer can closely interact with the artworks. Assad’s interesting “Space and Time” exhibition joins the chorus of voices that would reintroduce cubism to the 21st century.
“Space and Time” runs at Espace 9, Verdun, through Nov. 15.