Alwane’s latest exhibition will suit everyone

Couarraze’s untitled oil on canvas, 100x80 cm. (Grace Kassab/The Daily Star)

BEIRUT: Exhibitions centered on one theme tend to attract a select audience. But with broader shows that tackle a multitude of themes, a wider audience may find their varied tastes satiated.

This is the case in the current show at Saifi’s Alwane Gallery. In its “Collective Show,” the gallery shares more than 100 paintings by 40 local and international artists, giving visitors the opportunity to meander in a space where classical and abstract, figurative and two-dimensional works are displayed together.

The spectator confronts a spectacular clarity and verisimilitude in renowned French painter Pierre-Jean Couarraze’s oils on canvas. His artwork features still-life paintings – an oft-covered territory – but what strikes viewers is the way Couarraze uses the media.

When looking at his untitled painting (100x80 cm), we notice fissures. Couarraze makes us think we are not looking at a canvas, but in fact at a cracked wall. At the same time, his fruits and vegetables seem to have been delicately placed inside a grayish sheet, a sheet that drapes around them as though they were in a nest.

This cocooning impression – emphasized by the dark colors surrounding the produce – contradicts the harshness of the cracks. But the contrast does not disturb the eye of the viewer. It as though we were looking at a reassembled puzzle, or even a wall painting.

Couarraze’s work makes us ponder the purpose of his art. Does he want us to concentrate on the still-life or on the cracks? The cracks are painted with such detail that the viewer may very well wonder if the artist wants us to feel we are looking at an old photograph. The dark blotches of color which occupy a major part of the canvas look like age spots on old prints from film. If Couarraze indeed wanted to portray a torn and reconstructed photograph, perhaps he did so to reduce the stillness of the items in the still life, to add a bit more depth.

Syrian artist Enzo’s untitled mixed-media on canvas (180x120 cm) is more confusing for its viewers than Couarraze’s paintings. We are faced with an abstract work in which we don’t really know what Enzo wants to represent. However, we can decipher what seem to be pieces of paper that have been glued to the canvas and painted over with large blotches of black and yellow.

A void has been left at the center of the canvas, much like the type of hole that results from burning paper. This part of Enzo’s artwork seems to be animated because of its charcoal colored edges – as if the paper were still alight.

Enzo’s complex paintings are tough to understand. But other works at the gallery are simple – and still engaging.

Lebanese artist Amine el-Bacha rendered his oils on canvas in a simplistic, two dimensional style. In one of his untitled works (60x70 cm), the viewer faces a colorful, quite childlike painting. It is separated into 20 squares, each containing a bird, face, tree, sea or geometrical shape. This creates a patchwork of vivid colors and simple sketches. There is no indication of the location or identity of the personalities or items, and this separation and lack of context can be disturbing. In press materials Bacha has said that his paintings are simply representations of what he sees in daily life. What we see is what Bacha saw. Nothing more, nothing less.

From the disconcertingly simple to the intriguingly complex, each person entering the doors of Alwane Gallery in the coming weeks is likely to find a painting that suits his or her keen eye.

The “Collective Show” is on display at Alwane Gallery in Saifi until Nov. 8. For more information please call 01-975-250.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 18, 2011, on page 16.




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