Painting as a means to cleanse the soul

Human faces, such as this untitled work (100x100 cm), are Moura’s artistic leitmotif.

BEIRUT: English scholar and literary critic Frank Laurence Lucas defined catharsis as purging the human soul “of its excessive passions,” in reaction to Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle’s definition in his “Poetics.”

Any human being should have his/her own way of purging, cleansing the soul from its deepest emotive turmoil. Some find the answer in drawing, singing or dancing, while others find it in painting. This is what 27-year-old Lebanese artist Mohamad Mourad did in his first solo exhibition “Compositions!” now up at Zamaan Gallery. In an interview given to The Daily Star in the artistic venue, Mourad explained he used to draw everywhere. It was his way of “opening a door to life,” as he said.

Whether angry, sad or happy, Mourad used his pencils and paintbrushes as intermediaries to express what he couldn’t with words. Born in a small village in the Bekaa Valley and student in interior design at the Lebanese International University, Mourad shows – through the 35 untitled works displayed – a technique that will amaze most of the viewers.

What can immediately be noticed is how the young artist centered most of his paintings (25) and sketches (10) on the human face. When asked why such focus on portraying faces, Mourad confesses that it isn’t intentional. For him, it is not someone in particular but the means for him to “see life through human faces,” he says.

“Facial contours [are] the subject that express human conditions,” as written in the press release.

The faces in Mourad’s works are very similar: elongated with a thin nose and almond-shaped eyes. Some onlookers may find these faces gazing in despair, others will say they are in pain. But that is the beauty of Mourad’s art. Although portraiture is a specific painting technique, these acrylic-on-canvas and drawings give spectators a freedom of interpretation somewhat inexistent in classical portrayals.

Intriguing enough, viewers immediately notice the faces while the artist says he noticed them several days after painting. It is astounding to see such a young artist with so much technique and detachment from his works.

Mourad mainly uses his fingers and knives to paint, giving each artwork a distinctive touch different than the others. In some acrylic works, the face is in the background, erased by the scratched layers of paint. In others works, that same face is the center of attention, in a neutral grey or white background.

At first, some viewers may think that layers and layers of paint have been juxtaposed on the canvases. But when we get closer to the artwork, we notice there is no such accumulation of paint. Just like an optical illusion, these works are thin in material but not in technique.

A question that may spring to onlookers’ minds may be why none of these faces have feminine or childlike features. Most of Mourad’s artwork is rough and lacks a certain sensuality, something that cannot be linked to femininity or childhood. Subconsciously, the artist may have told himself that women or children need to be delicately painted with precise brushstrokes. The somewhat brutal and aggressive impressions coming out from the works may not have been suitable for other figures except masculine.

With his compositions, Mourad shows his tour de force in mastering methods that are usually attributed to artists with years and years of experience. It is his first exhibition, but it will probably not be his last one.

Mohamad Mourad’s “Compositions!” are up at Zamaan Gallery in Sadat Street until Dec. 15. For more information, call 01-745-571.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 27, 2012, on page 16.




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