BEIRUT: French novelist Victor Hugo was putatively thinking about William Shakespeare when he wrote, in the 1860s, that “music expresses that which cannot be put into words and cannot remain silent.”
About a decade later, English critic and writer Walter Pater wrote that “All art constantly aspires toward the condition of music.” No doubt there are many such maxims in many languages.
Perhaps one or more of these proved to be of some inspiration to Lebanese artists Soraya Obeid and Paula Salem. The pair are co-stars of an exhibition of their recent paintings at Joanna Seikaly Gallery in Gemmayzeh. Though untitled, the show’s works are all inspired by music, despite Obeid and Salem working in quite different styles.
Salem’s paintings can be described as colorfully chaotic. Working mainly in acrylics and mixed media, her pieces are discrete explosions of bright multiply-hued abstractions.
“My Galaxy,” her large (180x120cm) mixed media on canvas mingles oranges, black, yellows and greens. Bits of broken records have been glued to the canvas and painted over – the fragments Salem’s representations of planets.
Her galaxy is literally comprised of music – at any rate the technologies that have been used to record music – and the colorful brushstrokes overlaying them can be read as melodic waves trying to intertwine with one another.
In “Red Note” (100x100cm), the artist assaults a somber blue and purple background with gouts of yellow, white and red.
Only after having absorbed this confusion of color does the onlooker realizes that there is a LP affixed to the upper-left hand side of the work.
It is as though the LP – which has been broken into two parts – were the source of the jets of red paint shooting across the canvas, as though the broken record were bleeding.
If the “red note” in question represents waves of blood-colored music, you’re left wondering whether the broken record can also be read in metaphorical terms – politics being among the many forces that can dampen music.
Obeid’s artwork works within a calmer, more restrained palette, implying a perhaps more spiritual, quality.
“The Voice of the Heart” (oil on canvas, 120x100cm) deploys a much more subdued range of hues than any of Salem’s works.
Browns, off-whites and hints of yellow appear to be cast in arcs across the canvas, as seen from the calm of interplanetary distance. Having lost momentum, the lines of force take on the aspect of runoff, or perhaps icicles.
It’s no surprise that with all this color the onlooker’s eye is drawn to the quiet heart of the cyclone, helpfully rendered as a whitewashed red spot in the center of the piece.
Alongside Salem’s riotous color there is a sense of gloom and an almost eerie quality about Obeid’s work.
In other works, Obeid makes use of a brighter and more upbeat palette. “The Embrace” (90x90cm) juxtaposes warm and cold colors, almost in symmetry.
Here too the principal colors – purples, blues and grays – seem to be in motion, as though moving in time with some unheard melody.
Obeid represents music as a landscape – though some onlookers may have difficulty relating the two.
Fortunately, all the paintings are equipped with brief exhibition tags that point out the relationship between Obeid’s oils and music.
Both artists utilize dynamic brushstrokes in creating their work, creating an impression of constant motion. What better way to aspire to the condition of music?
Soraya Obeid and Paula Salem’s works are on display at Gemmayzeh’s Joanna Seikaly Gallery until Oct. 4. For more information, please call 70-776-711.