Art to suit the most eccentric of tastes

BEIRUT: Walking around Hamra’s Zamaan Gallery these days is a bit like you’d imagine the experience of rummaging through the attic of an eccentric old aristocrat, one with a fondness for all forms of painting.

Abstracts, still lifes, portraits and experimental works that defy description cover the walls from floor to ceiling.

The only thing these pieces have in common is that each was painted by a Syrian artist and selected to be showcased in the second edition of the gallery’s summer group show “Palettes Syriennes.”

Ensconced in a backroom working on a colorful canvas of his own – while his grandson circles the space on a tricycle – gallery owner Moussa Kobeissi explains that he’s in the middle of selecting the work for the upcoming exhibition, the 14th edition of sister-show “Palettes Irakiennes.” He gestures to the paintings stacked three-deep against the walls, obscuring the lower half of a number of the Syrian works.

Glancing around the gallery’s two front rooms, the disparity in quality, style and subject matter of the work on show by these 29 artists is bewildering and somehow charming.

No white cube-style space, Zamaan Gallery is permanently cluttered, bursting at the seams with whichever works have caught Kobeissi’s eye – some of them for reasons that will doubtless remain a mystery.

An eclectic collection of work, “Palettes Syriennes” is not quite as schizophrenic as last year’s inaugural edition. Yet Kobeissi has hung the works according to an equally unfathomable logic, and much of the show’s fun is to be found in the odd juxtaposition of pieces.

A neat, pastel-hued still life capturing a vase full of vibrant blue blooms hangs beside an eerie work in black-and-murky yellow, depicting two figures whose elongated faces each boast two black chasms for eyes, a knife-blade nose and a gaping mouth. The first might have been picked up at a jumble sale, while the second suggests an artist who has been exorcising his demons.

Beneath these two works, four abstract marble sculptures by Bassam Beydoun-Gharaneet perch on miniature podiums, their smooth forms recalling the much larger curves of Henry Moore.

Elsewhere, a sorrowful-looking old man stares downward from a face picked out in the torn fragments of an Arabic newspaper. The artist, Ahmad Kleige, has painted over his newsprint collage in shades of deep red, terracotta and ochre to create a warm, richly textured portrait.

Nearby, a decorative, aboriginal-style painting by Nadine Ghouli uses pointillism to create an abstract pattern of curling black lines and white swirls on a dull green backdrop. The effect is reminiscent of observing minuscule life forms writhing under a microscope.

On the opposite wall hangs a diametrically opposed piece, a minimalist black, white-and-cream work of Arabic calligraphy executed with a brush, in the style of Chinese calligraphy, and echoing the shape of a treble clef.

Two enormous canvasses by Baroud Ali, one displayed near the entrance, another relegated to a backroom, capture crowds of figurative human faces, perfect ovals with dashes in place of eyes, nose and mouth. Ali succeeds in lending each face character and emotion using just a few spare lines and his bulbous, potato-headed subjects run the gamut from excitement to sorrow to fear. Some even succeed in looking distinctly bored.

A third work by Ali captures one of his distinctive characters peering out at viewers through the window of a real car door, which Ali has contrived to attach to the surface of the canvas. The artist has painted on top of the door to create abstract swirls that calls to mind clusters of flame and billowing smoke. His subject’s look of abject fear suggests a man trapped in a burning vehicle.

It may not display the most sophisticated works in the most thoughtfully curated manner, but Zamaan Gallery’s “Palettes Syriennes” is a lot of fun.

“Palettes Syriennes” is up at Gallery Zamaan in Hamra until Sept. 14. For more information, please call 01-745-571.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 19, 2014, on page 16.




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