BEIRUT: Two things will instantly strike viewers perusing the paintings and sculptures by Lebanese artist Raffi Yedalian currently on show at Art on 56th in Gemmayzeh. Both of them are characteristics of work by Italian modernist painter and sculptor Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920).
Like the famous Italian artist, Yedalian paints portraits of figures with angular, unnaturally elongated faces and bodies. Like many of Modigliani’s subjects, the figures have blank, colored orbs for eyes. The smooth surface of their eyeballs, a giant iris free of pupil and cornea, gives Yedalian’s subjects an eerie, otherworldly look, as though they were aliens from a John Wyndham novel masquerading as human.
His new work is more exaggerated, his subjects’ faces increasingly angular
Melancholy expressions and somber gray tones give new meaning to the expression “to have a long face,” in Yedalian’s work. His figurative subjects, with their aquiline noses and pursed lips, are at odds with the titles of his paintings, emotive statements such as “Live Together” and “Claimants for Peace.”
In the latter work, a crowd of faces press close together, their blank, black eyes ringed by lids resembling fleshy lips that make up for their lack of mouths. The impression is of a homogenous pack of people waiting in grim silence to collect what they’ve been promised. They may come in peace, but their massed ranks and near identical features are unsettlingly suggestive of an army.
The exhibition, entitled “Passion of Humanity,” consists of delicate ink-on-paper sketches, oil and acrylic paintings and a number of sculptures in bronze and wood.
Those who attended the artist’s solo show at Saifi Village’s SV Gallery (formerly Galerie Piece Unique) in November 2012 will notice numerous similarities between his older work and the pieces on show in this exhibition, most of which were completed in 2014.
Yedalian’s subject matter and distinctive style remain more or less consistent, although his new work is more exaggerated, his subjects’ faces increasingly angular and forbidding.
They may not be cozy images of peace and harmony, as their titles suggest, but the paintings are aesthetically appealing and varied enough to retain viewers’ interest. Numerous works in the artist’s preferred palette of blacks, grays and muted blues are offset by a few colorful paintings, in which the nondescript monochrome of the subjects’ bodies is juxtaposed with a rich red or bright yellow backdrop.
His tiny sketches, neatly finished drawings that might be studies for larger works, are particularly endearing. Their delicate lines and cross-hatched shading lend the compositions a boldness and simplicity lacking in the paintings.
Yedalian is also an accomplished sculptor. A couple of bronzes in a softer, more rounded style are paired with some pieces resembling three-dimensional renderings of his paintings.
“Division” captures a face split in two lengthways. The left hand section of the sculpture bears a knife-blade nose, a pair of plump lips and one deep-set eye above a hollow cheek. The right side is a single flat expanse, topped by a shadowed indent indicating the second eye. A nicely balanced mixture of flat plains and curved surfaces, the sculpture urges viewers to run a hand over its textured forehead and smooth, polished nose.
A single work in wood also captures a bisected face, this one forming a rough crucifix shape. Yedalian has carved an abstract geometric pattern, a series of squares and lines, into the surface of the wood around the smoothly protruding features. The squares are echoed three-dimensionally in the series of wooden cubes that extends from the left side of the figure’s head, like abstract extensions of the eyebrow and eyelids.
“Passion of Humanity” is too restrained and self-consciously eerie to convey much emotion, let alone a sense of passion. But Yedalian’s rigid, angular figures with their staring eyes and impossibly lengthy bodies are unexpectedly appealing, their mute forms seeming to cry out for help or affection.
Raffi Yedalian’s “Passion of Humanity” is on show at Gemmayzeh’s Art on 56th until Oct. 18. For more information, please call 01-570-331.