War, School and Faces: An art of colorful torment

BEIRUT: What could possibly link the work of U.S. pop artist Jim Dine and French painter Robert Combas? One answer could be Lebanese artist Habib Fadel, whose works betray the source of his artistic inspiration.

“War, School and Faces,” now up at Mogabgab Gallery, showcases 25 of Fadel’s recent works. These paintings propel onlookers into a realm of childlike sketches, chaotic color and thick, tortured brushstrokes.

Born in 1968, Fadel, then based in California, first set course for a career in filmmaking.

Then, following an illness, he found his arm paralyzed. Unable to hold a camera for a spell, he meandered though the state’s museums, where he discovered a sudden passion for painting.

His work addresses the themes of war, the quest for identity, memory and nostalgia – all of which are familiar to citizens of Lebanon.

What may shock first-time viewers of Fadel’s work is his choice of palette. A cacophony of color lacerates the gallery walls like scenes from an explosion.

In “Bloody Friday” (oil on canvas, 200x160 cm) thick, apparently abstract, applications of red, blue, green and yellow coalesce into a species of abstract impressionism.

At its center is a human figure, with its arms stretched and mouth open. The character might be arrayed in a pose of celebration, were it not for the chaotic application of color that forms both its context and its content.

The work need not have been named “Bloody Friday” to convey the figure’s torment, but it does help invoke Christian devotional representations of the crucifixion – a suspicion verified by the crudely rendered spike-like shapes protruding from the figure’s feet.

If it is in fact meant to be a representation of his mother, Fadel’s disturbing “Mom” (oil-on-canvas, 180x200 cm) may leave some onlookers dubious.

In compositional terms, this painstaking accumulation of color bulging from the canvas seems random. If there is a trace of a female figure here, the onlooker may be hard pressed to find the formal characteristics of a single woman.

It’s tempting to posit that the piece is the artist’s completely emotional, formally unrefined vision of his mother – as though the thought of her were too complex to allow for figuration. Yet the bulges and curves of some of the work’s individual smears are subtle enough that tortured humanoid figures can be detected in the maelstrom, clutching at the indiscernible objects depicted by brushstrokes, or else at each other, like bodies writhing in pandemonium.

Insofar as it is meant to be representational, the artist’s portrayal of “Dad” (oil-on-canvas, 160x110 cm) is at once decipherable and more gloomy.

The work blends a range of earth tones – hues of gray, black and brown, green and blue. The brushstrokes are far less extravagant than in other works, at times thinner, almost scratched. The effect is to leave this father corporal yet disfigured, like a nightmare of one of Goya’s demons.

There are tales of influence to be read into this work. The traces of green, red and yellow that form its one discernible eye, and its anatomic vision make this work reminiscent of some of Robert Combas’ surrealistic representations of human figures.

Fadel’s Western inspiration may also be read into his oil-on-canvas work “Living Heart.” Set against a background of solid, dark, segmented color, the organ itself is represented by delicately applied dribbles and sprinkles of white, red, blue, yellow and green.

U.S. pop artist Jim Dine is one of thousands to employ this image in many of his paintings. The sculpture “The Technicolor Heart” and his painting “The Circus” are among Dine’s better-known heart-themed works. Fadel’s piece cannot but evoke memories of Dine.

Fadel’s art shimmers with potential readings. His great strength resides in his layering of distinct application technique to create contrasting textures. His fiery palette, the sheer size of his canvases and the childlike aspect of his abstract representations are endlessly diverting. Habib Fadel’s “War, School and Faces” is now up at Ashrafieh’s Mogabgab Gallery until Nov. 30. For more information please call 03-210-424.





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