Specialist Hala Khayat introduces five of the region’s leading modern and contemporary artists, featuring works offered in Christie’s Dubai sale on 16 March 2016
Saliba Douaihy (Lebanese, 1912-1994), Untitled, 1972. Oil on canvas. This work was offered in Modern & Contemporary Art on 16 March 2016 at Christie’s in Dubai and sold for $125,000
In 1950, Saliba Douaihy left his native Lebanon for New York. Though his abstract works had gained recognition in his home country, New York’s exploding art scene offered an energy Lebanon did not. Here, Modernist principles vied with a new mode of Abstract Expressionism, with artists including Mark Rothko, Hans Hoffman and Ad Reinhardt challenging approaches to form and colour.
The move visibly shaped Douaihy’s output. After 10 years in New York, his earlier academic style had all but disappeared, to be replaced with a new mode of minimal abstraction. Working in series, the artist produced canvases depicting flat, monochromatic forms, their blocks of vibrant colour cut with fine lines and sharp edges. The style characterised his production until his death in 1994.
Composed of brightly coloured, interlinking asymmetrical planes, the three Untitled works in this sale explore Douaihy’s principle of ‘infinite space’, in which paradoxically ‘flat’ colour appears to extend beyond the boundaries of the canvas edge. Though abstract, the works echo Douaihy’s earlier realist landscapes — a reference, perhaps, to the enduring influence of his childhood home in the Northern Lebanese Mountains.
Mahmoud Saïd (Egyptian, 1897-1964), La Cathédrale de Lausanne, 1922. Oil on cardboard. This work was offered in Modern & Contemporary Art on 16 March 2016 at Christie’s in Dubai and sold for $55,000
The son of Egypt’s Prime Minister, Mahmoud Saïd worked as a lawyer, prosecutor and judge, before becoming the chief Justice Councillor of the Alexandria Mixed Court. Though his successful legal career met with society’s approval, it denied a much stronger desire to make art. In 1920, Saïd left Egypt to study under painters in Florence and Paris, becoming a full time artist in 1947.
Saïd’s oil paintings employ Western techniques to capture his native Egypt, depicting scenes of contemporary life that referenced the country’s long history. His subjects included veiled, statuesque women filling water jars at the edge of ancient temples, men in turbans operating traditional Shadoofs, dances and scenes of Islamic ritual.
Shaker Hassan Al Saïd
Shaker Hassan Al Said (Iraqi, 1925-2004), Kitabat a'la jidar raqam (1) (Writings on the Wall number (1)), 1978. Oil on board. This work was offered in Modern & Contemporary Art on 16 March 2016 at Christie’s in Dubai
The Baghdad Modern Art Group was established in 1951, its members championing art that drew upon the country’s heritage, or istilham al-turath. A founding member, Shaker Hassan Al Saïd came to be recognised as a pioneer of Iraqi modern art, penning a manifesto that has been described as ‘the true birth of modern art in Iraq’ (Qatar’s Mathaf Museum).
As a teacher, theorist and historian, Al Saïd was rooted in both past and present, his international outlook resulting in works that were a synthesis of Arab culture and European modernism. A brief period in France introduced the artist to works by Braque, Picasso and Klee, with the flat colour planes and bold contours of the post-Impressionist Cloissonist style also a visible influence.
Dia Al-Azzawi (Iraqi, b. 1939), Ashikan (Lovers), 1969. Oil on canvas. This work was offered in Modern & Contemporary Art on 16 March 2016 at Christie’s in Dubai and sold for $173,000
Along with Shaker Hassan Al Saïd, Dia Al-Azawwi is regarded as one of Iraq’s most influential Modern artists, creating works that merge contemporary techniques with references to ancient traditions. A former archaeology student, Al-Azawwi grew up captivated by the artefacts of the Iraq Museum, which continued to hold an influence when he studied at Iraq’s Institute of Fine Art in 1964.
In 1969, Al-Azawwi became a founding member of Iraq’s New Vision Group, its members united not by style, but by a desire to change an art scene they felt had grown rigid. Active during a period of political unrest, their works also reflected a need to articulate a response to changes across the Arab world.
Monir Farmanfarmian (Iranian, b. 1924), Mirror Ball, circa 1974-1977. Mirror-mosaic and reverse-glass painting on plaster base. This work was offered in Modern & Contemporary Art on 16 March 2016 at Christie’s in Dubai and sold for $131,000
Iranian artist Monir Farmanfarmaian lived and worked in New York from 1945-57, meeting artists including Milton Avery, Willem de Kooning, and Joan Mitchell. Other acquaintances included Andy Warhol, who gave Farmanfarmaian a selection of illustrations in exchange for a mirror ball — the glittering object remaining on the desk of Warhol’s Madison Avenue home until his death in 1987.
In 1957, Farmanfarmaian returned to her native country, learning traditional art forms including Turkoman jewellery, reverse-glass painting and coffee-house painting — a popular form of Iranian narrative art. In 1979, the Islamic Revolution would force her to leave again: Farmanfarmaian began a 26-year exile in New York, although her attachment to her distant homeland remained central to her practice.
Farmanfarmaian’s mirror balls exude the glitzy pop culture the artist encountered in 1970s America, employing the reverse glass painting she had learnt in Iran to cast kaleidoscopic beams of coloured light. Though far removed from New York’s disco scene, the traditions of Islamic design, with its geometric forms, continued to be an influence.
Main image at top: Mahmoud Saïd (Egyptian, 1897-1964), Le Nil à El Derr (Nubie) (The Nile in El Derr, Nubia), 1933. Oil on panel. This work was offered in Modern & Contemporary Art on 16 March 2016 at Christie’s in Dubai and sold for $701,000
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