Text: Arie Amaya-Akkermans
The self-titled exhibition of Hussein Madi at Albareh Art Gallery in Bahrain, brings together a select collection of sculptures, collages, limited lithographs and prints by the prodigious Lebanese artist whose body of work, encompassing almost every medium available in fine arts, unfolds as an intriguing journey from the world of observable living things towards clean lines arranged in almost alphabetic manner, expressed in almost mathematical terms.
A closer look, or, in the case of his sculptures, a closer touch, reveals that the operation at work here is not the abstraction of known objects and living structures but rather the interiorizing of lived experience and the intimate expression of what objects would look like if we were capable of looking at them as pictograms: Objects that become symbols that become signifiers without losing their quality as either objects or symbols. The careful observer will not fail to detect the reverence of the artist for the rich visual codes of Assyria and the Ancient Near East.
The basic procedure of lines and curves does not give into abstraction but retain a substantive quality in drawing unlimited space around vital symbols and archetypes that manifest as wholeness rather than merely as figurative representations. While the surfaces are almost always two-dimensional the lines meet at an infinite number of junctions that smoothly blend into each other creating the illusion – visual, tactile, emotional – that one is entering a world that he perhaps left at birth: A composite universe inhabited by basic forms and sharp colors alone.
Madi’s expressionist technique seen in a variety of formats that overlap with each other – drawings that sculpt themselves and sculptures from raw materials treated as delicately as paper – bear testimony to the primeval character of his work. The artist is seemly prepared to consume the material entirely before bringing the work to life: “I make art to empty the overload of emotion within me, to lessen that inner burden of spiritual debris I carry. I look at the paints and other materials before me and I want to touch them, taste them and totally consume them.”
All his subjects are not yet subjects but living unnamed things: Women, bulls, birds, trees. Mythological creatures merge into each other but yet remain wholly autonomous as symbols that signify cycles of life and death, transience, above all, transience. The colorful and playful nature of the exhibition hides the almost religious seriousness in which static objects are set in motion through rituals that transform ideograms and pictograms into everyday objects. Flat surfaces elevate into depth with nearness and concave surfaces flatten with distance.
Critic Joseph Silvaggi approaches the complex semantics of Madi’s work: “His drawings are filled with symbols and rich artistic conventions in simplified forms; they are an enchanted script, a resume of figurative art, the art of modern man.” Madi’s mythology, though safely anchored in the Near East, is nowhere near legend or epic; rather, it approaches objects as they would be approached if we had access to a mythology of our own times. The colors and forms might seem simple but their operations become more and more complex as we begin to interact with them.
About Hussein Madi
Hussein Madi was born in 1938, in Chabaa, near Mount Hermon in Lebanon. Trained as a painter, sculptor and engraver, first at the Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts, and then in Rome at the Accademia di Belle Arti and the Academia di San Giacomo (now Scuola Arti Ornamentali). During his stay in Rome, Madi pursued intensive research on the cultural heritage of the Ancient Near East and Egypt.
Upon his return to Lebanon, he taught fine arts at the Lebanese University and at the Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts and lived in Beirut and Rome from 1973-1986. Since 1986 he has been living permanently in Beirut. Madi is considered one of the Arab world’s leading contemporary artists and his work has been admired by thousands of people in prestigious venues in Europe, Asia and the Middle East since 1965.
He has been the recipient of several prizes in Europe and President of the Association of Lebanese Artists. His work has been exhibited recently by Aida Cherfan Fine Art in Beirut, Art Space, the Venice Biennale and Menasart Fair. A book about his work, “The Art of Madi”, was published in 2004 by Al-Saqi.
The exhibition will run through February 15