Wishing colour on the world
takes a close look at Culture Minister Farouk Hosni's paintings to investigate his lyrical abstraction
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The artist at work, the minister at play, the creative surge in full force|
Clockwise from left: Among the attendees of the exhibition were the ministry legal consultant Achraf El-Achmawi, writer Mohamed Abdel-Qoddous, Director of AUC Press public relations Nabila Aql, Mark Linz, director of AUC Press; our dear colleague Nevine El-Aref, Wael El-Ebrashi, editor-in-chief of Sawt Al-Umma ; caricaturist Mustafa Hussein; actress Laila Elwi
To the guests assembled for a private view at the Offok Art Gallery in the Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum, which overlooks the Nile Corniche at Giza, Farouk Hosni is a renowned artist with almost 40 years of contemporary art shows behind him. The notables and celebrities who have come to see the artist's 35 new acrylic-on-canvas abstract paintings in daring colours are drawn from Cairo's élite and chic, and this can be no surprise as Hosni is also Egypt's minister of culture.
Hosni was born in Alexandria, then one of the most cultural and cosmopolitan cities in the world. The city had a lasting influence on his artistic and professional development. In 1969 Hosni turned to abstract art, and from that time his style developed so that he has now become one of the world's best-known abstract artists.
Hosni's political portfolio has not held back his art; on the contrary, he has kept on painting, and according to art critics he is Egypt's face on the international art canvas.
Hosni is known for his unique abstract style. His works have been exhibited in major galleries, exhibitions and art centres the world over, and he has been endorsed by important art critics including Jessica Winegar, Dan Cameron and Philippe de Montebello of the United States; Michel Nuridsany from France; and Enzo Bilardello, Giovanni Carladente, Lorenza Troki and Maria Trenga Benedetti from Italy.
His works have been shown in several galleries abroad, including those in the Metropolitan Museum; the Houston Museum of Fine Arts; Fort Lauderdale, Miami; the National Museum of Vienna; the Vittoriano Museum in Rome; the Carrousel du Louvre in Paris; the Tokyo Art Museum and several Arab and Egyptian museums.
"Painting is my life. I always feel the hunger for painting the moment I enter my studio, where I am in my genuine world," Hosni told Al-Ahram Weekly. He continued that when he succeeded in producing a painting that fulfilled this hunger, he felt triumphant, and when he failed to reach the goal he felt frustrated. He had the same feelings about revealing a new colour. Coming across a new colour for Hosni is like discovering an authentic artefact. "Encountering a blank canvas is much more difficult than facing people," he confessed.
Seeing his finished work completes his inner sensations and makes him feel whole, bringing him a degree of self-conciliation.
"My inner sensation is the engine that makes me choose my colours, especially in that I believe that a single colour is a bunch of colours and a collection of feelings explored at the same time," Hosni says. This year he is using bright colours that convey his general optimism.
Hosni exhibited his first ever-abstract painting in 1972 when he was serving as the cultural attaché at the Egyptian Embassy in Paris. In the same year, this work received an award at the International Festival for Plastic Art held in the south of France.
Not all Hosni's work expresses optimism. Poet Hossam Nassar, head of International Cultural Relations, a governmental body, notices that in spite of his use of colour, Hosni's paintings this year reveal a pessimistic mood. "The minister has trapped the strong and cheerful colours in most of the paintings inside black lines, which reflects confusion," Nassar says.
Hosni counters the argument. "Black is one of my favourite colours since it is similar to white and blue," he says in his own defence. He adds that black is not a cynical colour, as some might say. On the contrary, he says, it is a sovereign colour, the colour worn by people at weddings," he points out.
In the same vein, artist Reda Abdel-Rahman told the Weekly that this year Hosni had resurrected his drawing skills to create silhouettes, boosting a rich colour palette that featured a thick, generous and fresh form. However, Abdel-Rahman continued, some silhouettes had sharp lines. Nevertheless, musician Nassir Shamma and sculptor Adam Henein supported Hosni's vision of his exhibition. They said it was a reflection of his happiness, self-stability and balanced feelings.
Renowned caricaturist Mustafa Hussein sees the paintings as a symphony with brushes and colour as the instruments. Scriptwriter Wahid Hamid, who says he is not fully acquainted with abstract and contemporary art, believes that Hosni has a special tag in the plastic art world that has been developed year after year. Mark Franco the ambassador of the European Union to Egypt said that Hosni's abstract art had a distinguished and thrilling style that reflected a very fine and distinguished taste of art.
Philippe de Montebello believes that: "Hosni's works reflect his internationalisation of modernist trends, but his pictures are always infused with his innate connections with the light and colour of his native land." Composed with exquisite balance, enigmatic imagery and a dynamic palette, Hosni's paintings speak the language of the modern world. De Montebello continued that, through his use of abstraction, Hosni had transformed the eternal signs of his native country into restless; calligraphic gestures using vivid colours evocative of the Egyptian landscape; the blacks of sudden nightfall; the blues of sea water; the whites of limestone; the violets of the Sinai mountain range; the burning ochres of the desert; the green of the flowing Nile, the greys of ancient rocks and the oranges of flaming sunsets.
Hosni has continued to flourish as a painter throughout his life, experimenting with informal art in the late 1960s before ultimately honing his focus on abstraction.
Dan Cameron, director of visual arts at the contemporary Arts Centre, in New York, said that Hosni manifested a justifiable restlessness concerning categories of abstract and representational style. "Part of the immediate appeal of his paintings is their seeming casualness, which may seem to be the result of a less-than- disciplined attitude towards the act of painting, but nothing could be further from the truth."
Young critic Yasser Mongi, who wrote a critical introduction to the book published along with the exhibition, told the Weekly that the black in Hosni's paintings had a special appearance in this year's exhibition because it was his means of discovering himself as well as the world around him.
"To a great extent, the emotional charge in the works displayed in this exhibition are evasive," Mongi said. He explained that except for a few works, Hosni's relinquishing of his usual bursting dynamism and his adoption of a serene, contemplative plan imbued the works in general with emotional non-saturation. Onlookers viewing these works, he went on, might receive a monologue of complaints about emotional incompleteness such as unconsummated love, seething anger that stopped short of explosion, and desire that constrained within the boundaries of wishing.
Ehab El-Labban, who directs the Offok Art Gallery, said that organising Hosni's exhibition in the gallery had been a real challenge. On one hand, there was an intense debate about the proper display philosophy, which could help suggest answers to the potential of abstract work to provoke curiosity and broaden the imagination. On the other hand, Hosni is known for paintings rich in optical pleasures and aesthetics, which grasp the viewer's attention and overwhelm his or her thoughts.
Among those attending the opening were actresses Laila Elwi, Samiha Ayoub and Lebleba, singer Haifa Wahbi, actors Ahmed Helmi and Hisham Abdel-Hamid, Lebanese television anchor Razan and businessmen Naguib Sawiris and Mohamed Abul-Enein.