Saturday,18 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1290, (7 - 13 April 2016)
Saturday,18 August, 2018
Issue 1290, (7 - 13 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

The round track

After walking in a circle, Rania Khallaf is exhausted

The round track
The round track
Al-Ahram Weekly

Entitled Bendoor, or “We’re going round”, Walid Nayif’s first solo exhibition showcases a distinctive collection of paintings by the creator of the Alaa Eldin cartoon character around which Al Ahram’s children magazine Alaa Eldin was founded in 1993. It took Nayif this long to  enter the realm of visual art.  In the meantime, collaborating with novelist Mohammed Al-Mansy Qandeel, a prominent children’s books writer, Nayif developed other characters for the magazine and other media. He worked in comics and puppet theatre as well as founding children’s publications. 

The exhibition, inaugurated last week at Al Gezira Arts Centre in Zamalek, includes 20 paintings in different sizes. All come across as details of a single, large scene: pedestrians on the crowded streets of Cairo. Against a plain background, the paintings depict the movement of simple and ordinary people in circles, seeking their daily bread.

A graduate of the décor department at the Film Institute in 1989, Nayif learned drawing, fashion and character design by such important names as Sayed Abdel-Rasoul, Shady Abdel-Salam and Abdel-Fatah Al-Beyali. He then worked in the film industry for two years before devoting himself to storyboard drawing. But throughout his career he remained a keen follower of the art scene; he didn’t cut the vital link to this rich spiritual source. Given this complex background, it is perhaps no wonder that as a painter a key feature of his style is motion. In the last few years, he participated in notable group exhibitions including Let’s Enjoy Life and  Black and White in 2013, Movement Tracks in 2015 and Hidden Messages in 2016.

“As I grew older, with enough experience, I felt ready to start invading this world. In 2013, I felt it it was time to start participating in group exhibitions,” he says. A late comer to the world of visual arts, Nayif, 49, says, “It takes more than a good painter to be an artist, I believe. To be an artist, one should have a special vision, style and character, and I was waiting for the right time to bring all these elements together.” 

The characters featured in his acreylic paintings are painted in lines, themselves rotating on the surface of the canvas. The circular lines come in different thicknesses, forming various, weightless human shapes. This void allows the viewer to penetrate into the depth of the painting to decipher the meanings the artist intended. As a viewer you cannot help but sympathise with the characters, feeling that you are simply one of them; at some uncertain moment in your personal history, you must have moved in the same way: helplessly.  

As Nayif himself describes, however, it is also like moving around with the celestial spheres – in time transcending your earthly existence to heaven “like absent-minded dancers or like  ancient souls melting across the ages on caves’ walls”. Nayif developed the line technique for this collection in order to bring the finished work closer to the sketch, so that he could overcome the fear that beset him when he was faced with a blank canvas and work with freedom.

 In addition to testifying to the artist’s desire to express the suffering of workers and ordinary people on their everyday journey through life, the exhibition reflects Nayif’s lifelong fascination with ancient cave paintings in France, Romania, Africa and all over the world. He considers such primitive paintings the truest signs of visual art. And the intentional naiveté of the lines, the spontaneity of the approach, further confirms this: it’s as if the artist used a piece of chalk to sketch out his vision. In all the paintings the background is mute, making it like a mural, with a protruding texture. 

“Cave drawings are a rich source of inspiration. The first man wanted to draw on the walls as a way to ask questions about the world around him, to communicate with others and to feel secure. Likewise, I paint to raise questions in the first place.” 

The title of the exhibition is well chosen, reflecting the humming, continuous motion of the figures. “I have always been busy thinking while roaming the streets of Islamic Cairo, especially Al-Muiz Street, where do all these people come from? The never-ending movement of crowds has really bewildered me for years,” he smiles. “I used to take pictures, meditate on people’s repeated movements, their unique ways of carrying stuff, plastic bags, or even their kids on their heads or shoulders.” The title also suggests that we all live in circles or along tracks – as individuals, as families, as a society. The whole universe is in motion.

“A good comics artist is by nature a good painter, as he knows how to paint different elements and creatures, and most important of all different features and reactions of people,” Nayif says. “However, I was worried about what I could actually offer the visual arts scene in Cairo, already rich with a huge number of talented artists of different ages and trends. I wanted to represent myself as a new artistic soul. And I found in this particular theme my point of distinction.” 

And it’s true. The free, violent movement of his brush on the canvas is remarkable. The artist’s previous experiences, his vivid ability to create characters, is evident. In almost every painting, people are moving in different directions, aiming for different destinations. People’s tracks will intersect with others’, though each completely revolves around their own track. It took Nayif 10 months of sketching before he felt ready to start, however. Sketching, he says, is crucial.

“To create the Alaa Eldin character, I remember I did thousands of sketches to finally reach the ultimate design. Sketching is a must for a professional storyboard artist or a character designer.” It is partly what distinguishes his style. His paintings are much like sketches, with their spontaneity, novelty and freshness. 

For Nayif, sketching is an independent art which is not popular nowadays among artists. What sketching offers the visual artist is much more significant than just mastering his theme, he argues. For him, the role of sketching is not a method to copy a scene or a character on the canvas. 

“On the contrary,” he says, “sketching is like warming up for an athlete. And it is also a way to reach a point where my hands and my thoughts are in harmony. This is when I am ready to move onto to the canvas surface with this unique spirit. Then what appears on the canvas are the characters and thoughts, which were generated during the sketching process.” 

The exhibition is on until 7 April.

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