Anew and interesting exhibition by the established artist Nazli Madkour opened last week at Picasso Gallery in Zamalek. The exhibition, which has no title, is a unique journey to the floral and inner worlds of a distinguished artist.
On my first visit, the exhibits, which depict a world of flora, looked symmetrical. However, on my second visit, I realised that every painting stands unique and has its own secrets and aspects of beauty.
In the last ten years, foliage has been a recurrent theme of the artist’s. However, in every new exhibition, she has treated it differently.
During the first ten years of her career, Madkour was fascinated by nature. Her paintings in the 1980s reflected a love of the landscape. At the time, her works were a product of many hours of serene meditation.
“I am in love of the beautiful deserts in Egypt. They have a metaphysical dimension. The desert grants the artist a boundless space that allows him or her to meditate,” she said.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Madkour travelled to Sinai, the oases and Upper Egypt.
Born in Cairo in 1949, Madkour is an AUC political science graduate. She never studied fine art academically. She resorted to landscape, believing that it to be her mentor.
The lesson she learned from this is clear in her current exhibition; the paintings reveal an expertise in drawing landscape, uncovering an artistic spirit nourished by meditation and a strong sense of poetry.
“Some people will think I stopped drawing the desert. But the desert has never left my imagination. And every experience, small or big, remains in the imagination.”
The second period of Madkour’s career was marked by a distinctive rendition of the human figure. Women came to the fore, as Madkour was keen on defending women against a wave of regressive thought calling on them to wear the hijab and give up their careers.
“Unlike landscape, portraiture imposes some precise rules on the artist. It is like digging into the depths of psychology. A world that, unlike landscape, brings you deep inside a closed arena.”
Through the 1990s, her symbolic portraiture of women focused on their stubbornness and resilience, not their sufferings.
During this period, she published a booklet entitled Women and Art, showing works by 18 female artists including Injy Aflatoun and Tahiya Halim.
“When I started painting, female artists were very few. Rabab Nemr and Evelen Ashamallah were my colleagues. Now, the number of female artists has dramatically increased. And I consider this a very good sign.”
The exhibited collection of nearly 20 mixed-media paintings in different sizes, most of them larger than life, reflects a unique dialogue between the artist’s inner and outer worlds.
To produce these abstract and impressionist paintings, the artist used acrylic, acrylic modelling pastes and water colour pastels. The layering technique gives the flora paintings a special, splendid beauty. It feels like you are heading towards the depth of the flower’s petals, one after another, until you reach its stigma.
One 2 x 1.5, horizontal painting facing the viewer like an entryway features an abstract display of flowers with butterfly or bird wings showing through in thin white lines. The artist’s palette is cheerful. Orange, pink, green and purple prevail in her dreamy and feminine world of fantasy. Likewise light and shadow: in many cases, light is restricted to the upper part of the painting, with darker colours occurring lower down, creating a unique sense of depth.
A few paintings were made on paper, with the majority painted on canvas over wood, a suitable medium since the painting technique requires working with brushes and knives.
Although her paintings belong to impressionism, Madkour says she never follows a specific school. “There are no art schools any more. However, I believe my paintings combine neo-impressionism with expressionism and abstraction. This is what we call modernism in visual ar, using different trends to produce the artist’s own style, his unique mark.”
But why is neo-impressionism the least represented artistic style nowadays?
“Well, I do not know why the trend is vanishing here, but it is flourishing in other parts of the world. Works by Cy Twombly and others are a good example.”
Another fantastic painting features abstract flora in unusual shapes and colours. The spontaneous movement depicted gives the impression of underwater coral reefs, while other paintings feature cabbage-like plants.
“I draw to find out more about myself and to explore my inner feelings. I am a solitary artist. I like to be in an asocial atmosphere.”
Madkour started working on this collection three years ago. She gave it no title because she draws with no specific theme in mind and she allows the painting to develop according to its own rules. “My paintings mirror certain moods, not a specific theme. I will start with a certain mood, and then the painting drives me to a completely different track. I am one of those painters who gives the painting a chance to speak. I do not usually control the process completely.”
Such a poetic portrayal of plant life results from having grown up in an art-loving family. Madkour’s father was a collector who greatly appreciated art. In addition, she was always keen on keeping up with contemporary art. Visiting local and international museums and exhibitions is an essential part of her schedule. “Seeing how visual art is distinct in different parts of the world has enriched my experience.”
The exhibits brilliantly reveal a free spirit announcing itself in a feminine way. “I believe that female artists, in their artistic struggles, should not ignore the feminine spirit. Women should bring their femininity to the fore.”
As for her next project, Madkour doesn’t know yet. “All I know is that I should move on. I cannot repeat myself. A new stage will appear spontaneously. I like to surprise myself.”
The exhibition runs until 13 April.