Landmarks II | Thaier Helal
Landmarks II features recent paintings that build on the concepts and forms of Helal’s Mountain and River series, which were shown at Ayyam Gallery Dubai (DIFC) in 2014. With his latest body of work, the Sharjah-based artist expands his approach to painting by further experimenting with different media in an attempt to recreate the physical attributes of natural settings such as mountains, deserts, rivers, and lakes.
Although inspired by landforms like the Assi river, Helal’s aim is for the viewer to recognise each site according to their past experiences. His new paintings are sculptural and appeal to the senses with added volume and dimension, providing tactile references to these environments. The coarse surfaces of the artist’s works are created with organic and synthetic materials such as sand and glue, and describe layers of sediment that accumulate over time. The gestural brushstrokes of his previous works have been substituted for three-dimensional formations that appear to travel across the canvas like waves or dunes.
In Landmarks II Helal continues to identify the story of humankind in the growth patterns of nature, associating the ebb and flow of society with the replenishment or decay of natural environments. Alternating between paintings that reference earth or water, Helal alludes to the intrinsic cycle of nature as it progresses through birth, growth, death, and regeneration. Central to these mixed-media works is the concept of evolution: how some things develop despite setbacks while others remain stagnant. For the artist, this duality moves between sustenance (water) and deprivation (sand). A number of the featured works seem to be composed of salt and are relatively sparse. Although striking, these particular paintings describe a mirage. Helal references this phenomenon as a metaphor for the illusions we encounter in life.
Miniatures | Safwan Dahoul
Highlighting a new body of work by the seminal artist, Miniatures offers a look into Dahoul’s ongoing investigation of the principles of painting, specifically how formal elements can be used to shape the affective nature of an image. In his recent paintings, Dahoul experiments with the visual impact of scale and the challenge of shrinking monumental compositions to canvases that are the width of one’s hand. The resulting works continue his Dream series (1987-present), and treat its recurring subject matter with exacting detail despite spatial limitations. True to form, Dahoul’s miniatures carry the same psychological weight that is found in his previous works.
In a way, these new paintings are in response to the last installment of the series, which comprised large-scale works that transported the viewer when shown at Ayyam Gallery Dubai (11, Alserkal Avenue) earlier this year. Miniature paintings, conversely, demand close examination, requiring the viewer to move in closely, as though peering into a secret world. In a triptych, for example, parallel close-up portraits of his recognisable heroine show her in successive moments of stillness, as the passage of time is reflected in her eyes. One portrait shows her gaze hollowed in black, while in another she appears asleep. In a third image she stares directly at the viewer, her eyes shimmering with detail. Reminiscent of a storyboard, this triad summarises the narrative shift of the Dream series over the years as Dahoul’s female protagonist has embodied his analysis of the subconscious mind.
According to the artist, his small-scale works suggest that our dreams are diminishing in size. Symbolic meaning is further derived from allusions to the ancient art of religious painting, which can be found in both Christian iconography and Islamic art as non-representational or text-based imagery. Dahoul’s fascination with religious imagery dates back to his time in Belgium, where he encountered Flemish examples and adopted stylistic aspects of Northern Renaissance painting, particularly the melancholy and foreboding of saints.