06 Sep 2023 - 28 Oct 2023

Brushstrokes & Perspectives

Elmarsa Gallery


This exhibition brings together both modern and contemporary artists whose practices were deeply influenced by the corporeality of painting techniques present in Art Informel, Abstract Expressionism, and Kinetic art, fearlessly rejecting representation within the context of their cultures. Some artists on display include Abdelkader Guermaz (Algeria, 1919-1996), Leopoldo Torres-Agüero (Argentina, 1922- 1995), Hedi Turki (Tunisia, 1922-2019), Chafic Abboud (Lebanon, 1926-2004), Nasser Assar (Iran, 1928-2011), Mohamed Khadda (Algeria, 1930-1991), Mahjoub Ben Bella (Algeria, 1946-2020) and Asma M’Naouar (Tunisia, b. 1965).

Non-figurative artwork is often characterized by the modulations in the brush strokes, the layered contrasting compositions and an ever-present polytonality, which manipulates the viewers perspective. Sometimes abrupt and angular, a delicate stroke can quickly become broad, fluid.

The emergence of non-figurative painting spawned from a time of mass migrations after the cataclysmic effects of the Second World War. Concurrently, with the rise of a rapidly growing global economy and formations of nationalist movements in formally colonized states, creatives were left to ponder the notion of perspective and individualism in the wake of a new world. Coined as ‘Art Informel’ in Paris and ‘Abstract Expressionism’ in New York during the 1940s, a wave of experimentation, including movements such as kinetic art in the 1950s-1970s, indicated a clear desire for change within the art world.

These movements were part of a broader wave of experimentation and liberation in the post-war art world. They reflected the changing cultural, social, and technological landscape, highlighting the desire to create art that transcended traditional boundaries. With the advent of progressive international travel, a surge in cross-cultural discourse led to the emergence of interconnected artistic channels. Intertwined passages were formed, allowing the Émigré artist to explore styles rooted in expressive, lyrical and dynamic modes of painting. The focus shifted to the stroke itself, with its multiple forms no longer validated within a collective output, but appreciated for its own complexity. There is importance in acknowledging that the emergence of non- figurative art practices did not happen exclusively within these periods nor within the specified landscapes linearly.

Known primarily as an all-encompassing umbrella term, Art Informel allowed for a de-centered self to take precedence in the art- making process. Artists rejected the stronghold of classical humanism and its fundamental artistic principles, choosing no longer to abide by figurative precision, which had often been deemed the correct perspective by the bourgeoisie. Nasser Assar, born in Tehran into a professor of oriental philosophy’s household, had grown interest in the tachism and lyrical abstraction movements. Inspired by the confluence of east and west, he developed a unique style, bridging the ethereality of landscape and the gesture of lyrical abstraction into one frame. Chafic Abboud, a painter from a Greek Orthodox community in Lebanon, created expressive abstract canvases with rich, textured surfaces and a highly personal use of colour. An ode to his professional background in the Lebanese tradition of figurative and landscape painting. Abdelkader Guermaz was also amongst artists who were drawn into Art Informel, where space was made for an interplay of dynamic composition and instinctual fluidity. Guermaz was one of the founders of Algerian modern art, having grown up and spent scholarly years in the Algerian coastal city of Oran, before relocating to Paris. Until the end of the Algerian War of 1962, this was where the largest population of Europeans in North Africa resided. Drawn to Avant-garde Parisian art, Guermaz turned to lyrical abstraction, crafting modulated neutral fields, punctuated by touches of colour and subtle grid-like patterns. These are conceived as abstract landscapes.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Abstract Expressionism made waves amongst many, allowing artists an additional layer of visual language to incorporate into their practices. With an emphasis on bodily movements and a newfound trust in subconscious gesture, several distinct styles emerged, such as gestural abstraction and colour-field painting.

Amongst artists inspired by abstract expressionism was Hedi Turki, an influential Tunisian painter and sculptor who was considered a pioneer of abstract art in Tunisia. Learning the fundamentals of painting himself, Turki utilized the passages that art pedagogy provided. Studying Art in Paris and Rome, Turki found abstract art in America. From figurative to abstract, his creative realm was inundated by the spiritual Tunisia. Deeper experimentation into an expansion of mathematics and modern technology in painting led to movements such as Kinetic Art, with the likes of Argentinian artist Leopoldo Torres- Agüeros visceral style and perspective manipulation. In the contemporary realm, the abstraction of form and reinterpretation of perspective is ever present in the work of Asma M’naouar and Mahjoub Ben Bella, where time has allowed for the maturity of modern painting practices, with a newfound intimacy awarded to gesture and stroke.

Press release from Elmarsa Gallery