Lebanese artist Adonis Tohme is interested in geometrical patterns, circuses and nature, but he’s not above a little abstraction.
Anyway, that’s the impression you may walk away with after spending a bit of time with the 34 acrylic-on-canvas works in “Infusions of Color, Reality and Imagination,” the exhibition of Tohme’s works now up at Saifi’s Galerie Piece Unique.
After 40 years as an educator, Tohme decided to retire to focus his creative energies on one of his first loves. The paintings in this show demonstrate something of the range of techniques he’s been cultivating.
“Circus,” 92x120 cm, depicts the artist’s own representation of such a joyful gathering. There is no sign of the acrobats, “wild” animals, clowns – indeed any of the stuff usually associated with the big top. Instead, Tohme depicts a figure who, based on the tarboush-like red rectangle atop its head, could be from this region.
On the left side of the canvas, a shape seems to suggest a narghileh. To the right, a white blotch could be said to represent the moon. Another figure – with more feminine facial features – can be seen on the left, as though lurking behind the circus’ drapes.
Not knowing what sort of circus Tohme has in mind leaves the onlooker with considerable latitude in reading the work. The artist’s technique is to create an agglomeration of colorful stripes and allusive patterns. The canvas itself seems to be surrendering to the layers of paint, as though cracking beneath the viewer’s gaze to reveal hues of blue, brown and white, which protrude from the canvas as if in boisterous gathering.
In “Woman and Naked Tree,” 100x100 cm, viewers encounter a dark, forbidding landscape. Thick, roughly applied layers of brown-dominated earth tone pervade the canvas, with the sun and the woman’s form depicted by licks of yellow. The woman’s head appears to be surrounded by a sort of halo – which is itself kissed by exposed residues of yellow wash.
Like the central figure in “Circus,” the woman’s form is not depicted realistically. Rather, from neck to toe she appears to be of a piece with the tree’s trunk and branches, which are the most realistic element of the work. The tree branches want blossoms or leaves – leaving the strong impression of a harsh and barren season. Dark and cold as the palette is, the colors successfully capture a feeling of quiet that approaches tranquility.
In English, the term “coquette” suggests a woman flirting girlishly with men, while in French it denotes a woman who is mindful of her physical appearance. In Tohme’s “La Coquette,” 100x100 cm, the artist appears to have the original French in mind.
The work depicts a black-haired woman dressed in red. Beneath the geometric regularity of her black locks, the figure’s face is rendered as a near-perfect circle – as if it were being magnified through a large lens or reflected in a looking glass.
The piece is slightly jarring, as the thick yellow-and-white brushstrokes used to render the facial features leave it utterly deformed – quite contrary to the effect of a lens or a mirror – as though disassembled or melted beneath the looking glass. Farewell coquette, you are beautiful no longer.
“Awaited Return,” 100x100 cm, may speak to those with a more fantastical aesthetic sense. The white and blue vista depicts several vaguely represented figures, as though seen through a light-dappled fog or the mists of time. The rectangles at the center of the frame suggest the standards and shields of a phalanx of infantrymen. Elsewhere on the canvas, figures suggest a galloping horseman and the lance of a knight.
To the right part of the canvas, a yellow rectangular blotch (delimitated by black lines) highlights another, even more vaguely rendered character. The reasons for this aesthetic choice are unclear, though the figure’s “features” may seem more feminine.
There is nothing in Tohme’s work if not variety. And there certainly is an infusion of color.
Adonis Tohme’s “Infusions of Color, Reality and Imagination” is now up at Saifi’s Galerie Piece Unique until May 25. For more information, please call 01-975-655
By Chirine Lahoud