How does a painting mean? From portraiture to landscape, expressionism to impressionism, figuration and abstraction, there are many different visions of art as there are artists.
The work in “Thirty Years Walking with Light,” the exhibition now up at Gemmayzeh’s Art on 56th, provides an object lesson in how to mean. These 18 large and 24 smaller acrylic-on-canvas works represent the latest crop of work from Lebanese artist Rana Raouda. The 51-year-old artist is known for her abstract works, which have been exhibited in France, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates.
In many of these works, the titles are very important in guiding onlookers through the figurative aspects of the artist’s abstraction.
“Sinai” (130x130 cm), for instance, refers not to the geographical peninsula but the Biblical mountain where, as various traditions have it, Moses took receipt of the law.
Raouda’s palette immediately attracts the viewer’s attention, with vivid ochre juxtaposed with layers of blue. Gazing at the work with the title in mind, one is able to imagine a craggy, desert horizon line in the juxtaposition of the two.
The artist’s technique is also intriguing. In depicting the desert stratigraphy, her colors appear to skate across the canvas, giving it an ironically watery aspect. The blue line near the bottom of the canvas – which separates the red bits into two parts – adds an impression of reflection, as though the red mount were reflected in a body of water.
In “Amour de Jeunesse” (Young Love, 110x91 cm), some onlookers may not see a link between what is represented on canvas and its title. Hues of gray, black, red and blue are combined on the media in a melange that resembles patterns in tapestry. The red abstract lines on the foreground seem to be veiling the others, as though the red were a symbol of the love of the title.
There is a dream-like aspect in Raouda’s work, with colors melting the one into the other to offer a wide panel of possible meaning – just as a dream has multiple meanings after slumber.
“Window on a Poppy Field” (133x140 cm) comes closest to abstract expressionism. Viewers can decipher the window in the bright blue cross that quarters the canvas into four rough squares. Individual flowers are not to be seen, the poppy field being depicted, rather, in the bright red that glows from round the edges of the blue.
What is peculiar to this work is the hypnotic effect of the blue, as though the work replicated the way an automatic camera will focus on the fore-ground window frame rather than the view that dominates the landscape on the far side of the glass.
Conventionally, the warmer tones should dominate the chillier secondary palette. Raouda’s work could be a condensed comment upon a myopic vision that focuses on the frame rather than the beauty that the frame is meant to help represent.
A similar impression can be derived from “African Love” (130x105 cm). In a canvas that is dominated by a palette ranging from yellow through ochre, the eye is immediately drawn to the incisions of blue that appear to flank an absence in the center of the work.
French artist Yves Klein was fond of using blue as a sort of aesthetic tranquilizer, representing spiritual freedom. The longer one gazes at Raouda’s painting, the more comforted one may feel from these blue fissures. Whatever the bright palette that dominates the canvas is meant to convey, and whatever these hues are meant to say about “Africa” or “love,” it is the blue that imbues the canvas with meaning.
Rana Raouda’s “Thirty Years Walking with Light” are on display at Art on 56th in Gemmayzeh until Dec. 29. For more information, please call 01-570-331.
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