Since moving to Muscat, I’ve been channeling the I of my INFJ. I’m so determined to make my own art and to fully realize the potential of Artist Strong that that is my priority. But one thing I made sure to do once we were a bit settled here was to research the art galleries in town. When I saw that Stal Gallery was having an opening last week, I decided I was going. With or without friends. Luckily a few girls (perhaps the only two I know, haha!) I know wanted to join me. And I’m really pleased we went.
The opening was for a show entitled Portrait, a solo exhibition for Bahraini artist Jamal Abdul Rahim. The first thing I noted about the artist’s work was when I saw the piece Broken, selected to advertise the opening. I could immediately see the man had skill. While living in Dubai, a burgeoning art scene in its own right, artwork could be very hit or miss depending on the gallery you visited. Today, it seems, some artists skip the skill lessons and jump straight into conceptual works without all of the work and training skill development (and conceptual work) requires. I knew I wanted to check this exhibit out because this was an artist who knew how to paint. And I wasn’t disappointed.
Some of the content might be considered a bit cliche because the artist uses famous images of people a bit like Warhol. Despite this, I was really impressed by his use of color and and how he applies the paint. There is a richness to the colors because of his many layers, which are only enhanced by the visible, often loose brushstrokes he allows to show through in his art. I love the thick lines outlining the faces of his paintings, like that of the work Cesaria Evora 1. Those solid marks, in contrast with loose, obvious brushstrokes, makes for a lovely exploration of the face.
Something this show made me think about was the legality of artist appropriation. Appropriation is an artist strategy most obviously used by Andy Warhol. It is when an artist takes images they find, in Warhol’s case often via news sources or celebrity magazines, and then manipulates them to create a new piece of art. There is always this question of authenticity, how much is owed to the original image and its creator? In more recent history, The Associated Press sued Shepard Fairy for his use of one of their photographs as a reference for his Obama HOPE poster. He received two years probation for use of the AP image and was fined 25,000 USD. A good article summarizing the controversy is available here. The irony of it all is that despite these questions of copyright and use, the National Portrait Gallery now is in possession of that very work, which I would argue further legitimizes the work as its own original art.
Observing the work in this show made me think about the risk artists take when they use appropriation as part of their artist strategy. And yet, how much work would not see the light of day if we all sat around worrying about those legal what-ifs? I can’t think of anything more creatively stifling.
Stal Gallery is owned by the Al Serkal Group, which has an impressive location in Dubai called Al Serkal Avenue that has become quite the artistic hub. I can see the expectation of quality and investment in the arts extends beyond Dubai into Muscat and I look forward to seeing what else this venue brings to the region.
BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: Do you live in Muscat? Appreciate the arts? Time to go to Stal Gallery and check out Portrait, open until February 13th. Don’t live in Muscat? Check out their website to get a sense of Artwork in the Middle East.