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'A painting is like a film': Egyptian artist Essam Marouf on his Nocturne of Absence exhibition

Marouf sees his work as a journey towards contemplative tranquility, drawing on the musicality of "living visual memory"

Amr Kamel Zoheiri, Thursday 12 Dec 2019
Essam Marouf
Work by Essam Marouf
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Egyptian artist Essam Marouf is currently exhibiting paintings full of emotion and musicality at Misr Gallery in Cairo's Zamalek.
The solo exhibition, titled Nocturne of Absence, continues until 19 December and comes shortly after Marouf's group exhibition 'As I Am' in which took place in October in the same halls, presenting his work alongside other renowned artists, such as Adel El-Siwi, Islam Zaher, Ibrahim El-Dessouki and Mohamed Abla.

A curious traveler, Marouf accumulates images during his journeys, then paints from memory what remains of it, when the time comes.

Born in Cairo, but influenced by his European experience, he spent years living between Italy, the Netherlands and Egypt. Those years were his voluntary exile, and the theme is well apparent in his works.

Marouf tries to stop time, to give the viewer the chance to contemplate the evolution of the paintings.

"I think that any work of art, especially paintings, deserves the same treatment as printed essays or feature films or crime novels. We must take our time to react and think, with hindsight," Marouf notes.

"I also think that the moment captured by the painter, in each painting, requires the same effort as the conception and the making of a film. A painting is, in fact, like a film."

Trained in Cairo and then abroad, especially at the Egyptian Academy in Rome, Marouf became more attentive and sensitive to the souls of cities, their faces, and to the global musicality that emerges.

In his current exhibition, Marouf uses an enchanted palette: pale pink blends with grey and blue to enrich his creations and give them a contemporary look.

"In the colours, I perceive only reflections of light and of many lights; they help to clarify the work. They are at the service of the composition, and retransmit a spiritual state," says Marouf.

Creative accumulation

The artist has recorded his visual experiences accumulated across more than three decades and is now creating "a living visual memory."

"This accumulation of experiences appears at the very moment of creation, facing the canvas or paper."

The artist affirms that despite multiple influences the moment of creation remains essential for each work.

It is a search of peace and tranquility, he explains, in his work as in life. As such, Marouf conceives his work as a melody or a piece of music hoping to have so far succeeded in his bet of "picturesque compositions," be it portraits, still life or abstract canvases.

"I admire the natural landscapes of Egypt. I find, in its desert and its mountains, unequaled beauty, an inexhaustible source of inspiration. With all due respect to other civilisations, I must admit that the Egyptian one remains very unique, at all levels," he adds.

This article was originally published in French, in Al Ahram Hebdo's 11 December 2019 issue.

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