Crude, gripping and just a little scandalous, Samir Fouad’s expressionist exhibition ‘Flesh’ opened on Sunday 21 November at the Picasso Art Gallery, daringly - yet aesthetically - revealing a bleak view of contemporary society.
In Flesh, Fouad re-enacts the unforgiving toll that time takes on humans. Movement is transfixed on the subjects’ hazy faces, which twirl arbitrarily with features scattered. Fouad distorts flesh to mirror his frustration with its futility in the face of inevitable change.
His paintbrush untamed, colours raw, subject matter wildly controversial, Fouad rebels. Semi-nude subjects are piled up into massive canvases, eliciting a gasp from spectators. Smaller portraits are transfused in colour, distorted, their lips dramatically parted to induce wide gapes.
Despite an apparent domination of flesh tones, Fouad challenges the frank depiction of meat. His palette proves refreshingly diverse. He dresses up his subjects artfully, and places them in the foreground against dynamic backdrops of turquoise and orange, rendering his endeavours aesthetic as well as coarse.
Emotions and colours intertwined, Flesh is Fouad’s visual diary, written in brazen artistic language. “Human beings are suffering in this harsh era we live in,” he tells Al Ahram. “I am angry and frustrated with the status quo and I cannot become separated from my paintings.”
Seemingly caught in a time warp, constantly bending and twisting, Fouad’s subjects possess muddled faces, their features trembling, changing through the tides of time. The result is a creative rendition of time and motion.
“I tried to add a dimension of time in my work,” he explains. “Everything changes, nights replace days, we grow older and look different – time waits for no one”. This lack of stability – the nature of the world we were born into – is depicted through an unnatural representation of human faces, flesh unfastened from bone, eyes free to wobble out of their sockets.
It is this shape-shifting quality, both visible and metaphorically latent, which runs through the exhibition, confusing, or rather intriguing spectators. Caught in the in-between, Fouad’s paintings are simultaneously arousing and repulsive.
Fouad’s embodiment of flesh boldly reveals contradicting implications. “There is merely a step between being a victim and an executioner, and another between desire and chastity,” declares Fouad. The artist seems to tread a very thin line between ambiguities such as ecstasy and pain, as well as devouring and killing, rendering paradoxes on canvas.
The artist believes that conflicting human characteristics are not mutually exclusive; they may all exist within a single soul, taking turns to emerge throughout time, like actors playing assorted scenes.
Slaughtered flesh hangs in the background of many of his paintings, against which subjects play different roles, from a couple in an embrace, to an utterly indifferent man, to another one beaming for an invisible crowd. His portraits stretch their mouths wide open, either screaming in excruciating pain or squealing in sheer pleasure – or perhaps both at the same time.
Fouad injects some playfulness intoFlesh by painting a baby with an oversized head, and a trilogy of children on the blue ponies of a carousel. Fresh red, rather than that on sullied, slaughtered flesh, is splashed onto a few canvases, and so are orange, green and turquoise.
A painting of a group of women dressed only in their underwear (or perhaps it is one woman at five different points in time) is reminiscent of Pablo Picasso’s revolutionary Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, a painting depicting five nude femaleprostitutes, in which Picasso departs radically from traditional European art, taking momentous steps towards cubism and modern art. Similarly, Fouad departs from classical art to delve into an experimental form of contemporary expressionism, rendering an explicit and creative emotional manifestation.
Born in Cairo in 1944, Fouad graduated from Cairo University as an engineer, but grew to be a painter. Harbouring a special passion for watercolours, Fouad travelled to England, where he was influenced by prominent local watercolorists, Turner and Flint. His artistic career took off in 1984 when his watercolour paintings became notable elements of the contemporary Egyptian art movement. As a soft and vulnerable medium, watercolours were employed by Fouad to produce classical artwork, presenting still life, landscapes and portraits in serenity. In Flesh, Fouad consumes tubes of the thicker, more intrepid oil paint to create layers of pigment that transport harsher images, telling fiercer stories.
As the clock ticks and your feet transport you throughout the reflections of an artist in agony, you are grateful that paintings empirically meet only one out of five senses. For Fouad’s portraits stare back at you, open-mouthed, in silent screams, piercing your ears. His large canvases flaunt raw meat - yet the oil paints do not carry the stench of the fresh and decayed flesh, nor its taste (which may prove delightful, given a stove and spices). Reaching out for the life contained by the frames, your fingertips cannot feel the tortured souls within.