Hope is a Traveler: Between subdued colours and sharp figures

Soha Elsirgany , Thursday 8 Feb 2018

The solo exhibition of paintings and sculptures by Egyptian artist Hady Boraey runs at Art Talks until 25 February

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Hope is a Traveler exhibition by Hady Boraey (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

Egyptian artist Hady Boraey’s fourth solo painting exhibition, Hope is a Traveler, opened at Art Talks on 30 February. The next day, nearly all the paintings were marked as sold, attesting to the artist’s commercial success.

Boraey’s abstract figurative paintings are easy on the eyes, and quietly engaging, with a prevalent palette of greys, blacks, whites, and a diluted tone of light blue.

This is a shift from his older pieces from 2016, which are more brightly coloured, even as they feature the same type of figures.

Static dimension

The exhibition includes nearly 30 pieces of different sizes, oil painted on wooden boards. Boraey's figures in the paintings are very sculptural, and they come alive in four paper-maché sculptures displayed on white cubes amid the hung pieces on the walls.

To describe them as ‘coming alive’ is a bit odd though. In Boraey’s style these static figures – both in paint and in sculpture – appear to be made of stone, with a blank gaze as if in a kind of trance. It feels that if they could move, it would be a slow and minimal movement.

The sculptural depiction of the figures contrasts with the flatness of the surface on which they are painted, which is emphasised where the natural colour of the wood is left unpainted – or very lightly painted – leaving the grains and knots of the wood clearly visible.

In some of the works, his visible paintbrush strokes often go against the wood grain, resulting in a crosshatching effect. In others the artist is the one who does the crosshatching, with very fine strokes of paint, or an ink pen.

The harshness of the material matches the sharpness in his lines. The slender fingers at the end of their long arms are an element that catches the viewer’s eye.

The eyes in the paintings, meanwhile, are hollowed out, depicted as black slits. In another context they could be eerie, yet the overall air in Boraey’s work brings about a calm sense of detachment that renders them graceful.

On first impression, the figures seem to be clones of each other, but a closer look after spending time with the paintings reveals the subtle details that make up different, individual characters in this world Boraey has created.

One of the paper-maché figures is clad in paper from an English dictionary. ‘The fatal mistake’ are the words that happen to cover her lower lip. Perhaps by mistake and not by design, yet it makes for an amusing detail to wonder what kind of mistake is fatal to these stone-like figures.

Other sculptures have paper from German books, making the artist’s choice of material seem somewhat random, or lacking intention.

While the sculptures are well crafted, they add little depth to the collection and end up having a show-and-tell effect on the exhibition.

Artworks from Hope is a Traveler, by Hady Boraey at Art Talks Gallery (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

Titles at play

There is an interesting contrast is between the pieces and their titles. Many of the titles refer to dreams; a concept with a light quality, while other pieces refer to stability, determination, and bonding; evoking more grounded qualities.

The artist seems to be aware of this thematic contrast playing out, as he makes it more pronounced in a piece titled Anchored I, which depicts a flock of birds crossing the top part of the painting horizontally, being anything but anchored.

The viewer is left to discern the intentions of this contrast. If the birds were to represent freedom, is being anchored a form of freedom?

The title piece ‘Hope is a Traveller’ is a monochromatic horizontal painting, depicting a crowd carrying a large creature, possibly also a bird. It seems like a ritual of honouring, or in more modern terms, like a scene of crowd surfing at a concert.

Perhaps the birds sing of hope rather than freedom. The exhibition statement, while a little ambiguous with its over-poeticism, refers to hope in context of a reunion for parted lovers like Adam and Eve. Maybe hope is a form of freedom for the parted lovers.

In a piece titled Eternal Search, a group stands tightly huddled together. They have very little head space in the upper part of the painting before the frame interrupts, and most of the surface is dominated by the white colour of their dresses.

Each figure is looking in a different direction, capturing that anxiety and urgency of seeking something in a crowd.

To compare it to another painting, Hope is a Seed also features a crowd of figures, but here there is no white, only grey figures matching their grey clothes.

In this piece, the figures are distributed in the space more loosely, walking in different directions while a few stand facing the viewer.

With all these hints the viewers are left to connect their own links, and make of it as they please. Perhaps this, along with Boraey’s strong visual language, is the exhibition’s strength; that it brings up questions in the space between the works rather than serve answers.

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Artworks from Hope is a Traveler, by Hady Boraey at Art Talks Gallery (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

The exhibition runs till 25 February
Art Talks, 8 El-Kamel Mohamed St., Zamalek, Cairo

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