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Bahgoury: A Delightful Maverick

Georges Bahgoury exhibits paintings bursting with life at Al Masar gallery in Zamalek. Communicating through fervent colour, his canvases do not simply impress, but induce an edge-of-seat attentiveness

Sara Elkamel, Sunday 23 Jan 2011
Georges Bahgoury

Bahgoury’s art is unscripted and rough-edged. His densely-painted canvases feature subjects that seem engrossed in the impromptu story that the artist inscribes with his paintbrush.

Despite frenzied surroundings and offbeat features, the men and women inhabiting Bagoury’s paintings look perfectly at home - like it is their world that’s normal, while ours is bizarre.

His mastery is unavoidable. A portrait of the late Egyptian singing icon, Oum Kalthoum, hangs specially to draw gasps out of passersby. Dropping the composure yet keeping the palpable fervor, the artist transforms the image we now see only in black and white, into a surface brimming with colour. Against a deep burgundy background, Oum Kalthoum parts her lips to sing, her body carved out in a multicoloured dress. Bahgoury changes her features radically, yet her quintessence remains.

Oum Kalthoum is the star of the show; Bahgoury paints her in shades of blue, green and red, decorates her scarf in delicate roses and injects oriental fabrics into her dress. The artist recreates Egyptian heritage. “Oum Kalthoum represents our old, glorious Egypt,” Bahgoury says. “But now things are changing, and I’m very sad for Egypt.”

After studying art at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Cairo in 1955, Georges Bahgoury moved to Paris. Delving deeper into the mechanisms and sentiments of the art in its entirety, including drawing, engraving, literature and cinema, Bahgoury fine-tuned his talents. Today, the artist resides between France and Egypt - a living arrangement that has proved particularly valuable for his art.

“Egypt is my fuel, my inspiration - it’s where I charge my creative batteries,” he says. “Paris allows me to unleash my creativity.”

A tactile energy pervades his collection. Thick slabs of paint, decorated fabric, along with tangles of colour collaborate to create an ethereal, yet enchanting world.

Bahgoury refers to Pablo Picasso as his muse, mentor, and his competition. “I visit Picasso’s Paris museum weekly,” he says. “I know it by heart.” He has dedicated his career to outshining the legendary Spanish artist (both artists stumbled upon art very early on in their lives).

Bahgoury’s art reflects elements from Picasso’s cubism and surrealism periods. Further, Picasso’s discovery of synthetic cubism, in which materials were glued onto canvas to give the painting more texture also features in his paintings - oriental fabrics and rough paper carry energy literally off the surface.
His compositions are overwhelming. His large canvases hold bold, unrestrained colour and a blend between the detailed and the frank. Packed with blatant emotion, the artist leaves spectators craving for more.

One of Bahgoury’s most enthralling pieces is a portrait of a women reclining, embraced by a deep blue dress, seduction seeping through every brushstroke. Like a starlet she flaunts her beauty, captivating onlookers.

Bahgoury exhibits ardour wrapped up in serenity. His footsteps are tiny; his voice gentle - yet there is nothing nonchalant about him.

He has dedicated his whole life to his great love - art. “When I am sad or ill, colours have the power to heal me,” he says. “Colours make me forget the world.”

Making art for Bahgoury, the delightful maverick, is a sensual process. His paintbrush caresses the canvas, as the palette cheers for colour. Immersed in every dimension of the day’s work, the artist stares at his painting, then walks away into the night. Alone with his canvas the next morning, Bahgoury stands transfixed, seeing his painting anew. Startled, he begins to question if it were his hands that transformed its emptiness into a sea of colour. “I become its creator, and its first onlooker. And then I shout, so deeply - Bravo…I did it.”

Georges Bahgoury has introduced noteworthy cartoons into two weekly magazines; Sabah Al Khair and Rose El Yousseff. He has also written a novel, entitled "Trilogy of Icons". And for him, writing soon became an ardent affair.

“I was captivated by words,” says Bahgoury. Yet the artist would not choose one over the other. “Words and images complete one another - and together they form a whole new world.”

Strolling through this alternate world that he has single-handedly created, you are captured by silent outbursts. Awe-inspiring, to say the least, each painting pulls you in, enticing you to explore every rupture of colour.

The exhibition is at Al Masar Gallery in Zamalek and runs until 7 February 2011.

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