For Art Dubai 2018, Mark Hachem Gallery brings together rare pieces from three major Middle Eastern artists. This is an exceptional opportunity to discover Egyptian artist Hamed Abdalla’s mythical series of monotypes originally titled “Det Skabende Ord” alongside Helen El Khal’s abstract paintings and unique sculptures by ‘modernist pioneer’ Alfred Basbous.
Bringing these three masters together serves to remind us that their paths crossed on many occasions. Alfred Basbous was referred to as the “second Rodin” by Lebanese newspapers at the time of his first exhibition at Galerie Alecco Saab in 1958. Two years later Helen El Khal, pressed by her entourage, also delivered her first ever exhibition in the same gallery. In 1956, Hamed Abdalla left Egypt for Denmark, where he lived for 10 years before settling down in France for the next 25 years. In 1958 the French government invited Basbous, the poet Adonis and other Lebanese artists to come and produce art in France. Ten years later it is the same Adonis who played a vital role in making the “Det Skabende Ord” exhibition happen in Beirut at Gallery One – the first permanent art gallery in Lebanon, founded by Yusuf and Helen El Khal, small world.
Beirut in the 60s was the go-to place, the hotbed of artistic and intellectual life in the Middle East. A Cosmopolitan city, Beirut consumed whomever landed on its shores. Artists from different nationalities and faiths got together and evolved, travelling back and forth between Beirut and Europe. This was Beirut’s golden age and its glow was felt throughout the world.
Abdalla, Khal and Basbous’ reunion in this exhibition is a reminder of that golden age before the tragedy of the civil war. It reminds us that diversity is possible and that it is bountiful.
The crossing of their paths is not circumstantial and certainly not incidental, with an obvious artistic emulation as a result. This national, cultural and religious cohabitation created a fusion in art in the same way Picasso, Braque or Derain absorbed African Art into their own. Abdalla, Khal and Basbous have decoded Western influences and carved their own way. It is inevitable that this common experience has brought on a commonality. These connections, whether direct or indirect, have contributed to their individual growth and it is particularly obvious when looking at the relationship between the line and what it encompasses.
Abdalla’s work starts with arabic alphabet that evolves into human figures. He illustrates each word with the actual letters that it is composed of and by doing so he limits the choice of shapes available to him. He concentrates his work on the placement of these pre-ordained shapes, as well as on the choice of material, in order to achieve “Det Skabende Ord”, “the word that creates”. Abdalla created something tremendously powerful, a dramatic synthesis of calligraphy and figurative art.
Helen El Khal, whose work is figurative at first, moved on to pure abstract compositions, often in very small formats. The “quiet seduction” of colours hangs softly in volumes, outlined by the haze that contains them.
Meanwhile, Basbous increasingly simplified the shapes that let him escape realistic representation. This has resulted in near abstract pieces where volumes and curves are willed by a line sometimes sharp, sometimes agile, and sometimes even invisible. Alfred Basbous will never forget the screeching sound of the reed pen that his father used when he was drawing.
Thanks to a relentless drive and exertion without compromise, Abdalla, Khal and Basbous have given birth to major pieces, some of which have made their way into the most prestigious museum collections.