The ongoing exhibitions at XVA gallery by British artist Jonathan Gent and French-Jordanian sculptor Katia Al Tal mark a new direction in the art practices of the duo.
Instead of the large oil on canvas paintings that Gent is known for, his show, “Gentle” features a series of small acrylic and pencil works on wooden boards. And Al Tal, who is recognised for her sculptures of contorted, abstracted figures, embellished with calligraphy, is presenting a collection of functional ceramics for the home.
For over a decade, Gent has been constantly on the move, living and working in various places, including Dubai, Indonesia and Venezuela. The paintings in this series were done in the South of France, where he is based at the moment, and reflect his impressions of the Cote d’Azur as well as his memories of Dubai.
With a few quick strokes, the artist has captured moments from everyday life. His paintings are deceptively simple, but reflect his keen observation and understanding of people, places and the complexity of life. “The title of my show refers to the fact that I am in a gentle period of my life, thanks to the presence of my children. Earlier I worked all day, aggressively venting my emotions on my canvases. But now I look after the children during the day and work in the nights, when it is quiet and peaceful. I feel calm and happy and am enjoying my work. Rather than struggling with huge compositions, I want to work quickly and capture simple moments in these small intimate works,” he says.
The fleeting moments frozen forever in his petite paintings include tranquil seascapes of the Dubai creek with the fishing boats, a glimpse of a woman’s eyes in the rearview mirror of a car, and a sudden burst of fireworks in the desert. “The silent eye to eye interaction with a stranger and the fireworks that suddenly lit up the sky as I was driving on the outskirts of Dubai one night are memories of Dubai that have stayed with me,” he says.
The artist often includes himself in his paintings. In “Me watching a movie at the Mall of the Emirates”, he is seen as the lone audience in the theatre in a moving statement about the loneliness of human existence. He is also the lone swimmer in the Mediterranean in a poetic painting about the lonely and difficult journey of life.
Gent’s favourite subject — women — appears in several paintings such as “Girls with Butterflies”. He has done two versions of this triptych showing an abaya clad woman moving gracefully as if dancing with the butterflies that surround her. “I think I am fascinated with women because I was very close to my mother. In fact, I used this particular yellow in the background of this painting to match the colour of her hair,” he says. “My paintings tell my personal stories. But viewers can also see their stories in these moments,” he adds.
Al Tal’s ceramic stoneware collection, titled “Sadeem”, has been launched under the label Nuwa Creations and includes tea sets, coffee cups, plates, bowls, lamps, coasters and Christmas decorations. Commenting on her romance with clay and calligraphy, she says, “Clay is the essential prehistoric energy of the Earth. It is a part of us and when you work with clay you become part of it, vibrating in resonance with its energy. As for calligraphy, I have always looked at it as dancing lines and shapes and have tried to capture that fluidity and elegance in my work. But creating this collection was very difficult because I am used to expressing myself with complete freedom in my eccentric sculptures, whereas here I was restricted by the functional aspect of these items.”
However, she has successfully woven together the beauty of calligraphy and the energy of the clay to create sculpted items designed to make daily life special. The shapes of her teapots and cups are inspired by classical ceramics, but like her sculptures they are fluid and asymmetric. The entire collection is pure white with 18ct gilt edging.
Calligraphic letters are carved into the saucers like crochet patterns, handpainted on them in black or used to create the curved handles on the cups. And the coasters have been formed by slicing a sculpture from her “Figures” series.
Al Tal has given her Christmas ornaments a nice Arabic touch, by making some in the shape of “Fatima’s hands”; and printing on them calligraphic letters and positive words, arranged in the form of a Christmas tree, along with a verse about love from an ancient Arabic text.
Her unique collection of lamps includes some shaped like bulbs with the light shining through calligraphic letters cut into the ceramic, and a striking piece adapted from an abstract sculpture of lovers in an embrace. Others are in the shape of hands, with one in each pair lit up and the other covered with henna patterns created from calligraphic letters. “Hands are important because we create, pray and communicate with our hands. These hands are a symbol of spirituality, dialogue, harmony and the glow of love and culture that lights up our lives,” Al Tal says.
–Jyoti Kalsi is an arts enthusiast based in Dubai
The shows will run at XVA gallery, Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood until January 31
Opera gallery, DIFC is hosting an exhibition of bronze sculptures by acclaimed Lebanese sculptor, late Alfred Basbous. The show has been organised in collaboration with Sami Nmeir, consul general of Lebanon in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, The Alfred Basbous Foundation and the World Lebanese Cultural Union, and will run until January 18.