Chritch's colourful works explore the fragility of existence Image Credit: Supplied

The complex nature of artist Chritch's paintings creates a sort of enigma among its viewers. The first impression is that of a cubistic influence conjured by the labyrinth of interlocking contours. But gradually, the cemented simulation augurs the power and majesty of symbolism. Yet, the lively pictorial rhythm is aesthetically pleasing as it decodes a certain level of congruity. "My art is instinctive," the artist says. "The process begins directly on the canvas. The surrounding reality is fragmented into elementary components to conduct a re-composition."

The intricacy can be attributed to Chritch's inspiration to uncover the mask of appearances, conditioned by our education that generally calls for reservation and discretion. In the transparency of versatile colours, on the pedestal of human soul and imagination, Chritch fetes the mysterious strength and the fragility of existence with its many-layered subtleties. The eyes-closed figures, as if in constant reverie or trance, discover these emotions through the spiritual essence that domiciles within each of us.

"The human soul is, in its essence, a mystery among the many mysteries of creation," Chritch elucidates. "It has unimaginable complexity and diversity that makes it impossible to understand through the human psychology of instinct. If art had a unique goal, it would certainly be to provide us with one of the keys to this mystery.

"Compare it to a deep well, where the highest layers are often influenced by the events and emotions closest in time. However, in front of crucial decisions, the wisdom and strength that we need resides in the depth of our inner soul."

Chritch's work has advanced as a result of many experiences. Born in Cairo, of Armenian origin, Chritch graduated from the University of Fine Arts in Cairo. After spending several years in Montreal, she moved to Paris to further her education in arts with another graduate degree at the University of Cergy-Pontoise.

When the rich and colourful heritage of the United Arab Emirates lured her to Abu Dhabi, she established her studio there. According to her, the outstanding hospitality of the people has led the artist to share her passion with others, while teaching modern figure and abstract art, initially, in the workshops of the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation and now in her own studio.

"Being of a rather reserved nature, drawing was my most natural mode of expression as a teenager," she reveals. "I drew portraits of my school teachers. Encouraged by artists such as Shant Avedissian and Carzou, art became an essential part of my existence."

The diversity of those many years around the world has built a strong sense of multicultural identity in Chritch, simultaneously enriching her artistic style and techniques. The distance from her homeland and her nostalgia can be felt in one of her mixed-media paintings entitled Rendezvous au Café. Objects such as sheesha, backgammon, tea cups and all those that contribute to the crowded and dense atmosphere of the coffee shops in Egypt are pictured in a motley group. The Arabic calligraphy illustrates a few musical notes of Umm Kulthum's song that draws the attention of those passing by, especially during Ramadan.

The exotic appeal of Nubian and Kheyameyah art, the kaleidoscopic beauty of Egyptian folk and Coptic art, and the Armenian calligraphy and miniatures have an equal influence on the abstract vividness. More importantly, the exquisite mosaic art inspired by the ancient masterpieces of Rome and Byzantium, the humble juxtaposition of materials such as sand, palm fronds, paper and dried flowers and the spontaneous technique of China ink and painting glaze simulates her creativity.

"Unlike in painting, where different colours merge on the palette, the main challenge of mosaic resides in the ability to imagine the colour composition and anticipate the optical colour mix, which is the final outcome. No alterations can be made," she explains. "The technique of using China ink and brush tolerates no mistake. Similar to my real nature, it is very spontaneous."

Regardless of different methods she emulates after the entire process has reached its apogee, Chritch critically analyses her compositions to name them.

But why is it important to become a spectator of her own paintings? She replies: "My art is primarily driven by a passion to express myself. None of my paintings is planned. The titles mark the beginning of this independence. The works remain equivocal as the viewer is free to initiate his emotional journey. Their appreciation is precisely what is needed to sustain the flame of creation."

She points out The Advice, one of her paintings that remained untitled for long. "The choice came out of the expression of mutual support and advice among the generations. It procures happiness and satisfaction on both ends."

Chritch's most recent body of work, Foreign Faces, reflects upon the thrill of being an outsider. In an endeavour to shed those vague and slippery borders of identity and strangeness, she captures the first inquisitive impression on every foreign face she has crossed in Abu Dhabi. The phenomenon of repetition drove her to use linocut in association with acrylic on board, as the former leaves an indelible mark on paper.

Explaining the trigger behind the project, Chritch says: "The feeling of ‘being at home' is significant to every foreigner. But the bugaboo of being different from the others will not create an allegiance with the surroundings. I spent hours observing people in public transport. It was initially difficult as strangers rarely look at each other but the respect that I maintained allowed me to carry out my artistic experiment. Through the mixed feelings expressed in kind gestures, I conclude that sharing a facial expression is often enough to discard the feeling of being an alien."

When compared with the early creations, we notice that a definite degree of refinement has come with maturity and accrued confidence in Foreign Faces. With time, Chritch's compositions have also become more assertive and less naive, subsequently gaining stability with great strength.

Layla Haroon is a freelance writer based in Abu Dhabi.

Foreign Faces is on at Alliance Francaise, Abu Dhabi, until January 16.