Balance in contrast

March 31, 2019

Blue Parametric I, 2018 - Enamel on aluminium, 150cm x 150cm

An exhibition titled In Parallel by the Bahraini artist Rashid al Khalifa showing at Bait Muzna Gallery till April 1 brings a distinguished body of work to the sultanate. Spanning 40 years, the exhibition is likely one of the most remarkable held here and will standout on the Oman art scene for some time to come.

Khalifa’s style and genre is varied having dramatically evolved over time across realism, impressionism and individualism to abstract at the other end of the spectrum. Starting with landscapes in the 70s and early 80s, to combining elements of figurative and abstract art in the late 80s, he moved to experimenting with convex surfaces in the 90s. In more recent times, he has explored the scope of creativity with mirror-like chrome and high gloss lacquer.

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Fortunate to have his talent recognised early, Khalifa – a member of the Bahraini royal family – held his first exhibition when he was all of 17 before being sent off to attend the Brighton and Hastings Art College in Sussex, UK, in 1972. He has since exhibited in Art Expo Singapore, Beirut Art Fair, Middle East Institute – Washington DC, Sharjah Biennial, Salon des artistes français – Paris, Three-Dimensional Rio International Biennial, Venice Biennale, Zurich Art Fair and numerous other group shows and exhibitions.

According to Yasmin Sharabi, curator of In Parallel, Khalifa’s vast body of work is inherent of several stylistic differences and changes and so she felt that rather than focus on one specific period, “it would be interesting to find harmony between periods and styles; commonalities that are based on sentiments, feelings and attitude”.  An MA in Art Business from Sotheby’s Institute, London, she said, “Often, an artist may visualise something in one way and later on in life, express the same thing but using a completely different medium and style. Yet, we recognise that the sentiment of the two works in question, is rather similar.”

In Parallel includes three sculptures from a series titled Parametric which were also shown at Saatchi Gallery – London in 2018. These stunning pieces created with mathematical and geometric precision were inspired by the artist’s interest in the mashrabiya, a traditional feature of Middle Eastern architecture. “I was interested in expressing the duality of the mashrabiya, whereby it allows you to see outside while ensuring the privacy of those inside. It also allows the breeze to flow in ensuring circulation of air. I wanted to express this concept but in a contemporary way and as I explored ways in which to do this, the parametrics took form.”

Khalifa said he loves the way these works express that duality. “They are both gentle and fluid and they seem to move and scatter light, like latticework. And yet, they are made of aluminium, so in reality, their properties make them robust and strong. This contrast seems to create a nice balance.”

A striking element of the exhibition that grabs viewer’s attention is the convex surface on which Khalifa has unleashed his creativity. Asked if a convex canvas is better (or worse) than a flat one, he said, it was a means of experimentation. “It is not better or worse but an alternative surface on which to paint on. A flat canvas also has its benefits depending on what the surface holds.” He found that in many ways, a slightly convex surface was advantageous at a time when he was developing his abstract work. As he started eliminating details and moving towards minimalism and symmetry, the convex canvas allowed for a natural progression towards more sculptural work.

Always drawn to his heritage, Khalifa is now more focused in replicating traditions or aspects of culture in a contemporary manner, whereby the resulting work ‘almost’ becomes a symbol of reverence. “At first glance you may not recognise that a glistening stainless steel grid has reference to something traditional, but in fact, it might.”

Asked about the status of art in the region, he said he believes this is an interesting time for art. “As independent Gulf countries, we have a certain strength when it comes to artistic practice. At the same time, I think that collectively we compliment one another.”

While there is no plan to exhibit this specific collection elsewhere, there have been talks of creating a bigger exhibition based on a similar curatorial concept, Yasmin informed.

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