From Van Gogh’s 1889 Starry Night to Dali’s 1931 The Persistence of Time, paintings have always taken an interest in the concept of time. It is a theme Samir Fouad has consistently returned to, depicting the passage of time through such motifs as the swing, which he has painted since 2010.
In Lost Time, his new exhibition, which closed last week at the Picasso Gallery, Fouad offers 20 oil on canvas pieces reflecting on four distinct ideas of time. The first is Innocence, which includes his trademark swing, this time executed with faster brushstrokes and featuring a large black spot in the middle. It also includes The Mosque Imam, which shows a mosque interior with an imam alone. The contrast between the red carpets and the strong yellow ceiling light is very haunting.
The second idea of time is Absurdity, and it features a large 2021 painting entitled Fireworks. It features a child holding a 1950s toy called the forrerah. It is yellow and resembles a miniature nuclear reactor. Against a green background, it evokes a sense of timelessness. The First Man on the Moon shows another little boy in a yellow T-shirt with a black and white helmet in what appears to be a moonscape. “It is inspired by my grandson and his desire to explore outer space,” Fouad explains, “which he has done virtually through a computer.” The virtual world is what the painting depicts.
The third time is Fantasy, in which a man dressed like a jihadi sits next to a nude young woman in the desert with watermelon and banana remains by the muzzle of his gun. A brownish cow in the background seems to symbolise capitalism. Is this a forced date, or a manifestation of authoritarian desire? Fouad says the painting is a meditation on the hypocrisy and double standards of fundamentalists. “The nude woman is there to expose them,” he says.
In the Frozen time, the fourth category, there are two beautiful paintings. “The first is of the makwagi Zakareya, whose small clothes-ironing shop in my neighborhood in Heliopolis. And the second is of Zaki, whose shop is where I rented my first bike when I was five. Neither has changed since my childhood, surviving over 80 years now.”
The exhibition bears testimony to the artist’s lifelong interest in physics and music, and his work as a digital engineer. The four categories, each an approach to the movement in time, reflect the four seasons, with the first using bright yellows and greens to evoke spring.
“All four categories reflect the impact of my childhood,” Fouad says, “My infection with Coronavirus a couple of months ago was a good reason to meditate on my childhood. When you reflect on a particular stage in your past, you are bound to do so using your present convictions and logic. Our relationship to our childhood is just our imagination of what might have happened, not what actually happened. That is why I chose Lost Time for the title. In reality we have lost the connection with the past, and we can only restore some threads through art.”
In Absurdity, a relatively small painting depicts the mortal danger sign, while another painting, The Target, shows a frightened black fish caught in a bull’s eye as it tries to flee a fisherman or sharpshooter.
“We are all targeted,” says Fouad, “from ferocious capitalism and media to global associations which want us to follow their rules.” Mixing abstraction in with figuration, Fouad says he had intended to produce an all abstract collection but his figurative expressionist inclinations proved too strong. “I believe that my next collection will be a new style of figurative painting. A different route. Eventually, it is the brushstroke that decides the fate of an artist.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 20 January, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.