“Evening” is the title of a remarkable exhibition that closed on 3 December at Al Bab Gallery on the Opera House grounds. In 24 oil on canvas and wood panel paintings in different sizes together with 18 monochromatic charcoal on paper sketches, Yasser Gad retells stories from his childhood and teens.
Born in 1967 in Cairo, Gad, a self-taught visual artist, is a 1990 graduate of Cairo University’s Faculty of Archaeology. After a long career as an executive manager of exhibitions and workshops, working closely with artists, participating in workshops and exhibiting at the Ministry of Culture’s galleries as of 1998, Gad gave his debut solo exhibition in 2011.
Gad developed his tools as a painter and art critic simultaneously: he is the author of A Reading in Egyptian Contemporary Art, a muti-volume book featuring analytical studies of artworks by prominent Egyptian artists. His own favourite subject is woman figures, usually depicted with sharp features, distinguished by their long face, long, sharp noses, and strong, fecund bodies. They are the women he grew up among, on the streets of Old Cairo. The present collection demonstrates this clearly.
“As a child,” Gad recalled, “I would never forget the details of a trip to a small village near Al Mahalla, to visit one of my father’s friends. It was night, and the sky was painted a magical and strange blue. In an adjacent area, I noticed that the trees were without leaves. And, out of curiosity, I asked my father’s friend the reason behind that dramatic scene. I found out that the area, which was disputed between two families, was intentionally desertified by an old woman in an attempt to end the dispute. The irony was that the land was on the bank of the Nile. As I reflected on that incident now, the scene was like a symbol of duality: the coexistence of life and death simultaneously.’’
Many paintings on show depict this scene featuring the magic blue sky. A young woman wearing a long, printed dress chases a tortoise, offering a domestic cat fish. Pets are an essential element in some paintings, which adds a symbolic dimension. In folk heritage, the artist said, a tortoise is a good omen that brings good luck to young girls as well as a sign of wisdom.
The artist’s first oil on canvas collection was completed in 2018. He has developed his technique since then. Last year he contributed two powerful 70 x 100 cm portraits to Internal Day, a portrait exhibition at the Cordoba Art Gallery, showing young women with the same features and smiling faces.
This is the artist’s sixth solo exhibition. His previous solo exhibitions included “Stairs” in 2017, and “Shadow and Light” in 2016, both held at the Cairo Atelier. In those two, the artist focused on dualities: ups and downs, or good and bad qualities in humans. Equally, in the present show, there is a keen interest in shadow and light, which is closely related to the same theme. The artist’s classic realist approach looks unique, but raises a question about its connection to contemporary art. “I’m not against contemporary trends. My approach is about developing the classic style to adapt to today’s rhythm,’’ he says.
His palette is limited, a delicate balance of warm and cool.
Three paintings depict the same scene with slight changes. It features three young people (two young women stand together, chatting, while a young man watches them curiously from a remote corner. The three figures are dressed in plain, bright robes and the surrounding leafless trees make up a brownish background that absorbs those robes’ radiant colors. In another painting of the same size, two young women dressed in fuchsia and oil green appear as if they are part of a fashion show, while the young man in dark blue – now a few steps nearer – looks astonished.
In a 180 x 80 oil on board, a young woman, beautifully dressed in a purple and green dress stands in front of a wall painted gold, behind which two human heads gaze curiously at her. The scene is repeated in another two paintings, with a black cat – already a symbol of curiosity – replacing the human heads. This repetion of the scene generates a kind of brief storyboard, but the viewer needs to figure out the story.
In every painting, there is a severe economy of detail: regardless of the background, which is either a wall, the dark blue sky or leafless trees, details are scant except for two tiny cactus pots in one or two paintings, which raise the question of where the subjects might be located – in a dream or in some uninhibited desert? Then again, isn’t good art always ambiguous?