Lawrie Shabibi exhibition

Laura Egerton on Driss Ouadahi's solo exhibition in Dubai

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Lawrie Shabibi gallery curator, Laura Egerton, enlightens Chanelle Tourish on ‘Inside Zenith’, artist Driss Ouadahi’s second solo exhibition at the gallery to date.

Driss Ouadahi’s ‘Inside Zenith’ is a showcase of new paintings from the Moroccan artist, drawing on his fascination with vacant urban environments at the margins of cities in Africa and Europe.

It is Ouadahi’s second solo exhibition with Dubai’s Lawrie Shabibi gallery, following on from his debut in 2012. Laura Egerton, the gallery’s curator, says the pieces share a new dreamlike perspective and feel less literal, moving towards abstraction, the lines blurring between reality and the artist’s imagination. Ouadahi was born to Algerian parents in Casablanca in 1959. After initially training as an architect, he went on to study art in Algeria before enrolling and graduating from the Kunstakadamie Düsseldorf, Germany in the late ’70s.

He continues to live and work in Germany and was awarded the Grand Prix Léopold Sédar Senghor Prize at the 11th edition of Dak’Art, the Biennial of Contemporary African Art in Dakar, Senegal this year.

His exhibition at Lawrie Shabibi is on display until Tuesday January 6, 2015. ‘All the works are new. They show a real development in Ouadahi’s practice as a painter, his technique and application of paint,’ says Laura.

‘He has relaxed and become more fluid, his subject matter more dreamlike. He continues with his ongoing investigation of empty urban landscapes, sometimes zooming into a particular element such as a hole in a wire fence, but mostly looking across an expanse of modernist architecture, the view partially blocked by a series of grids, which could be the outlines of the most prominent structures in his sightline. Each painting seems to have a major colour focus – sometimes purple, also greens, browns and blues.’

The work that inspired the title of the exhibition is modelled on impressions Ouadahi has built up of Dubai on recent visits. His method involves working from photographs taken during his travels and meshing them with images from his memory to create a collage of different buildings and spaces, constructing a new, fantastical urban structure each time.

‘Ouadahi is inspired by the many great painters who have emerged from the city’s Kunstakadamie Düsseldorf, for example Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke. He comes from the next generation who are not afraid to focus on large-scale works. His North African roots are also important to him – many scenes in his paintings come from his early days spent in Casablanca and Algiers.’ The artist is interested in transposing the monumental, dreamlike architecture of the Gulf into the space of a painting, giving us a variety of viewpoints at once. Some buildings, waterways and open spaces in the paintings appear familiar and yet are difficult to precisely locate.

‘Inside Zenith’ is really an impossible place to inhabit – ‘zenith’ refers to an imaginary point in the celestial sphere directly above a particular location, which you cannot get inside. Zenith also suggests success or power and is therefore a rather appropriate word to describe Dubai, its exponential growth and seemingly limitless ambition. ‘The paintings offer a fascinating insight into viewing and representing a contemporary city on canvas. Devoid of the people who make a city function, Ouadahi focuses instead on the forbidding architectural features that surround us and make up our daily experiences, but that we often ignore. He visits tower blocks and takes photographs of staircases and open spaces that he then translates onto canvas with a dizziness and disorientation that is really interesting and unique,’ says Laura.

Ouadahi has altered his palette and the way he applies oil to canvas. Each work has a dominant tonal colour, sometimes a rusty brown (which he uses in ‘Motionless’), sometimes grey or charcoal with warmer hues diffused, creating an impression of natural light falling on the landscape (such as in ‘Fusion’), and sometimes a greenish-blue, cobalt or midnight blue, depending on the time of day (as he does in ‘Graces’). The compositions are dominated by the angled, linear structures running throughout the landscapes, and despite the unfinished construction sites, beauty and poetry can still be found and emerges through his painted images.
Until January 6, 2015. Lawrie Shabibi. Open Sat-Thu 10am-6pm, closed Friday. Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz (04 346 9906).

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