Highlighting a new body of work by the seminal artist, Miniatures offers a look into Dahoul’s ongoing investigation of the principles of painting, specifically how formal elements can be used to shape the affective nature of an image. In his recent paintings, Dahoul experiments with the visual impact of scale and the challenge of shrinking monumental compositions to canvases that are the width of one’s hand. The resulting works continue his Dream series (1987-present), and treat its recurring subject matter with exacting detail despite spatial limitations. True to form, Dahoul’s miniatures carry the same psychological weight that is found in his previous works.
In a way, these new paintings are in response to the last installment of the series, which comprised large-scale works that transported the viewer when shown at Ayyam Gallery Dubai (11, Alserkal Avenue) earlier this year. Miniature paintings, conversely, demand close examination, requiring the viewer to move in closely, as though peering into a secret world. In a triptych, for example, parallel close-up portraits of his recognisable heroine show her in successive moments of stillness, as the passage of time is reflected in her eyes. One portrait shows her gaze hollowed in black, while in another she appears asleep. In a third image she stares directly at the viewer, her eyes shimmering with detail. Reminiscent of a storyboard, this triad summarises the narrative shift of the Dream series over the years as Dahoul’s female protagonist has embodied his analysis of the subconscious mind.
Landmarks II features recent paintings that build on the concepts and forms of Helal’s Mountain and River series, which were shown at Ayyam Gallery Dubai (DIFC) in 2014. With his latest body of work, the Sharjah-based artist expands his approach to painting by further experimenting with different media in an attempt to recreate the physical attributes of natural settings such as mountains, deserts, rivers, and lakes.
Although inspired by landforms like the Assi river, Helal’s aim is for the viewer to recognise each site according to their past experiences. His new paintings are sculptural and appeal to the senses with added volume and dimension, providing tactile references to these environments. The coarse surfaces of the artist’s works are created with organic and synthetic materials such as sand and glue, and describe layers of sediment that accumulate over time. The gestural brushstrokes of his previous works have been substituted for three-dimensional formations that appear to travel across the canvas like waves or dunes.
In Landmarks II Helal continues to identify the story of humankind in the growth patterns of nature, associating the ebb and flow of society with the replenishment or decay of natural environments. Alternating between paintings that reference earth or water, Helal alludes to the intrinsic cycle of nature as it progresses through birth, growth, death, and regeneration. Central to these mixed-media works is the concept of evolution: how some things develop despite setbacks while others remain stagnant. For the artist, this duality moves between sustenance (water) and deprivation (sand). A number of the featured works seem to be composed of salt and are relatively sparse. Although striking, these particular paintings describe a mirage. Helal references this phenomenon as a metaphor for the illusions we encounter in life.
About the Artist
Thaier Helal’s constant search for experimental forms has led him to include diverse media, arriving at approaches that often blur the lines between painting and assemblage. With an innovative painting style that has progressed over the course of two decades, Helal is recognised as working at the forefront of contemporary abstraction in the Middle East.
Born in 1967, Helal launched his career in his native Syria, where he studied with seminal painters at the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Damascus, and was mentored by modern artists such as Mahmoud Hammad. After relocating to the United Arab Emirates in the 1990s, he developed a distinct method of painting that incorporates unconventional materials such as glue, sand, and coal in an attempt to recreate the physical and sensory aspects of the world around him.
Helal begins each composition with a sketched grid that serves as a compositional base then builds on the surface of the canvas by applying several layers of mixed media, providing a sense of organisation to an otherwise spontaneous picture. This laboured formalism represents the artist’s conceptual rendering of the intrinsic code of nature, and extends to investigations of spatial dynamics as shaped by the fluctuation of society and culture. Helal communicates movement and energy through expressionist explosions of colour and automatic brushwork, alluding to organic formations.
In the years following the outbreak of the Syrian conflict, Helal has explored various printmaking techniques and appropriated imagery in works that isolate the mechanisms of war and represent the growing militarisation of global society. Recent works by the artist that use found objects, such as plastic beads and miniature toys, allude to the adverse effects of globalisation, the advent of consumerist culture, and the power struggles that have triggered these phenomena.
As a longtime resident of the Gulf, Helal has contributed to the regional art scene with an extensive exhibition history that includes solo exhibitions at such venues as the Sharjah Art Museum (2000), in addition to awards from Tehran’s Contemporary Painting Biennial (2005) and the Sharjah Biennial (1997). Helal has also influenced the development of local painting as a Senior Member of the Sharjah Arts Institute, and a Professor at the Fine Arts College, University of Sharjah, where he has encouraged emerging artists.
Recent solo and group exhibitions for the artist include Ayyam Gallery Beirut (2015), Ayyam Gallery London (2015); Ayyam Gallery DIFC (2014); Samsung Blue Square, Seoul (2014); and Busan Museum of Art (2014). Helal’s works are housed in private and public collections throughout the Arab world, including the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Collection, U.A.E.