STELLAN HOLM GALLERY - 1018 MADISON AVENUE
APRIL 21st - MAY 27th 2016
Hayfa Abdullah (b. 1981 in Riyadh, and lives and works in Jeddah) is a figurative painter of luminous, brilliantly colored canvases. Over the past several years in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, there has been an explosion of creative ventures by young artists, many of them women. They have found the arts to be a powerful agent of individual and collective expression, an effective means of addressing a spectrum of concerns from the personal to the political. Offering a topical, insider’s view of regions in transition, telling their own stories in a multiplicity of ways, they have captivated an international audience with the resonance and originality of their projects.
While many have taken up new media and technologies, others, like Hayfa Abdullah, prefer the time-honored discipline of painting, one that is enjoying a global resurgence. Her interest in a fine arts practice was kindled when the highly regarded Saudi artist, Mona Al-Qasabi, introduced her to painting in 2000 and Hayfa Abdullah discovered that she had a natural aptitude for the medium. She fell deeply in love with oil paint’s material voluptuousness and flexibility, delighting in its infinite colors and luster. Paint became as much her subject as the images she created from them.
That imagery often centers on objects specific to the culture in which she was raised, although, as the daughter of Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the late king of Saudi Arabia, her upbringing was cosmopolitan and she frequently spends time in New York, Paris, and elsewhere. In this new series of 25 paintings from 2015, traditional Saudi objects from daily life often appear, blending the animate and inanimate in mischievous, surprising ways. Her style is fresh, bold, and packs a punch. She also comments on how women are perceived, stereotypes playfully presented and subverted. Her fantastical metamorphoses are a kind of visual magic realism, drawn from the realm of the imagination and not so much from art history, although she greatly admires Magritte, Dalí and Frida Kahlo, among others.
The first painting in the series is Hookah, the lovely blonde head of a sophisticate emerging from a hookah like a male pipe dream. Another is Oud, depicting a similarly bewitching but more traditional figure poised atop a bottle of scent, her face veiled except for challenging, dramatically outlined eyes. Other paintings refer to the illusions of art and its processes, such as the grimacing green-skinned man birthed into existence by paint and brush. Still others--a woman’s face reflected in a cracked golden mirror or embedded in a candle, weeping (recalling Urs Fischer’s wax sculptures)--speak about the passage of time and loss. Spray, a particularly ravishing work, shows a blue-haired female head trailed by the sweep of a royal blue headscarf placed against a sumptuous red ground. Her mouth is opened in a visceral scream of anguish and anger, as she erupts rebelliously from her confinement within a bottle. An actual visage is depicted in Mahjub, a sensitively drawn portrait of a man poured out of a beautifully executed golden dallah, a traditional Arab coffee pot and another highlight of the series. Yet another is Doukhoun, its imperious head wreathed in smoke, cradled by an incense burner, a commanding presence from an earlier period as indicated by the style of his dress. What all the work has in common are themes of mutability and the instability of identities, paralleling the rapid changes that characterize the contemporary world and affect us all.
The series will be shown at Stellan Holm in New York in April, the artist’s first solo exhibition in the United States, following her solo exhibition in Rochan Gallery in Jeddah in March. All proceeds will go to The Child Mind Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to transforming the lives of children and families struggling with mental health and learning disorders.
About the Child Mind Institute
The Child Mind Institute is an independent nonprofit dedicated to transforming the lives of children and families struggling with mental health and learning disorders. Our teams work every day to deliver the highest standards of care, advance the science of the developing brain and empower parents, professionals and policymakers to support children when and where they need it most. Together with our supporters, we’re helping children reach their full potential in school and in life.
We share all of our resources freely and do not accept any funding from the pharmaceutical industry. Learn more at www.childmind.org.