Monday, October 22, 2012

Abdel Hadi Al Gazar

This post introduces the work of Abdel Hadi Al Gazar, an Egyptian artist, who is known to be one of the founders figures of the surreal movement in Egypt

Art Movements in Egypt  

The official beginning of the Egyptian art movement was 1908, with the opening of the first School of Fine Arts in Cairo. The work of all of these first-generation artists demonstrate a strong Egyptian character and a departure from the norms of European-style academic art prevalent at the time, to a pre-Islamic and pre-Christian past by the adoption of neo-pharaonic motifs on the one hand, and more focus on the spirituality of the common man on the other hand.   

The second generation of artists (from the second half of 1920s to 1940s) was witnessing an era of upheavals as with the rise of right-wing and left-wing groups (inspired by fascist and communist waves in the west). The result is that the work of such generation is remarkably eclectic. However this generation introduced modern in Egypt

The artist I am introducing here, Abdel Hadi Al Gazar belonged to the third generation of artists. Following the end of the Second World War, Egyptian art saw something of a revival by this third generation of Egyptian pioneer artists. At its outset this generation’s feeling was that the purpose of art was to move beyond figurative representation and formalist abstraction and instead to express profound and universal concepts.

There are three strands of this generation, First: a formalist approach, which embraced new trends in modern art, some of them Western. Second: metaphysical tendencies, expressed by depictions of figures in primitive settings, which evoked a yearning to rediscover nature, stylistically with ties to Surrealism.

The third strand was formed by number of artists who founded what they called the Group of Contemporary Art. They were seeking to move away from metaphysical and surrealist sympathies towards a synthesis of folk art, and to forcefully depict the lives of miserable and oppressed masses. Those artists spoke of the tough times, which followed the end of the Second World War, when Egypt experienced a recession such as it, had never seen. With an exploding population and mass unemployment, a large part of society, rooted in a deeply superstitious folk culture, was dipping below the poverty line.

Abdel Hadi Al Gazar

Abdel Hadi Al Gazzar (1925 – 1966, Alexandria, Egypt) occupies a unique position among the artists of his generation. Gazzar was a member of the Group of Contemporary Art mentioned above.

He is considered to be among the leading proponents of surrealism. Gazar would choose ordinary working-class people as well as those who lived on the edge- mystics, soothsayers and circus acrobats as his subjects. Through his strong line and colour, these depictions were to give these characters a certain nobility, but a pervasive feeling of magic and mystery permeates the paintings. (christies)

There is  an argument that Gazar was more of an expressionist than surrealist, though he’s often described as one. He is more attached to reality than to the products of the unconscious, visions of the imagination and dreams. However, there are definitely surreal elements in Gazar’s work. Like surrealists, Gazar did not naively accept that everything is in its logical place at the level of pure reality claim.

Historians usually classify Gazar’s work along three phases:

The first phase is the metaphysical stage and is reflected in Gazar’s work between 1938 and 1946. Gazar who was born in a Mediterranean city (Alexandria) translated his interaction with the abstract environment around him, and he was convinced that all creatures originate from one source (water). In this stage (also, historians call it the Shells Period), and based on the anthropological theme of man before civilization and his relationship with the wilderness, Gazar used shells as icons to express his ideas and feelings about sources of life.

The second phase of El-Gazzar's career reflected his move to and influence by Sayeda Zeinab, a Cairene historical popular district. In this district medieval traditions resisted all the winds of modern westernization. It was in this district that he witnessed the moulids (Sufis carnivals) and the religious festivals that have been celebrated since the Fatmid period. He began to associate the intuitive aspect of art (its soul) with the essential element in the popular magical art (the hidden and the unknown).

The third phase of El-Gazzar's later works were very different, influenced as he was by the politics of contemporary Egypt (1952 revolution) and with a focus on technology and progress (With the rise of the socialist state of 1952s and 1960s). A period of study in Italy and England (1956-1958) saw major stylistic changes in his work, namely a marked tendency towards abstraction. This later work shows him to have been both fascinated and repelled by scientific progress and the interaction (or lack thereof) between man and machine. He moved away from the irrationalism of folklore towards a surrealism that resembled ever more closely science fiction. This was really an extraordinary thing for an Egyptian artist of the time to do -amongst his contemporaries there were no parallels.


This is my favorite quote by Gazar :

“When the pencil or the paintbrush touches the paper, it starts a difficult task which is the process of creation to that degree that the viewer believer when it sees that painting at the end is that is a new creation which it is not. In other words, the viewer believes that the nature it sees in the drawing is a created object and this is untrue. The true creation starts when the universe began existing and it will end when the universe ends. The artists himself does not know when it started the painting and how he finished it as the painting and the artists is one piece. The different images get melting into the soul of the artists as the artists gets melting into his artistic works. It is the same process like the universe itself when the soul melts into the substance and the substance melts into the soul”


Selected Work ( from personal collections) 
(The title of the work and material used is in the image filename ) 

Shells Period 

The second phase (Folkloric phase)

this is my favorite. It is called Abou El Sebaa which means The Father of the lions. I like the adoption of folkloric motifs and pharaonic affects with the usage of hot colors. 

This piece is one of Gazar's political work ... it is titled chorus. It is to express hunger and poverty smashing lives of ordinary masses

This one is titled : the World of Love :) 

The Third Phase (Nationalist and Revolutionary Affects) 

The Third Phase (Surreal and Abstract work) 

This is the most famous work by Gazar. It is called High Dam. This work reflects man-nature-machine interaction so vivid in the project of the high dam with surrealist elements and touches. 

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