Text by Marie Tomb
Many contemporary artists cave to the pressure of The Concept, of building sociopathological commentary justified by quotidian objects, old or new, made or found.
Nadia Safieddine’s paintings, however, are everything but theory-laden. Elegy, her latest series, is unabashedly rooted in the exploration of the personal, via the venerable technique of oil painting.
A hybrid of abstraction and figurative subject matter, her work exaggerates and distorts the human form. She infuses the paintings with undeniable melancholy and violence, in order to propose a meditation on the fluid nature of her own – and, by extension, everyone’s – conflicted emotional states.
A particularly wearisome period left the artist emotionally drained. Unable to deal with her own appearance, she enlisted models for the first time and only worked in their presence. Yet, she kept her process concealed, by fear of exposing herself.
Slowly, somewhat erratically, she staged performances of sorts, surrounded by classical music. The models wore her clothes, ones that bore her own history, and so came to inhabit her private sanctum.
In a double role-play, the artist appropriated and her models’ physical appearances to better manipulate them, until the sitters became tools to paint her inner self.
Safieddine is only expressionist in the sense that she aims at representing the essence of her inner being. The paintings in Elegy are neither portraits nor invented characters, but self-portraits resulting from an unscripted and unedited process.
They are both the raw traces left behind by two persons confined to a studio, and the radical metamorphosis of this mundane situation.
In the paintings, no surface is left alone, and literal waves of paint flood the eye and the mind. Over an intensely dark and muted background, brighter tones interject spontaneously. The image is constructed by layers, with the effect of a surface simultaneously highly textured, opaque, and glossy.
The characters are hard to distinguish, as if the spirit surpassed the physical body. Still, the latter is far from taking on a secondary role. The poignant faces lead to wide hand- and footless limbs melting into the background.
There are also hints of clothing, as distant evocations of the painter’s attires. Thus built of traces, the elusive characters seem to hesitate between movement and stillness. The brutal brushstroke pushes them down to the depth of the picture, but they desperately refuse to sink, despite their evident vulnerability.
There is something Asian about them: their exaggerated facial expressions, enhanced by dashes of vivid colors, bring to mind actors in Japanese kabuki theatre.
And their postures, jumping from poised, to recoiling, to belligerent, are reminiscent of Far-Eastern martial arts. Such allusions decisively contribute to the impression of theatrical posturing within the paintings' contortions.
Safieddine proposes no inflexible thesis, no obstinate message, and no particular philosophy. Her gestural painting, divorced from global concerns, is an intense exploration of her multifarious identity, replete with complex psychological and emotional states.
Yet, paradoxically, she ends up opening introspective spaces to all.