CUSP by Rashid Al Khalifa
September 7th – October 16th, 2022
Stadtle 43, FL-9490 Vaduz
September 7th – October 16th, 2022
Stadtle 43, FL-9490 Vaduz
This September 7th, the Liechtenstein Landesmuseum opens CUSP, a mini retrospective presenting a selection of works by Bahraini artist Rashid Al Khalifa, from atmospheric landscape paintings that mark the beginning of his artistic career in the 1970s, to his latest robust aluminium and steel installations. The exhibition will remain open until October 16th 2022.
Despite the diversity of Rashid Al Khalifa’s oeuvre in terms of style and medium, there is an undercurrent that flows through decades of creative work, driven by Rashid’s desire to develop and evolve. In many respects, the stylistic transitions that define certain periods, reflect the changing landscape of Bahrain and the passages of Rashid’s life.
Rashid Al Khalifa’s style of work has undergone a significant evolution over the years with the surroundings that have long inspired him but if we are to truly understand the essence of his oeuvre, we find that he has undergone a very conscious journey. Rashid has always aimed to express the fundamentality of life, through the contrasts he has regularly observed in his immediate environment, as well as the colours and light reflected in a land that he treasures.
“I am grateful to be exhibiting in Vaduz for the second time this year, and to have the opportunity to present this selection of works that define certain periods of my artistic career. I often draw on aspects of my heritage, culture and surroundings and I am so pleased to share my most personal work in a country with such a rich culture and amongst a people with whom I was previously so warmly received.” said the artist Rashid Al Khalifa.
After returning to Bahrain from his studies in the UK in the 1970s, Rashid was filled with an even greater sense of appreciation for his homeland and yet also felt a bewildering sense of yearning to document and recount its environment. He began with his own renditions of his country’s landscapes that were inspired by his immediate surroundings, many of which marked key transitional moments in his life. Enchanting, atmospheric oil paintings of the desert, sea and historical sites of Bahrain, depict both real and imagined worlds. Vast expanses of sun-drenched dunes, soothing seaside panoramas and romantic renderings of the desert incorporate subtle symbols that reaffirm Rashid’s intuitions of impending change and growing personal responsibilities. Camels at Rumaitha Wadi (1983), depicting two camels grazing in a small valley, suggests a sense of ambivalence or an uncertain destination in the distance.
In the late 1980s, Rashid was driven by a greater sense of individuality which emulated the ambiance and aura of his own surroundings. He began to explore the figure as a means to express his longing for a more private aesthetic space and experience. The figurative landscapes that followed, provided an opportunity for him to reflect on his emotional and spiritual connection to his homeland. Feminine forms arose where suggestions of limbs, movement and cascades of hair all dispersed into melding colours of the land. In Fascination (1988), we see a female figure floating in the centre of the painting. Deep purple and blue hues surround her, while flecks of colour envelop the subtlety of her form. Equating her body with nature itself, these tones evoke the memorable gamut of colours found in Bahrain’s twilight skies. In a series of paintings from 1992, thick washes of fleshy tones and undulating colours trace voluptuous contours and cervices recalling the valleys between the local desert dunes. Sensual and suggestive, these works are aptly titled Desert- Paysage Humain, intimating Rashid’s awareness of the ephemerality of nature, the transitional phases in his own life and the journey of love and learning that lay ahead of him.
Further transformation denotes Rashid’s desire to contain and direct his previously gestural and fleeting mark making. Gradually becoming more controlled, his imagery began incorporating more decorative elements and richer colours. Interestingly, it is through the compartmentalization of form, that these works provide a sweeping aerial perspective, where segments of land meet islands of colour, resulting in forms and patterns that are distinctly feminine. With this kind of stylistic dissection, we see cellular forms arise, creating imagery with a certain biological appearance, much like a magnification from within. By integrating elements of his figurative and landscape works, the artist offers both an overriding, comprehensive perspective and concentrated detailed examination. Figurative landscape III (1998) sees the development of a romantic palette, with bright white flowers budding amid pastel blue waters. Golden swirls of filigree shimmering beneath a red floral arrangement evoke an amorous aura.
What occurred in subsequent years was a move away from this distinctive segmentation of colour and form. Once bold, dark lines began to look like indentations. Scrapes and smooth colours became blended and erased. Rashid has long considered his artistic output as an ongoing process and a journey with no particular destination. It was during this period of trial and experimentation that he revisited his older works and started revaluating, repainting and reworking them. Rashid wanted to more effectively capture sentiments, fleeting moments, sudden realisations or just a specific time of day. To achieve this, he began removing and erasing details and specific surface features in his works. Marks are adapted, transposed and distorted with swirling colours intertwining and contained. The variability within the central shape is explicit and appears organic and fluid, evoking an energetic shift or the onset of a change of atmosphere. Rashid’s method of elimination and re-creation became as vital as the final outcome and the history and former marks which lay beneath the surface were an essential element to the realization of such works. Eager to develop his style, he incorporated his newfound appreciation for a shapelier surface – a convex canvas stretched at approximately 25 degrees – which became characteristic of his work over the next few decades.
Works produced from 2010 onwards, reference a shift towards a much darker colour scheme. While his earlier practice focused on conveying light through a multitude of colours and shapes, this new work emphasized the manner in which light can be generated through the absence of colour. This investigation of the absence of ‘light’ meant the artist was free to study and reconsider the nature of the surface itself. Rashid found that the durability, lightweight and reflective properties of aluminium were appealing in terms of the physicality of his work and provided Rashid with a flawless surface on which to allow light to fall differently. Black Circle (2013) demonstrates the artist’s continued fascination with light and shadow. Through the depth and lustre provided by the black lacquer applied as well as the texture of drips on the surface, the viewer can notice traces of light.
This encouraged Rashid to test other materials that could also interact with and be affected by the immediate environment and in 2011 he employed a mirrored surface for the first time, which offered a means of reflection both physically and metaphorically. By applying marks onto chrome, he was in fact impressing his individuality upon a pristine and dynamic substrate, which in turn replicated the impermanence of the setting in which it is placed. Given that its principle source of power is light, the place and time in which such works are seen and whoever stands in their presence, influences the nature of the work itself. This, combined with his pursuit of symmetry in his art practice, resulted in works like Total Eclipse II (2013), whereby he incorporated the simplicity of the circle, a quintessential symbol of timelessness and purity, which became a central feature in his work. The continued exploration of its potential provided him with an effective means of meditation.
As Rashid delved further into Minimalism, he began to focus on a medium that would absorb rather than reflect light and still genuinely communicate the richness of his colours so that neither one or the other overpowered the work’s overall energy field. Employing matte enamel on aluminium, he created smooth and pristine forms; their dynamism and quiet authority owing to their modest simplicity. By excluding the pictorial and fictive aspect of his narrative in favour of the literal and sculptural concerns, Rashid became a creator of objects, searching for that balance between positive (or non-white space) and the use of negative spaces in his aesthetic composition. Hence his concertized, distilled and philosophically charged geometries. He began to produce specific and identifiable structures inhabiting a space, not easily classifiable as either painting or sculpture. Black & Orange (2014) further illustrates his pursuit of absolute perfection. And yet, its connection to his works preceding is apparent: the penetrating contrast of the bright orange centre and rich black backdrop, call to mind the intensity of Bahrain’s setting sun and alludes to the country’s unique geographical features.
Despite the rapid explosion of modern buildings and urban planning, Islamic patterns and design elements have prevailed throughout contemporary culture in Bahrain. Their rhythmic, linear and foliage arabesques, employed to represent the spiritual attributes of the natural environment, were often incorporated in the mashrabiya, a distinguishing feature of Middle Eastern architecture. Typically a projecting oriel window enclosed with carved wooden latticework on the second or higher story of a building, its original purpose was to ensure privacy so the occupants could see out but not be seen from outside, whilst also providing shade and projection from searing heat and allowing a breeze to pass through. This balancing function and its metaphoric potential inspired Rashid to recreate the experience in what he has defined as his Parametric series. These works are built on contrasts and ostensibly opposing yet complementary forces- positive and negative, light and dark, interior and exterior- representing Rashid’s research of order and symmetry. We also see his expressions of the transcendent and ephemeral nature of light and shadow.
More recently, Rashid’s Spectrum series further reflects on the ‘rules of repetition’ in Islamic art, one of the most important aesthetic principles of Islamic architecture. The frequency and repetition of a shape in Islamic art, however complex, creates the illusion of infinity whereby the frame that holds the pattern is incidental: the symmetrical pattern continues beyond the bounds of the frame. Harmony arises from this state of infinitude. Spectrum takes such principles and contemporizes them by playing on structural attributes that are also reminiscent of contemporary Arab architecture, additionally integrating a specific palette and tones, that are characteristic to Bahrain’s landscape. As Spectrum transitions from one colour to another, its identity in turn, is altered. Each work is dependent on its placement within the surrounding environment, the emotional state of the viewer, and of course the mind of the artist, who purposely selects and combines colours. Through these endless possibilities of colour combinations, each Spectrum resonates a different feeling, sensation or thought process. Furthermore, the rhythmic nature of such repetition alludes to Rashid’s desire to express order and symmetry whilst creating imagery that shifts and transforms with its surrounding.
Inspired by the narrow alleyways of old Bahrain, Maze (2018) stands confidently in luminous homage to the vast network of hidden streets connecting traditional homes and villages across the island. The grid-like framework of partitions which constitute this entire structure, integrate colourful folds that are randomly positioned over specific sections of the trellis. Walking through this interactive structure, onlookers are both within and beyond its interior and exterior. This work’s whimsical nature is appealing to children and adults alike, who quickly sense their participatory roles and its labyrinthic invitation to explore; creating its own aura through the synchronicity of the sounds, colours, movement and soft shadows emanating from the experience.