Younger generations of people who may be familiar with generative art but may not be aware of Samia Halaby's works, will easily spot in her exuberantly vibrant brushes of colour and abstract landscapes a strong connection with computer art.
Born in 1936 in Jerusalem, Palestinian artist and active political campaigner Halaby has taught at institutions in the USA, Palestine and Jordan and now lives and works in New York.
In the '80s Halaby became a pioneer carrying out experiments that merged art with technology. She indeed wrote programs to create digital moving paintings and also incorporated sounds in them through an Amiga (she first used Logo, then Basic and later on started programming in C on an Atari Amiga).
The computer assumed a central role in her kinetic paintings, though Halaby didn't use it as a pencil or a brush to imitate painting, but as the medium. Halaby's computer program joined sound and graphic commands, which she used to produce kinetic paintings by playing the keyboard.
She often played live performances using the program accompanied by two musicians known as the Kinetic Painting Group. This open collective of artists allowed her to work with a variety of musicians, dancers, poets, and story tellers, and create multi-media performances.
In the '90s she started working on an interactive program to create live performances with the electronic musicians at Philadelphia's SCAN (Small Computers in The Arts Network), where she also showed her programmed electronic paintings.
After a series of audio-visual presentations between the '80s and the early '90s, Halaby took her ideas further and, during an event at the Brooklyn Museum in 1994, she projected kinetic computer art on a film screen.
A substantial influence on contemporary Arab art, Halaby may be classified among the many artists who combine painting with new digital mediums, but she is also among the very few ones who have been questioning the position of the artist in relation to new media, the connection between sound and vision and between the rhythm of kinetic paintings and the rhythm of music.
Ayyam Gallery London will be presenting an exhibition of Halaby's works in October. Entitled "Samia Halaby - New Paintings", the event will look at Halaby's passion for Renaissance, Impressionism, traditional Arabic arts and Islamic architecture through her more recent works.
Some of her new paintings feature bursts of colours that look as they had been created using Processing, even though some of the themes tackled in the works included in this exhibition look at memories and crafts and do not therefore seem to have any immediate connection with technology.
New work "Clouds and Trees" (2013) is rooted indeed in her memories of the distinctive clouds and landscape of Indiana, which she admired as a student at Indiana University in the early 1960s, while "Takheel I" and "Takheel 2" (both 2013) were titled after a friend highlighted the fact that she had unconsciously used the colours and formal qualities of embroidery made in the mountain villages of Palestine (a style referred to as 'Takheel'). As she explained in a press release, "When I see something beautiful, I always stop and memorise it…I watch things change relative to each other in shape, size, and colour and these memories become the subject of my paintings."
The exhibition features only one work that has been shown previously, "Homage to Leonardo" (2012), inspired by the artist's first encounter with Leonardo da Vinci’s "The Last Supper" in 1964. In this case Halaby reimagined the space of da Vinci’s work in a kaleidoscope of vivid colours, using bold brush marks to symbolise movement and light.
Halaby has a unique language that speaks to people of different ages and from the most disparate backgrounds. Her vocabulary is made not of words but of colours that form strong visual effects, ethereal flowers, dark nocturnal landscapes and thick lines in varying sizes and shapes.
No doubt even younger visitors to this exhibition who favour generative art to traditional paintings, will be mesmerised by her large canvases featuring formations of colours, experimentals brushes, strong contrasts of light and darkness, and dynamic nuances that also hint at the exploration of the shades and textures found in nature reinterpreted in an abstract key.
As Halaby states in the press release for the Ayyam Gallery exhibition: "Abstraction is not about the artist or his or her individualism, but rather about the far more difficult and thus more satisfying ambition to invent a visual language capable of containing exchangeable knowledge. Of course, the uniqueness of painting is that this shared knowledge is a visual one."
"Samia Halaby - New Paintings", Ayyam Gallery London, 143 New Bond Street, 1st Floor, W1S 2TP London, UK, 9 October - 30 November 2013
All images courtesy of Samia Halaby and Ayyam Gallery
1. Samia Halaby in her studio, New York, 2013
2. "Yellow Wing", 2013
3. "Clouds and Trees", 2013
4. "Blue Landscape", 2013
5. "Flowers in Darkness", 2013
6. "Pink Clouds", 2013
7. "Takheel I", 2013
8. "Takheel II", 2013
9. "Water Lilies", 2013
10. "Homage to Leonardo", 2012
11. "Cadmium Red", 2013Member of the Boxxet Network of Blogs, Videos and Photos
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