When colours play tunes
Anyone with synesthesia—a relatively rare condition where some people experience a fusion of sensory perception, for example visualising musical notation or numbers in shapes or colours—will be fascinated by an exhibition currently on show at the Picasso Art Gallery in Cairo.
“There is no doubt in my mind that singing is the most popular of all the arts,” says the artist, Helmy al-Touni. “We all listen to songs and are charmed by them, and some people feel moved to join in the singing. I humbly declare that I am addicted to singing. Listening to a beautiful song makes me feel elated and entranced, and I sometimes even find myself crying out in admiration: ‘Allah! Oh my God!’.” Likewise, Mr Touni says, a beautiful scene, be it an attractive woman, a cloud in the sky or a lovely painting, can have a similar effect.
Visitors to Mr Touni’s recent exhibition “Enchantment”, which is showing at the Picasso Gallery from 20 February until 10 March, will not fail to observe the inspiration of his recent collection: a beautiful song and a lovely face, a pleasure for ears and eyes.
Born in 1934 in Beni Sweif some 100km south of Cairo, Mr Touni graduated in 1958 from the Faculty of Fine Arts, where he specialised in oil portraiture and design. His works reflect his roots; his Egyptian and Coptic character clearly impacts his painting.
In the paintings, reality seems to mix with waking dreams. Mr Touni’s works are inspired by his national heritage in all its forms, implications, and motifs, both profoundly and simply at the same time. His work is frequently described as a bridge between past and present and his paintings represent an extension of ancient Egyptian folk art, but with a modern twist. This creates a magical atmosphere that makes us partners in his creativity.
“There is a fine line that makes an artist’s artwork reflect an Egyptian identity,” he says. “It is basically the language of the art that does so, because language is acquired.”
Mr Touni’s creations are not restricted to paintings. He has many other feathers to his bow: illustrations, books and corporate identity designs, posters, sketches and cartoons, all created over his fifty-year long career. In recognition for his prolific creations he has received several national and international awards and nominations throughout his career. In 1982, he was the first Egyptian artist to receive a non-Arab award for illustration at the Leipzig Book Fair. Other awards include the prize of the Beirut Arabic Book Fair (1977 and 1979); the Cairo International Book Fair Prize (1998); First Prize, the Suzanne Mubarak Competition for Children’s Literature (1999 and 2000); and the Bologna Ragazzi New Horizons Award (2002).
When it comes to describing Mr Touni, one is puzzled as to what single title would best describe him. He is a talented artist and illustrator, a brilliant storyteller and an influential writer, all three in one. However it is painting that fulfils him the most and is the closest to his heart. He has a great passion for painting women and fish, using both copiously in his work. He enjoys incorporating in his paintings a motif of a superstition very commonly held in Egypt as far back as the ancient Egyptians, that of the evil eye.
“Singing expressionism” is the first impression for visitors to the recent exhibition. The exhibition allows the viewer to see the breadth and variation in the artist’s techniques and capture his faithfulness to his signature style. He uses vivid colours and bold outlines, skilfully binding colour and line in harmony just as rhythms form a piece of music. This creates a kind of firmness of formation.
Mr Touni believes in the importance of the human element in the creation of art. “It’s like a live orchestra versus digital music. They can’t compare. Computers have no imagination. You can see why people still go to live concerts and theatre. After that it’s all about selecting the right tools and medium for the subject.”
25 February 2015