Samia Halaby: New Paintings

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At 77, Samia Halaby is not lacking in inspiring, youthful energy and clearly enjoys challenging those around her. Even when photographing her, I asked for a subtle smile, to which she replied, “Well make me smile then!”

She also put me on the spot, asking me about her exhibition, “Which piece is the worst; which do you find weakest?” How does one respond to such a question when the artist is right there in front of you?

I walked through the gallery, searching for a work I didn’t like (as much as the others). The problem is I am a very visual person and every work was visibly striking. Using bright, intense strokes, Samia creates canvases that are calming and mvoing in a way that lingers after an encounter with them. It was hard to choose one I did not like. I picked a painting nearly at random, which later she told me was hanging right next to her favorite.

Halaby is moreover an active political campaigner for Palestine and Palestinian art. She considers abstract painting as an important tool for social and artistic communication between an artist and his audiences, reaching out across cultures and countries. It is an entirely impersonal, and therefore a type of directly political method of creating paintings. She tells me: “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.” Indeed, Samia is constantly designing new artistic languages. Having taught herself computer programming so she could create a series of kinetic paintings, she later used these programs to perform live with percussionists. She continues to create innovative and new techniques to construct her work.

Born in Jerusalem in 1936, Samia lives and works in New York. She has taught at Cooper Union, the Yale School of Art, Indiana University, University of Michigan, Kansas City Art Institute, University of Hawaii; and short courses at Birzeit University, Palestine and Darat al-Funun in Amman, Jordan. She is considered as one of the Arab world’s leading artists.

Samia Halaby will be at Ayyam Gallery, London from 9 October to 30 November 2013

by Justin van Vliet with additional editorial assistance from Diana Kurakina

all portraits of Samia Halaby by Justin van Vliet

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