Taymour Grahne Gallery is pleased to announce its participation at 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair’s third New York edition, where the gallery will present new works by Mohamed Melehi, marking the first time in 50 years that the seminal Moroccan modernist is showing work in the US.
Mohamed Melehi’s works are instantly recognizable for their bold, geometric, monochrome nature. They seamlessly meld the languages of both Western and African modernism. Indeed, his paintings are often characterized by the recurrence of wave-like patterns, a leitmotif that has been woven throughout his oeuvre for the past six decades. Waves represent water, and water one of the most important elements of the continent, in which it is scarce, and upon which all life depends. Africa, Melehi says, is “water and drought at the same time.” They also bring to mind the elegant loops of Arabic script, and so these waves appear as boldly colored rivulets in contrasting hues. Teals and pinks, purples and golds, oranges and greys – all come into the plane of the canvas like rushing rivers, or like savage flames. Against bright skies of yellow, green and intense purples and grays, crowds of figures meet and converge, overlapping into each other like so many Venn diagrams.
It was two years spent in New York in the early 1960s, as part of a Rockefeller Foundation scholarship to study at Columbia University that became a defining moment for Melehi. It was here that he was introduced to the Hard Edge movement, and its colors, contours and stark geometry made a lasting impression. It was only upon returning to his homeland, however, that a new visual language was born, coming back to his culture from the outside, and seeing it with fresh eyes, as if for the first time. Or rather, as the artist says, “sometimes you have to emigrate to rediscover where you belong.” Thus the late 60s became a time of intense self-exploration for Melehi, as he began exploring the visual traditions of Morocco, melding the signs and symbols of North African visual culture with the abstraction of New York, exploring representational space and the planes created, as well as the relationship created within that space between the viewer and the artwork itself. Later years saw him exhibit internationally, including a solo show at The Bronx Museum of Arts, as well as work acquired by institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
This new series continues Melehi’s exploration of space, while also paying homage to the great early Renaissance painters of Italy – Cimabue, Masaccio, Fra Angelico. Recent works have explored figures in history, or incorporated modern symbols (such as barcodes), to create a dialogue between historical personalities and images and today. In the case of these particular artists, what interests Melehi is their use of perspective, and the marriage of shape and color, which he continues to push as he seeks to explore the various aspects of culture that we accumulate during our lifetimes, that at once distinguish us, yet bind us all together as one united voice of humanity.
Mohamed Melehi (b. 1936) has played a significant role in shaping Moroccan modernism. Formally trained as a painter in Tétouan, he continued his studies in Seville, Madrid, Rome, Paris, as well as being a recipient of the Rockefeller Foundation scholarship to study at Columbia University (1962) for two years. Enriched, Melehi returned to Morocco in 1964, where he developed his, now idiomatic, chromatic palette and recurrent motif: the hard-edged wave. Melehi’s work acts as a repository for his sojourns in Europe, and the US, and their respective influence on his practice – from the Bauhaus school and abstract expressionism, to local Moroccan visual forms. These principles filtered into his teaching at École des Beaux-Arts, Casablanca, where he was a professor of painting, sculpture, and photography from 1964 to 1969. Around this time Melehi co-founded the Casablanca Group, which concentrated on exploring the tenets of modernism through Moroccan visual culture and traditions. Melehi’s work has been widely exhibited, and recent group exhibitions include Post War: Art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945–1965, Haus der Kunst, Munich (2016–17). Public collections include Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art (Doha), Centre Georges Pompidou and the Institut du Monde Arabe (both Paris) and the Museum of Modern Art (New York).