I was immediately intrigued by Samir Fouad’s paintings the moment I entered the Picasso gallery, on a small street in busy, charming Zamalek. I was drawn straight away to Fouad’s colour. This is striking yet subtle, in compositions suggestive of classical paintings, but somehow he twists it all into something different. This merging of the classical and the contemporary is very fresh and engaging.
The above painting, of a girl eating a slice of watermelon, is one of my favourites. It is a simple image of an ordinary Egyptian girl finishing the last bites of the delicious melon. Fouad obscures the details of her face in a smear of paint that indicates motion, the fleeting moments of expression – the smile, the glint of watermelon juice on her lips, the action of chewing – into an image of pleasure, using only a few colours: the white dress, the green wall behind and the red sliver of watermelon offsetting her golden skin and black hair.
This sensual woman wears a stunning yellow dress set against a background of brilliant green and purple intersected with orange-red. It is a wonderful arrangement of colour. Again the blur, the sense of motion and time. It is exciting to see the abstract and the figurative melting into one another so effectively. Plenty of artists try to do this, with varying results, but Fouad manages to pull it off with conviction.
Fouad, born 1944, is one of the older painters on the Egyptian scene, yet his work eschews much of the characteristics of the modernisms of his generation. Several of the pictures are grouped together as ‘Homage to Rubens’ and here we see Fouad’s artistic conception – a kind of dance between Rubens and Gerhardt Richter – reconfigured to express the colours and experience of Egyptian life, the real and the sur-real.
Egyptian painting has sometimes been accused of ‘copying’ or imitating Euroepan painting but I have never found this to really be the case. It is true that in the early 20th centry, European trends such as Impressionism came to Egypt and were embraced by Egyptian painters of the era (many of whom studied in Europe). But the Egyptian light is completely different; you even feel this when you’re walking around Cairo. The air has a fine filter of desert dust in it. The pastoral landscapes of Egypt are utterly unlike those of France or Italy. The colours of Egypt – even if the same tubes of paint are employed – are not the same as the colours of Europe. And the painters understand this. They are painting their world – the people, the landscapes, the cities, the objects – of Egypt. This is one reason why Egyptian painting is exciting: it is very relatable to connoisseurs who enjoy European painting, but it is emphatically NOT European. And all the better for it.
Picasso Gallery, January 2021