Fathel Neema : Memory and Imagination
Abstract Art tends to sever all threads that link it to figurative representation, yielding to pure form, born from the juxtaposition of colour, line and space. Many artists who work in an abstract style, are not necessarily pure Abstract artists in reality. For when they paint - be it objects or people- they are stripping their subject matter of any references to their figurative state. The figurative attributes are then replaced with other details which are the product of their imagination. The viewer is expected to match the imaginary to what is missing figuratively. These abstract artists are therefore figurative painters in essence, who chose to adopt abstraction as a painting style. I perceive Fathel Neema to be one such artist.
While Fathel explores the concept of pure abstraction in several of his paintings, yet his world remains a figurative one, though this fact may not be immediately apparent to the viewer. His motive for painting in this style in the last two decades is due to the fact that he perceives objects and figures through a child’s eye, as simple forms, void of complications.
His world of toys remains the source of perpetual exhilaration to him. Any deviation in the subject matter does not necessarily mean a total departure from that magical childhood.
In a corner of his house there is a small cupboard, displaying on its glass shelves a collection of small china dolls which Fathel has collected over the years. This mini museum has been put together with the aesthetic desires of a child. The china figurines with their clear figurative form bear no resemblance to his abstract creations.
I visited his home in Holland twice. On each occasion I could not but admire his ardent desire to bring order to things. There is a joy in open spaces when objects occupying that space assume their position in accordance with a clearly balanced harmony. The open space of the lounge, for example, is adjoined by an area brimming with a variety objects: books, stacks of paintings, a collection of prints and various handicrafts, all of them a constant source of inspiration for the artist. There is a harmonious relationship between these two spaces, between the functional and the aesthetically pleasant. The scene says to you that all is well! A message very much echoed in Fathel’s paintings.
There is always space and form. There is also harmony between these two entities. Any tension that exists between them, is the result of a struggle to achieve harmony within the painting.
One such painting, is executed in the hues of an Eastern rug. A vertical form suggests a female presence, perhaps because of the two circles that are painted at the top and the dark triangle in the lower part. This figure is contained within two perpendiculars with an arch over, and this composition sits at the centre of a canvas, immersed in an orange tinted ochre background. The style is reminiscent of Rafael perhaps, in its attempt to bring balance and harmony.
In another painting we see a carriage with wheels covered with colourful clouds and ribbons, we see forms gathered and juxtaposed against the delicate straight lines of a small rectangle in the lower part of the painting. Hovering over this composition is a dark mass of cloud drifting to the left, while light coloured forms sit to the right, bringing harmony, a sensation celebrated by most of Fathel’s paintings.
Fathel Neema who was born in 1964, in the holy city of Karbala. He qualifies, like many of his contemporaries, to be a register, a generational almanac of the history of Modern Iraq. A bloody history that smoulders in flames.
The first Ba’this’ coup took place in 1963, followed by a second coup attempt in 1968, which was not long after followed by two destructive Gulf wars (1981-1991). This was immediately followed by the imposition of sanctions (1991-2003) which brought about horrific consequences. The war against terror began soon after. Fathel lived through these events which eventually led to his exile, where he is seemingly living a calm existence.
He once spoke to me about the apprehension and confusion he has with reference to his background, asking me:
‘How much of that is reflected in my paintings?’
To which I replied:
‘No direct effects perceived !’
On the contrary, in fact, his painting lends itself to balance, transparency and peace, in its use of shape, colour, line and composition. There are no indications of any tension. For expressionist tendencies, which are often born from internal conflicts and confusions, have little direct reference to external events in an artist’s reality. Fathel’s paintings do not suggest them at all.
Events– be it general or personal – are experiences encountered by everyone. Such encounters do not necessarily lead to a need for expression by an artist. They are transient occurrences that our souls experience.
When an individual experienced in worldly matters becomes an artist, by necessity he produces art of an expressionist nature, since the elements of expressionism are latent within him.
Whereas someone of innocence, whose being has suffered no conflict or doubt, can attain a simple harmony, in the use of colour, line and balance.
For this reason, Fathel’s Neema’s painting seems to be a continuous celebration of the relationship between colour and delicate outlines, embracing each other against the tones of the background.
To the bystander, the primitive composition of a man standing erect in the form of a mass of sharp blue and wearing a bestial grin on his visage, resembles nothing more than a character in a child’s innocent storybook, as opposed to the real monsters revealed by an expressionist’s paintings.
Fathel Neema is an extremly prolific and diverse artist. His forms of expression vary from painting to etching, through collage, sketching, 3-D cardboard animation, and on to writing art books.
His basement studio is extremely tiny. Only an artist who is successful at marrying space and form finds no challenge in making the most of what little space is available to him, sharing his living space with the tools he employs, the etching press with its acid sink, the canvas and paper. He manipulates this space in an efficient way to allow him freedom of movement when at work creating.
In the recent years, Fathel has preferred to work in collage, applying this technique to his large paintings in particular, where he has incorporated various forms: coloured paper, a spikey fence, arrows, alphabets – be they Arab or Latin - are all present in his painting either in form or colour. They invite you to enter the painting and share this visual feast. The build up of mixed media seems to provide a flexible means of equilibrium, rather than being a source of conflicts or contradictions.
I would finally like to congratulate this artist for his perseverance, to achieve knowledge through art and to explore virgin grounds for further development of his painting techniques.
Fawzi Karim – London 2009