Monumental, hybrid figures appear as if carved from dark stone amid autumnal woodland scenes where white doves swoop between the trees and the animals appear anthropomorphic in their human qualities. These are the modern mythologies of Egyptian artist Nazir Tanbouli whose practice taps into visions of his unconscious mind to create dream-like compositions that seem to drift between reality and dream. Tales from the Golden Forest, the artist’s first solo exhibition with Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, brings together a captivating new body of work that centres around feelings of harmony, hope and togetherness.
For Tanbouli, each work begins from a point of chaos: he never plans his compositions, preferring to see what emerges through quick, instinctive gestures which are initially made with chalk. Through this process of play, he believes he is able to connect more closely to his emotional states – feeling – unhindered by the anxieties and judgements of the rational mind. As such, each painting serves as a very personal portrait of the artist while also appealing to a shared emotional language that’s rooted in the body and our connection to the world around us. ‘I believe in the shamanic practice of art,’ he says, ‘that art can have a healing power for both the artist and anyone who encounters it.’
The symbol of white dove, which recurs throughout the paintings in this latest series, hints at this idea of reparation. Traditionally associated with peace, love and freedom, the doves appear almost as guardians, encircling the figures and guiding the gaze across the surface. In the painting Riding with the stag, for example, which depicts a naked female figure lying across the back of a stag, the positioning of the birds accentuates the curves of her body while also serving as a light source. Beneath their wings, her skin appears luminous while the leaves of the trees become golden. In this painting, as throughout the exhibition, the natural and the human world appear in total harmony: the antlers of the stag echoing the shape of the branches while his body is etched with purple flowers. Similarly, in the painting titled Dance, the figures appear almost as if they have emerged from the earth, their silhouettes both solid and translucent as they fade at the waist into the swirling yellow landscape that surrounds them.
Elsewhere, the figures take on a more fluid, spectral quality. In the large-scale work Egyptian graffitifragmented images of rooftops and chimneys, disjointed tumbling limbs, curved calligraphic lines and fish appear overlaid in a nocturnal colour palette of dark blues and white that suggests a dream-like state. The composition is charged with movement and while the cooler tones evoke a slight sense of melancholy, there is also a feeling of lightness: the imagery is, for the most part, translucent while the motif of the dove gestures at the idea of release, of letting go and moving into the future.
‘I believe that by producing uplifting paintings, I’m able to communicate not so much a specific message but an atmosphere or cadence, like music that evokes feelings of positivity,’ says Tanbouli. At a time when so much of the world is wrought by political divisions, conflict and a disconnect from the natural world, Tales from a Golden Forest offers a soothing sense of wholeness and hope.