Born in Syria in 1951, Youssef Abdelke lived in Paris from 1981 to 2005. He is one of the rare and best expressionist Arab artists. His strong works are in public and private collections. In July 2013, he was arrested again, and then liberated after an international campaign. He is participating in Paris Art Fair with 4 large recent works. Then, the Claude Lemand Gallery is organizing a solo show from 3 April to 3 May.
Youssef Abdelké, by Alain Jouffroy.
A great observer of living phenomena, a meticulous, disciplined and methodical engraver, yet also a poet with images, Abdelke first depicted groups of humans wearing masks over their faces, actors looking for authors, just like Pirandello’s characters. He placed them in the night, a terribly dark night, where death and monsters were omnipresent. That was his ‘human comedy’, a tragic comedy from which the grotesque was never excluded. Humans progressively disappeared whilst animals and plants loomed from that same night. Their presence is so significant that you can almost touch them or skim them with the eyes. There is no hyper-realism in all this, not even ‘realism’, in the traditional sense of that word : everything happens as if he was re-inventing, with each line, nature, a sort of encyclopedia of natural phenomena which is done with care and at a slow pace.
His vision is so intense that you have the impression of waking up from a dream when looking at his works. It is as if you had never really seen, in depth and in relief, what a simple fish is. Abdelke penetrates the skull, or the fish, or a woman’s shoe, just like Michaux ‘entered’ in an apple. Maybe he had ripped apart the fish before reconstituting it. Hence he never ‘represents’ the fish, the woman’s shoe or the ox’s skull : he ressuscitates them. This is his power to fascinate : everything is destined to die and to disappear, yet everything can be saved, as if from a deluge. Each living phenomenon is a material miracle, a treasure and an enigma. Such a surprise it is when you rediscover it ! I do not know how he manages in order to reach it. Observation and the utmost attention are not enough. Everything happens as if he wanted to re-invent the world, protect it for good from offence, indifference and omission. It is as if he was himself dead in front of the ox’s skull and that he wanted all living phenomena to replace him, the Syrian engraver. It is not ‘Abdelke’ who interests him but rather everything that Abdelke isn’t, everything that will survive to Abdelke and everything that goes beyond, far beyond, Abdelke.
I am sure that Baudelaire would have been impressed by his engravings and that he would have dedicated them poems and enthusiastic texts. There will always be day, night, and light, at least for another couple of billion years or so, and there will always be darkness. It is in that light and in that darkness that Abdelke works, similar to a candle’s glimmer, a simple little candle, flickering in its candle-holder. When he reaches this result, which I call resurrection, he smiles, he is happy, he stops and puts down his chisel ; no point in adding anything. It lives or it doesn’t live. It emerges, it re-emerges or it does not emerge. The entire question of art lies there. Actually, the word ‘art’ is inadequate. It is not a matter of art, but rather of a metamorphosis of death into a live existance. Abdelke’s fish is not a fish : it is an arrow, a beam, a breath, a whispered call to life. Yet it is also a fish – I don’t know maybe a salmon, a sardine or a pike. But it flies like a bird in the night in which we find ourselves once again immersed. In a large charcoal drawing on canvas, he drew the head of a fish in a box and that massive head stares at us, as if the image of death was more alive for Abdelke than that of life. (Alain Jouffroy)