The Art Traveller in Cairo: Dawn of a New Day / Nazir Tanbouli
British Egyptian artist Nazir Tanbouli ushered in 2021 with a solo show of paintings at Cairo’s Picasso gallery.
Since last summer, while the majority of us languished in corona anxiety, Tanbouli sealed himself in the studio with a lot of large blank canvases and began to imagine his new collection. As the seasons passed and the warm autumn turned into cool, clear Egyptian winter, the collection of pictures grew, and the painter’s visions ripened into this show, Dawn of a New Day.
Best known in the UK for his murals and performance drawings, since he relocated to Egypt, Cairo-based Tanbouli has been focusing principally on painting on canvas. His paintings have been shaking up the Middle East art market spectacularly over the past couple of years. Enjoying both critical and commercial success, Tanbouli brings together a plethora of influences that he has picked up over his lifetime: British exhibitions of everybody from Magritte to Modigliani, residencies in Germany and Italy, life in Nottingham and East London, and stirred them up with a colour palette that is activated by the near-omnipresent African sunshine.
Tanbouli’s work is muscular and dramatic, large scale and deeply immersive, even hypnotic. You could call him a modern master, but the work is too crazy — constantly verging on Surrealism but always pulling away from that, or any other, categorisation. The artist has drunk deeply from the well of Hellenic and European art history, but the human-animal forms, the sun boat and other motifs of Egypt are equally present.
Though filled with complex symbolism, Tanbouli invites the audience to interpret the pictures in their own way, without prescription. You can read in them all manner of esoterica and mysticism, or you can see them as single pictures of love and joy. Or ignore the subject matter, and appreciate them as remarkable feats of mark-making.
The journey has begun; new dawn awaits. Moving through the swirling air, past the clouds and over the roofs and spires of the city. We glide over landscapes of every place the artist has ever visited — from post-industrial East Berlin to the spires of London, the green hills of Tuscany and the monumental forests of Canada — memory merged into a dream. Always moving toward the new place of being, a place of hope.
The dreamscapes of Tanbouli’s paintings are suffused with universal symbolism that shows the way to a metaphysical liberation of the human spirit. The synergy of the union of opposites, harnessing the energy of the horse, symbol of power and freedom.
Photos courtesy of Nazir Tanbouli
Gilian McIver, Cairo 2021