Vigo is proud to present the work of Ibrahim El-Salahi, Bram Bogart, Johnny Abrahams and Jamal Peterman.
Ibrahim El Salahi
B. 1930, Omdurman, Sudan
Born in Sudan in 1930, Ibrahim El-Salahi is one of the most important living African artists and a key figure in the development of African Modernism.
El-Salahi grew up in Omdurman, Sudan and studied at the Slade School in London. On his return to Sudan in 1957, he established a new visual vocabulary, which arose from his own pioneering integration of Sudanese, Islamic, African, Arab and Western artistic traditions.
In 2013, Ibrahim El-Salahi became the first African artist to be given a full retrospective at Tate Modern. His work is included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Art Institute of Chicago; The National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC; The British Museum, London; Tate Modern, London; The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, UAE; The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Newark Museum, Newark; Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah; The National Gallery, Berlin and many others.
Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams IV, 2020
Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams IV, 2020, is the fourth painting in the series which begun with his 1961-65 masterpiece, Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams, part of Tate Modern’s permanent collection, which referred to his recollection of childhood memories, stories and influences whilst also drawing on recent political events in Sudan.
“I started this [recent] drawing upon hearing the national cry of peaceful demonstrators across Sudan demanding basic human rights, peace and freedom, ..... demanding, when the chains of fear and brutal tyranny were no longer effective,.... that bread be available, that they have the right to say enough is enough! Young men, women and children were there in the streets of Khartoum and other cities, towns and villages, facing tear gas, guns and live ammunition. They kept on until their demands were realized.
Nothing can pictorially describe that sort of feeling... Maybe a simple line drawing on canvas can... who knows?” Ibrahim El-Salahi, February 2020
This new work also has strong links to another Salahi Masterpiece “The Inevitable” 1985-86 which welcomed visitors to his solo retrospective at Tate Modern in 2013. More information on this painting can be gleaned from the Tate’s website
It is an “important piece stylistically because it is part of his mural-like, organic growth type of paintings. But it was also significant in terms of the themes it covers, as it deals with the major uprising in the history of Sudan, around 1985, ’86, the democratic period that unfortunately was short lived.” Salah Hassan, Tate Website, 2013
On completing The Inevitable El-Salahi realised that it’s message was for people to rise up and fight tyranny and those that suppress them, and that this is in the end inevitable as the human spirit cannot be forever suppressed.
“ I must have been thinking about the Sudan, about tyrants. I’m not a political animal, but I have my own ideas about what should be done and what is good. People have got to shed away tyranny. People who are being pushed down continuously have got to rise up one day and liberate themselves.” Ibrahim El-Salahi, Tate Shots, 2013
As with all his paintings the artist likes the viewer to form their own views and thoughts, to unpack the images in a way that gives a unique interpretation. One can though, in this work, see recurrent motifs and imagery from the artist’s childhood and life experience such as the haunting figures of Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams 1, to other elements found within his Tree, Flamenco and By His Will We Teach Birds How to Fly series.
During one of Vigo’s visits to the artist’s studio, the bird symbolising the soul and freedom was erased and redrawn, this change being made on the same day Sudan’s Omar Al-Bashir was overthrown in April 2019. The bird was altered from looking inwards to looking outwards, a reflection of peace and hope.
The Tree series is inspired by the characteristics of a peculiar type of Acacia tree that grows along the banks of the Nile. The Haraz tree, indigenous to Sudan has unique and inspirational characteristics. It is an on going investigation of the tree / body metaphor, a link between heaven and earth, creator and created; controlled meditations with the emphasis on the spiritual. It can also be viewed as a self-portrait.
"My style changes, but I keep working on one particular theme inspired by a tree, an acacia locally called the Haraz that grows on the banks of the Nile. During the rainy season the tree is leafless, and it blossoms with freshly budding green leaves when the weather turns dry and the river flows at its lowest towards the sea. Through all, the tree remains steadfast, silently watching over the passage of seasons and time.” Ibrahim El-Salahi, Tate catalogue 2003
Male and Female Tree 1989 are top examples of Salahi’s Black and White series but also two of the most important Tree works, the only ones in this format, with much stronger figurative elements than in most of the series. These are the last works of this kind to come from the private collection of the artist. Available individually the artist would be nevertheless pleased if they ended up with each other the male tree glancing from the right and the female tree to the left.
When Ibrahim El-Salahi is drawing he becomes lost in his work and has temporary respite from his sciatica and chronic back pain. For the last two years he has created an extraordinary body of work from the comfort of an armchair, refusing to let physical restriction limit his ambition, making around 190 tiny but incredible drawings in pen and ink on the backs of medicine packets, scraps of paper and envelopes.
Despite his physical restrictions, he still wished to communicate in an expanded format, using these drawings as a source or nucleus, pressing paint through a gauze onto strong woven linen canvas many times over until a thick inky texture was achieved, amplifying the character of the marks. Limited by his ailments, this method allowed him to do something that otherwise would not have been possible.
Throughout his career Ibrahim has returned again and again to the nucleus versus the whole and the organic opening up of an image. When in prison in the 1970s he drew on small scraps of cement casings, which he would join together while the guards were not watching. Thereafter all his black and white works were expansive in nature, whether starting with the nucleus and adding pieces of paper, letting the work grow organically, or in series within notebooks.
As far back as the 1950s Ibrahim was thinking how to engage people’s attention. Hence his first forays into what became known as the School of Khartoum. Disappointed by the lack of attention from his fellow countrymen and women when he showed his Slade work at the Grand Hotel in Khartoum in the late 1950s, he noted that if he wrote something in Arabic calligraphy on the drawings it attracted interest and people paused to look and read. The words and letters slowly then evolved as he began an exploration of the pictorial qualities and hidden shapes within calligraphic forms. It was a practical means to an end, a way into the work for the audience. The Pain Relief imagery includes a nod to these early works, with the artist making use of the pictorial possibilities of the braille on the medicine packets.
This body of work, made despite and because of circumstance, serves as a record of memory and contemporary experience fused with ambition to communicate.
Since completion of this project the artist has been inspired, re-entering his new studio for the first time in over two years—every day.
B. 1921–2012, Delft, Netherlands
Bram Bogart was dedicated to exploring the materiality of paint. Like Burri and Fontana, he challenged and blurred traditional notions of painting and sculpture, building three dimensional paintings comprised of mostly natural ingredients including various oils, glue, pigment, powdered chalk, and water. This investigation into the sculptural possibilities of paint led him to use increasingly thick layers, to create nuanced textural surface, exploring balance and disorder, tension and calm, two- and three-dimensionality, colour and structure.
Bogart refused to be pigeon holed into any school or grouping yet he was an artists’ artist, exchanging works with his contemporaries Schoonhoven and Fontana. Where Fontana broke the plane by slashing and gauging, Bogart, more than any other pushed outwards towards the viewer, using paint as a sculptural medium. As a young man his heroes were Rembrandt, Permeke and Van Gogh, and later on inspiration came from Mondrian and Van Der Leck. This lineage of lowland painters is very much evident in Bogart’s work.
Groene Kleur, 1960 marked the last year he was able to use stretched canvas before the paint became too heavy requiring thereafter the use of reinforced wooden supports. It marks a turning point and to many 1960 is the artists pivotal year. At the time he was in Paris and Rome and spent much of his free time in the Café Rosati, with other international artists including De Kooning. This painting exemplifies his wish during 1960 to create a monochrome effect whilst trying not to repeat a brushstroke. It was painted in May and he painted a similar work also owned by the gallery in the autumn in brown.
From mid 1961 on, Bogart starts to paint on the floor and the works begin to look like his hero and fellow countryman Van Gogh’s brush strokes, but enlarged a thousand fold. This golden period lasts until about 1965 producing some of his most outstanding contributions to the history of painting.
When first confronted with a Bogart, the effect is immediate. In 1965 Fontana wrote ‘For many years now I’ve met the painter Bogart in Paris, and yet I can not forget the impression that I had when watching his paintings the first time when I saw them in his studio’. Previously, in 1959 after exhibiting with Bogart, Niki de Saint Phalle was so blown away by the pregnancy of the white surface of his painting ‘Reine des Tauraux’ that she was inspired to create her famous shotgun paintings where she violently pierced thick plaster, releasing coloured paint buried within. I personally will never forget seeing them for the first time aged about twelve and immediately rushing off to make my own versions with pigment and polyfiller. Bogart makes you want to paint.
Bogart’s paintings sometimes feel like they were created by an aesthetically astute giant with a suitably large range of utensils for flattening, extruding and brushing cake icing. New observers seem to search for comparisons like this, trying to make sense of the volumous matter, the like of which they may not have encountered. For the most part Bogarts are made of solid home made paint, the colour within and on the surface, referred to by Wim Beeren, Director of Museum Boijmans as a ‘concretion of colour’, a sort of structural polychromy, rendering the painting not merely abstract colour/s but abstract coloured structure.
To understand the progression of Bogart’s paintings one can think of them in terms of a linear, logical almost inevitable progression of the exploration of his medium. Throughout his career, he continues to test himself, making some of his finest works in his last decade.
Bogart represented Belgium at Venice Biennale in 1971 and has exhibited widely across Europe from the 1940s onwards, at private galleries and museums. His first solo exhibition in the UK was held at Gimpel Fils Gallery, London, in 1958. Further solo exhibitions include: Musée Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Netherlands (1959 and 1984); Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Belgium (1964 and 1973); Stedelijk Museum, Netherlands (1967); Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe, Germany (1972); Fondation Veranneman, Kruishoutem, Belgium (1985); PMMK Museum of Contemporary Art, Ostend, Belgium (touring) (1995); Fine Art Society, London (2006); Bernard Jacobsen, London (2007 and 2009); Cobra Museum, Netherlands (2012), Vigo Gallery, London (2017) and White Cube, London (2020). His works feature in the collections of many important private collections and museums, including Tate Modern, London, which acquired four works through Vigo Gallery in 2015.
B. 1990, Florida, USA.
“My landscape work is about how black bodies navigate through urban space. The lines that connect the structures represent how information enters the community and how information leaves the community. They can also represent who has access to the space and who does not.
Within these structures I use scale and size to show levels of hierarchy and class. I also use specific colours like shades of brown to represent black and brown bodies. When the structures are brown and black, I want them to be interpreted as black bodies, black ecosystems, black communities, black businesses, black families et cetera.
The small rectangles, slants and X’ s that are in the windows of the square shaped structures can be seen to mark how many people live/d in the household and who has and has not got access. The sidewalk or cement textured section represents memory or the disappearance of the physical identity. In this cement area I’m able to sequentially narrate a story about the landscape.
Whatever the structure is connected to represents information and connectivity. The section that its linked to is usually a form of prosperity or value. When nothing is connected to the structures it usually means there's no information passing through this system and it becomes isolated. JP 2019)
Peterman’s recent paintings visually break down layers of code and conduct which influence the ontology of African Americans living in urban environments. These flatly painted, synthesised urban landscapes use colour, symbols, geometry, and space as metaphors for the separation of class that is often reinforced and accentuated by commodities and wealth within these communities. To reference the inequality of resources given to lower-income families, Peterman uses modernist linear connections to link the structures and to indicate flows of information and human connection, passageways through the socio-political landscape in which a multitude of dialogues spread. Peterman was brought up in Prince George County, Maryland, immersed in a culture of music, dance, and hustling. The narrative around his works is inspired by observations of social issues within and around this region, the richest black county in America with a strong history as a conduit of safe passage and freedom from segregation in the Jim Crow south.
Through techniques used by post-war geometric artists, Peterman breaks down elements of social hierarchy within these synthetic spaces. His symbols are designed to mark time, history, and spaces within which Black bodies have navigated and constructed new forms of identity.
Born in Florida and raised in Maryland, Jamaal Peterman is a New York-based. He holds a BFA from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (2014) and an MFA from Pratt Institute (2019). He had his first solo exhibition at Artist Proof gallery in Washington DC, Georgetown (2018). He was awarded Smack Mellon’s 2019 Hot Pick, New American Painting 2019 MFA/South Issue and UICA juried Exhibition Finalist for Breaching the Margins exhibition (2019). He is a recipient of Mass MoCA residency and Wassaic Project residency and is represented exclusively by Vigo Gallery.
B. 1979, Tacoma, WA, USA
Abraham’s earlier optical works employed an intense additive pattern making strategy, which would act to stretch and unsettle the gaze. These were paintings full of the hustle bustle of the city. However, in his fresh oeuvre, he has succeeded in experimenting with a slower more elegant rhythm, a fuller shape and a more formal, minimalist language. Interestingly these paintings are derived from zooming in on the complicated patterns of these previous optical works, spotlighting fragments of these earlier illusions. By magnifying and subtracting pattern until a composition is rendered, Abrahams reveals an opportunity to celebrate the negative space both equally and simultaneously as a secondary image. The practice has gone from techno to contemplative. Appreciative of his own space, these meditative works more accurately reflect the artist’s natural character and speed whilst still satisfying his sense of meticulous work practice.
These slow, still, totemic- almost calligraphic forms fleet between their modernist simplicity and a subtle investigation into the effect of light on perception. The paint is applied with a palette knife, causing ridges to form, effecting the interplay between light and composition and inviting them tentatively in the realm between sculpture and painting... Whilst one cannot help being seduced by the implied movement and sculptural, almost architectural imposition of the composition, these paintings also operate on a subtler level, the softness of blurred reflection following one’s movement around the work in a quiet yet elegant fashion. Contemporary yet at the same time archaic and elemental these paintings satiate the desire for a calm contemplation whilst working on a primal visual level.