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When 91-year-old Ibrahim El-Salahi is drawing he gets lost in work and has temporary respite from his sciatica and chronic back pain. The ‘Godfather of African Modernism’ says it’s the only time he really has relief from the pain.
Between 2016-2018 Sudanese Oxford-based artist created an extraordinary body of work from the comfort of an armchair, refusing to let physical restriction limit his ambition. During this period, he has made around 200 tiny, but incredible drawings in pen and ink created on the inside cardboard of his medicine packets and on the backs of envelopes after consuming their contents.
These were drawings in their own right, but they were also seeds for a very ambitious project. El-Salahi wanted to make larger scale work despite his physical constraints and achieved this by using these drawings as a nucleus from which to create large, unique mono-print paintings transferred by screen from the drawings. The original image is pressed through the gauze onto strong woven linen canvas many times over until a thick inky texture is achieved, amplifying the character of the marks. Limited by his physical constraint this method has allowed El-Salahi to do something that otherwise would not have been possible. It is a selection of the first mono-print paintings which will be displayed in this exhibition at Wellington Arch. This body of work, made despite and because of circumstance, gives us the opportunity to delve into the mind of El-Salahi and experience his memories of a long and fruitful life.
El-Salahi says “I am surrounded by packets of medicine so I said ‘What a waste. Why don’t I use them?’ and I started opening them and chopping them to size and working on them. I had a number of pens with waterproof and fade proof ink, which the material of those kind of packages takes very nicely. It reminds me of the time when I found paper in prison, and did sort of little images as the nucleus. So I pray and bring peace and calm in my mind that I use as imagery, which can be transmitted to other people when they see my work.”
He added “A small drawing is an artwork by itself, but at the same time when it is enlarged it works very well indeed. It has a great potential of moving from a small size to a large size – the organic growth of a picture, the work is alive. That is the nucleus. The idea of the nucleus, like the seed, if you have water and enough sunlight it can grow into a larger size. It’s the origin, that’s the main thing.”
2022 is an exciting year for the now Oxford based El-Salahi. The artist was selected to participate with 99 drawings in the current 2022 59th Venice Biennale, The Milk of Dreams curated by Cecilia Alemani. Alongside the exhibition at Masons Yard, London, Vigo will show Ibrahim El-Salahi 'Pain Relief' at Wellington Arch in the Quadriga Galleries. His Pain Relief drawings will then be the subject of a solo exhibition at The Norwegian Drawing Association - Tegnerforbundet which will travel in an expanded format to The Drawing Centre in New York in October. The Pain Relief canvases relating to these drawings were recently the subject of a solo exhibition at Hastings Contemporary (Formally the Jerwood Gallery). In a busy year the 91 year old legend will also participate in upcoming group exhibitions at the Chrysler Museum of Art (October), and the Fisk University Galleries (October).
The Ashmolean Museum and Smithsonian Institute have purchased from this important series.
An article on the series by Maya Jaggi can be seen in September 28th, 2019 - Weekend Financial Times Collecting supplement. Please find the article HERE.
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