Happiness x Joy
Happiness is one of the main concepts which Moustafa Rabei has been using since the beginning of his career in 2009, and is noticeable in his current exhibition. Rabei views happiness in the simplest manifestations of human interaction, be it casual or intimate, the moments of joy that resist sadness and negative energy, the return to simplicity and instinct, the images of musicians and children playing, and the ability to instill joy into the hearts of others so they seem to turn into pure beings who only see the bright side of life. Through his paintings, Moustafa Rabei takes us on a journey with his unique, happy characters, a cheerful journey that celebrates human beings and unleashes the child in them so they can soar as smoothly as a kite. It is a vivacious journey full of lively ornaments, bright colours, and rhythmical lines. In those paintings, a new day begins with a sunrise that eliminates sadness and replaces feelings of anxiety with those of security. That is why Rabei’s paintings have always been capable of changing the moods of their viewers and drawing them into a state of joy and optimism.
In his latest exhibition, INSERT NAME OF EXHIBITION, at Zamalek Art Gallery, Rabei offers a new collection in which he uses his favorite materials—ink, water colours, aqualine, and acrylic colours. The water component of these materials allows Rabei a freedom of expression that suits his vision. They are also ideal for his style in which the lines between painting and photography are blurred, which leads to the resurfacing of the problematic question of categorization, one that is becoming of less importance in the present time where different artistic types are blended and where this blending is considered one of the modern art techniques.
Paintings in the current exhibition are liberated of the restrictions of professionalism and transcend the craft of form as they combine the characteristics of primitivism, children’s paintings, folklore and naïve art. While his paintings could be categorized under any of the afore-mentioned genres, Rabei still creates his own world which never fully belongs to any of them. This is mainly because the paintings are primarily inspired by the artist’s daily life and his special vision of the reality in which he lives, yet many of their components are imaginary ones inspired by the stories of his Upper Egyptian grandmother. This combination of the real and the imaginary leads to the creation of characters that seem extremely familiar to the viewers that for them can be sisters, uncles, or aunts whose stories they are keen to hear. They become relatives, neighbours, or acquaintances as they are average people who enjoy a peaceful existence on his canvas, who go about their daily lives smoothly, keep each other company, play music, and sit together in groups to chat, drink and have fun. They are usually clad in colourful, ornamental clothes that seem inspired by folklore and at times remind us of Persian miniatures which are meant to mirror their happiness.
Why we identify with this collective utopia, if it can to be referred to as such, is an issue that deserves contemplation. This could be because of the way form is employed in his paintings, for the artist uses fine lines that move smoothly and are totally devoid of harshness and are indifferent to rational calculations. Those lines mirror the artist’s peace of mind and the joy he felt while creating each work of art. In fact, lines play a major role in the composition of Rabei’s paintings for they are neither straight nor broken, but rather flowing smoothly to form shapes that are predominantly circular and archlike. Those shapes appear to be in perfect harmony, which is particularly demonstrated in the repetition of ornamental patterns such as parallel vertical and horizontal lines, semi-circles, simplified plant formations, and small stars. All those shapes move in a rhythmical pattern that is both vivacious and diverse so that viewers are never bored of looking at them. A type of motion is also created inside the formations, which drives eyes to roam smoothly upwards and downwards to perceive the spaces made of liberated linear and coloured visual structures that are fully flat and that transcend geometrical perspectives.
Rabei pays attention to minute details in a childlike manner that endows his scenes with intimacy and it becomes clear how the spaces these details occupy were painted with extreme care and caution as if he was painting miniatures. Those details include the ornamental patterns of clothes, socks, table cloths, furniture, and fruit baskets as well as nail polish, lipstick, teeth and locks of curly hair. The eyes of the characters in the paintings cannot be overlooked for they seem to be looking viewers in the eye, cordially inviting them to engage and welcome them into their world. All this is enveloped in a plethora of vivacious colour combinations in which distribution between cold and warm and even fluorescent colours is both free and balanced through the use of water colours that are at times applied generously to endow the colours with a transparent character or create of them spots that seem to flow smoothly across the surface. Nevertheless, it becomes obvious that the colours employed in this exhibition are less bright than the ones used in the previous one entitled “The age of innocence” and held in 2017. In the current exhibition, shades of brown and grey tone down the brightness and are quite congruent with the relative stability of compositions and the composed movement and stable posture of the characters, which demonstrate a state of mind that transcends happiness, possibly a state of contentedness and inner peace. Such state mirrors a form of happiness that is deeply rooted into the soul and is not solely external, which marks a shift from the previous exhibition that tackled the concept of playing in which happiness was detected mainly through motion that constituted an integral part of the paintings displayed in the exhibition.
Between the current and previous exhibitions, the artist painted dozens of sketches and clippings in which he expressed his perception of humanity and demonstrated his genuine quest for creativity. Those drawings serve as a visual diary that at times tells the grandmother’s stories and at others depicts the artist’s impressions of people he met or moods he experienced. This diary also unravels an authentic Egyptian spirit deeply affected by folklore and cultural heritage and rooted into the character of every average Egyptian.
Whoever does not yearn for his/her childhood years? For the warmth of the family home in which children and adults lived together in utter harmony? Whoever does not remember that excitement that accompanied the eve of the feast? The smell of baking and delicious dishes? The new colourful clothes? The bright balloons and the multicoloured streamers? The sound of mothers as they murmured old songs? Whoever does not feel the urge to pass by the street leading to his/her school? To walk on those pavements and pass through the passageways while looking up at the balconies with their clothes lines and the bamboo baskets hanging from their fences?
It is possible that this unfathomable spring of nostalgia, memories, and dreams that inspires Moustafa Rabei and make his paintings so emotionally powerful. He paints a world that we miss in the midst of all the stress that dominates our daily lives and as we struggle to adapt to the complicated nature of human relations. It is a world that we yearn for and wish we can live in, a world that he paints with colours that resemble musical notes from which a composition that celebrates life and spreads joy is made.