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by Mohamed-Ali Berhouma

He had written this on the back of a small format frame he handed me as a gift.

March 9, 2014: Enjoy your reading!

A few days before, we had had a long conversation in his studio as he presented his artwork that I was discovering. At the end of this warm exchange, having no doubt sensed the interest I had in his research, he asked me for a text for the catalog of an upcoming exhibition. I accepted immediately.

Enjoy your reading, obviously I read nothing, I understand nothing.

This is not writing, not in the sense of a real text to be read.

Since I am not so innocent in this field and since all this is presented on frames and canvas, it is therefore a painting.

Consequently, any commentary necessarily requires the use of some critical tools. I would have thought of it, but the commemoration of the centenary of the arrival of Paul Klee in Tunisia, 1914 / 2014, celebrated in Kairouan in particular, provides me with the opportunity to recall what he wrote in Theory of Modern Art, in the chapter Philosophy of Creation:

“Writing and drawing are identical in their substance”.

Beyond the meaning, Klee undoubtedly evokes the gesture, thanks to which the plastic form covering the support is shown. This one requires neither reading, nor sense to be discovered but the simple interest in the construction of the visual, put in work, and in movement, from a simulacrum of writing.

Writing and drawing observes Klee, not writing and painting, so it remains to explore what also makes painting in this practice, what would be as much or almost, pictorial as graphic, why, how. We are dealing here with a textual matter playing the game of a pictorial matter, inscribing itself by the accumulation of lines occulting only partially the support, whereas the painting is totally covering because it operates by surface.

This pseudo writing of the painting, drawn on the canvas, also held my attention because it reminded me of another one, a real handwriting of famous critical philosophical texts. The connection became insistent because while I discovered Imed Jemaiel’s painting, I noticed that his personal handwriting in French, seemed to me much smaller than the usual graphic norm allowing reading with the naked eye, a tiny writing.

From the start, the reference imposes itself, I cannot but think of the extraordinary manuscripts of Walter Benjamin and I tell Imed about it. It is from the twenties onwards that Benjamin’s handwriting diminishes considerably, to the point of counting letters that are no longer more than one to seven millimeters in size. The fine manual motricity that this tiny writing requires forces admiration, this great virtuosity surprises while making it inaccessible to decipher.

One speaks, for the writings of Benjamin having taken this form, of “micrographies”. He was, in his own way, a plastic artist of writing, so much so that he paid extreme attention to the graphic layout, to the construction of his manuscripts from the visual point of view to the proportions, to the architecture of the page. The ageing of the paper, which has turned it from white to a beige colour, on the one hand, and the ink, which tends to fade, producing a lesser contrast between support and medium, contribute to making Walter Benjamin’s manuscripts eminently plastic, encouraging us to look at them also for their aesthetic quality, forgetting for a time that they are also precious documents in which one of the most brilliant thoughts of the 20th century is held.

Let us point out in passing that Klee and Benjamin are contemporaries and shared this taste for small forms, small things.

The spatialization of handwritten texts to overcome the contact with oneself, in the solitude of writing, is a preoccupation that we find in many writers. We see it in the paperoles of Marcel Proust, pieces of handwritten papers assembled end to end, more or less edge to edge of and then of all the retouchings carried out in margin, unceasingly, on the first printed prints.

In the graphic-pictorial devices of Imed Jemaiel, one witnesses an enlargement of the page, from the notes one passes to the notebook, when the poster becomes painting, the wall is conquered little by little. The progressive extent of the gesture allowed the possession of the space, in a spatialization of the writing.

When the works are presented on the back of the raw canvas, the back having been sometimes preferred by the artist to inscribe his trace there, the link with the writing of the manuscripts and the parchments reinforces, the absorption of the ink by the support increasing this effect.

Although the occupation of the space of the support always proceeds from the progressive accumulation line by line and that the horizontal / vertical relationship is privileged, variations appear. Thus, the external drawing of the margins, leaving free or not a certain reserve all around the support, shows differences of approach. Sometimes the reserve is equal on the circumference, nothing overflows, other times, on the contrary, the attack of the graphic line does not intervene in the alignment of what precedes. It begins earlier, as in a musical stave, where one allows oneself to deviate, thus producing an unexpected rhythm. It even happens, but more rarely, that an oblique axis is drawn along the way, scratching the space with nervousness. In other places, in the course of the “text”, a void is created, the product of a jostling of signs that are tighter around. The regular ordering is obviously disturbed. What from afar appears well organised , is in reality highly disjoined from close up, like a tension between order and disorder. The disturbance also comes from the accents of colours, white, yellow, red, blue, which contribute to this joyful graphic cacophony.

Far from being content with paying tribute to writing and calligraphy, this singular artistic approach also introduces, but with elegance and refinement, a critical distance from these ancient references. It integrates current graphic signs where one recognizes, although masked, echoes coming from popular practices of graphs or tags, in a good-natured mixing which yields nothing to fashion while appropriating what is to be seen today.

Gisèle Grammare,
Friday, March 21, 2014.