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Imed Jemaiel’s Talismanic Paintings


by Amel bouslama

Le Dessous des Ratures (Beneath the crossings out) ran from 6 to 27 April 2014 at A Gorgi, Sidi Bou Saïd, Tunisia.

What struck me the most when my eyes met the paintings titled Le Dessous des Ratures (Beneath the Crossings Out) was this hymn to writing, this crazy language made out of a combination of Berber symbols, Aztec art, parchment, an old writing tablet, a manuscript of a contract from times gone by with their famous signatures and all manner of other things.

Strange is this tangle of zips with white teeth, these caterpillars in single file, these stretches of railway lines that divert from their route and intermingle, winding between the shapes and the colours and all those eyes watching us!

In reality, all these readings that seek to identity the piece anecdotally are secondary in the face of this dilemma: the visual illusion that the artist throws us into with his painting-writings.

Imed Jemaiel, Paypage (III), acrylic on canvas, 213 x 148 cm, 2013

Originally, drawing and writing are one and the same

For Imed Jemaïel, writing, drawing and painting are but one activity. Of course, our painter-writer is merely reaffirming the ancient definition of what Neanderthal men were doing when they drew animals on the walls of the Lascaux caves in a quest for understanding – not to communicate and even less so to decorate, as some people might interpret it.

Indeed, at its root, does the verb graphein in Ancient Greek not mean both to draw and to write? The truth is that the symbols which were created by man, whether for the purpose of drawing or writing, made no distinction between the two actions.

Last year, after at least two decades of practice related to the problematic of writing-drawing and going in search of art in the city of arts and literature, Paris, Jemaïel unearthed a tool – a tracing implement which allows you to paint with a pen. Filled with acrylic, the artist used it to print and trace like a draughtsman on a canvas; the result is these crossings out, but what crossings out they are! They are more like mysterious signs which seem determined to guard the secret of their meaning. Pregnant canvases, silently proud, with an enormous amount of harnessing power.

Imed Jamaiel, The Underside of Erasures, 2014

To us, it seems our fascination comes from the condensed quality of black that is set against the immaculately white canvas. Through this act of marking, which strikes the face of the printer’s stamp as he carries out his work, Imed the trainee engraver takes action.

Within this extreme light-dark contrast are rare notes of luminous yellow ochre, then another coloured green – a symbol of paradise for some – which emerge from the canvas and ultimately establish a perfect equilibrium. Does the darkness and the light, the cheated dream symbolized by the gilding, not therefore constitute the fate of the human condition on this earth?

By adopting horizontality a love of reading and writing, Jemaïel merely continues to adopt the position that every reader holds. Thus, his bodily position, sitting or standing, follows the direction of a straight horizontal line, which usually starts from the right and runs through to the left side of the canvas. And so goes the painting, from right to left and from top to bottom. In the same way I saw him start off in his studio, the artist begins by applying a few notes of colour across the canvas, then working through piece by piece. Next he links the composite parts together, keeping intact the horizontal path of the lines and shapes. The striking aspect of the work is the patience with which the plastic material is embroidered, like lace spreading out.

Consequently, without straying from the canvas and the frame, but a million miles away from a picture in classical painting, the hand of the artist paints and writes at the same time, while in the course of his creative process he negotiates the overall structure of the painting-to-be, as does a classical painter.

Imed Jamaiel, The Underside of Erasures, 2014

A Creative Process of Unveiling

Finally, in questioning the painter-writer and tracer of acrylic on what new and added things this adventure has given him, and following his revealing silence, I feel as though I have penetrated a part of the secret of his paintings – the link with the wooden tablets of our Tunisian heritage. In those days the teacher would write on the wooden tablets and give them to the children to recite from. Standing alongside the text were triangular geometric shapes in vivid colours, like those we see in Beneath the Crossings Out.

Once the text had been learnt, the teacher would start erasing it, although it was never true erasure – the tablet was covered in a layer of fresh clay  onto which, when dry,  a new passage was written. Instantaneously, the pages of an immaterial book were superimposed on top of one other without one noticing.

Contrary to this palimpsest method, the approach of artist Imed Jemaïel is an unveiling par excellence; what he has crossed out remains visible and noticeable in the form of a malleable language open to all emotions and all evocations, even if paradoxically the canvases remain somehow closed when it comes to their mystery as talismanic objects. Ultimately, the works evoke the question of a two-way paradox – between what can be perceived and that which remains a mystery.

Amel Bouslama, July 27, 2014

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