Art Club Puplinge

I had the good fortune to be invited to Art Club Puplinge by Victoria James (who lives in Puplinge!) For me, a lapsed painter, it was both fun and inspiring. I will go again.

I didn’t know what to expect. Before leaving home, I threw into a shopping bag some coloured inks, a box of neocolor crayons and, for reasons unknown, a map of the London Underground. Would we be given free rein to do what we want or did Victoria have a cunning plan for us? As it turned out, Victoria had a cunning plan that involved us doing what we want. Brilliant!

Art Club Puplinge 1

Our session started with the group doing brief “blind” portraits of ourselves or each other without looking at the paper. I squirmed inwardly. This was not in my comfort zone. Little did I know that it was part of Victoria’s cunning plan.

Art Club Puplinge 2

One of my new friends managed this alarming likeness of me in just twenty seconds!

Art Club Puplinge 3

Here’s my best attempt at revenge holding two crayons together!

One hour and twenty such quick drawings later, I found that I was not back in my comfort zone but in a comfort zone that was new to me. I was enjoying it. I was squirm-free. Interesting! This of course is also part of the plan and sets up the second half of the session. We then selected one of the sketches as the basis for something more ambitious on a larger scale.

Art Club Puplinge 4

Art Club Puplinge 5

I am not sure at what stage or why a scaled-up version of my little blue-pink-dash-double-crayon portrait surperimposed on the map of the London Underground invoked a feeling of fear. I admitted this to Victoria. “Go with it!” she said. And so I did! It may not be beautiful and it may not be “art” (whatever that may be!) But if you had told me thirty minutes beforehand that I was behind the creation of this frightening bazingo image, I wouldn’t have believed you.

Art Club Puplinge 6

Victoria’s objective of the wonderfully informal two-hour sessions at her Art Club is that her guests find and recognise that creative part of themselves the existence of which they are unaware.  She tells me that everyone has a bit of creative software loaded on their mental hard drive although, for some, it may be tucked away in a password-protected programme. She can usually help a guest to find it whatever their age.

Victoria trained in London at the Chelsea College of Art with a focus on sculpture. She wins me over by agreeing that the creative forces of humanity might flourish more widely if the word “art” was not used to denote something exclusive. In this vein, she looks slightly ill-at-ease when describing her former career in the world of “contemporary art.” She won considerable recognition for her video-installations which, at the time, were “what one did” if one was in the progressive London art scene. By her own admission they were “out there.” Then, eight years ago, she quite simply stopped. It had ceased to be creative. She took to sports massage, a domain in which she has also been successful. Only in the last months has she found herself drawing again. Her own creative hard drive was re-booted. The result, happily, is Art Club Puplinge. Join it! You’ll have a ball! You’ll also leave each session feeling rather liberated and with an insight into the programming that supports your own creative abilities.

Alyaa Kamel’s people

Alyaa Kamel 1

I see Alyaa Kamel’s drawings and paintings on Facebook. The on-line human images are, paradoxically, intensely personal. There are new ones every day. Sometimes, they take the form of a reflective and mesmerising little girl; sometimes, they are contorted, shrouded or bound homonculi. Who are Alyaa Kamel’s people? Where do they come from? The more I see, the more questions I have.

On entering her studio in Geneva’s old town, I am surrounded by canvases bearing a variety of striking human figures and faces. Books on every subject imaginable are stacked around the walls. Alyaa smiles, offers me tea and then puts a bulging folder of exquisite sketches in front of me.

Alyaa Kamel 2

Ink and watercolour on paper, 2012

Alyaa Kamel’s work is much more than slick representation of the human form. Her people emanate vulnerability. They display an agitated vitality. They are all taken up with the same struggle. They are aligned in a cohesive force. When I ask about their provenance, Alyaa’s answers contain words like “humanity,” “searching,” “hope” and “freedom.” After some time, I realise that her people communicate her general anxiety for us all: for homo sapiens. And I learn that Alyaa’s people came over the wide horizon of her imagination only two years ago.

Alyaa Kamel 3

Ink and watercolour on paper, 2012

In the 1990s, Alyaa studied in London and Geneva. Her subjects included psychology, fashion design and fine arts. She had jobs in public relations and interior decorating. She returned to her native Egypt for a few months in 1998 and, without any great intention to do so, took up painting. Back in Geneva and lacking studio space, she worked on abstract pictures the size of playing cards. She has sold them all and to my disappointment, she never thought to take photographs. She continued to work in the domain of the abstract but on large canvases. What she exhibits she sells.

A return visit to Egypt in 2011 to show her work coincided with the beginning of the “Arab Spring.” Something about the people’s struggle against oppression re-aligned the beacons that guide her creative journey. Alyaa Kamel’s people were born. She emphasises they are not Egyptian nor even Arab. They are not women, men or children. They are simply people. The first time they were seen in Geneva was at the Tafkaj gallery in 2012: it resulted in another sell-out.

Alyaa Kamel 4

“Dans la brume métallique, le jour glisse” 100cm x 40 cm Acrylic and mixed medium 2012

Alyaa’s people are homogeneous but at the same time, they appear as individulas. To acieve this effect is no mean feat. The fluid lines with which Alyaa depicts her people show a profound sense of anatomy. The effect recalls her interest in fashion design. The faces are, you would easily believe, the faces of real crowded people. They are hungry, anxious but nevertheless united.

Alyaa Kamel 5

Ink and water colour on paper, 2012

Alyaa shows me her what I consider her most powerful work. A crowd of bare-headed men is enveloped by one Arabic word red-written hundreds of times – “Allah.” The faces have a haunting skull-like air. Is this a warning to us all that religion offers no better – nor a less bloody – alternative to repressive government? Alyaa insists her work does not carry a political message. It is, rather, an expression of both hope and concern triggered by the events that moved her in Cairo two years ago.

After an hour or so, I have not really deciphered the “Why?” of Alyaa Kamel’s people. I am not sure Alyaa herself has clear answers. For me, her people and their narrative combine to remind us that human destiny is largely out of our hands and increasingly uncertain. And if I’ve got this wrong, my admiration for Alyaa’s work remains unchanged.

Happy Couple Big Love-Picture Party

Geneva, 26 October 2013. The happy couple was happy. For starters, they stuck a few red hearts and pieces of sheet music onto a 150cm x 250cm piece of paper. The guests arrived and immediately got into the spirit of the event. Champagne flowed. Everybody added to the Happy Couple Big Love-Picture with neocolour, ink and paint spray. Then 13cm x 18cm rectangles were cut out and framed. Cool! Beautiful stuff falling out of a seemingly random process! The guests were happy: they all had so much fun and took home a little part of the creation. This photographer was happy! The happy couple was even happier!