Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde is proud to present Blue, Hassan Sharif’s third solo show at the gallery, focusing on the late artist’s highly individualistic approach to colour. Spanning multiple bodies of work—paintings, Objects, Boxes, Experiments and even Semi-System-like pieces—Blue reveals how Sharif’s almost irreverent engagement with colour exemplifies his entire philosophy of art making. A tireless experimenter who pushed the limits of his own exploration, Sharif deployed a double-barrelled strategy with colour—both subverting and elevating it. Shifting, morphing, sabotaged or framed for the viewer to ponder, colour is a “red thread” weaving across four decades of work. By considering Sharif’s practice through the specific prism of colour, Blue prompts us to re-examine the complexity of Sharif’s vision, providing a closer look at some of the impulses and contradictions that shaped it.
“Recklessly repetitive,” as he described himself in an unusually introspective series of essays from 2005, Sharif maintains a compelling balance in his practice between rigour and randomness. On one hand, the slow, futile gestures of tying, weaving, knotting, and the crisp meticulousness of the semi-systems. On the other, a taste for the accident, for letting a process unravel, for following a work down an unexpected path. His sense of irony—the wry humour, the bite of sarcasm, the playful disingenuousness—pulses through it all.
While colour is leveraged to both rigorous and random ends—the precision of individually painted squares in the series Squares (2013) and the wild inventiveness of Cadmium Red Hue (2010)—it clearly constitutes a site of invention for Sharif. Colours are complicit with the artist’s will to play. He revels in tricking our vision, stripping colours of their meaning, or endowing them with the status of material.
Subversion is one of two complementary approaches to colour apparent in Blue. At once perverted and exhausted, colour in the Venus and Fish (2009) series of paintings is completely unhinged from any referent. There is a sense of the thrill of sabotage, of subjugating the largely constant content to the chromatic experiment, which runs slightly amok. Elsewhere, Sharif titles works with names of colours. The descriptive “cadmium red hue” (the precise chromatic nomenclature that would have been lifted from paint tube), becomes the title of the painting Cadmium Red Hue. Yet what are we really seeing? The colour is sabotaged, hijacked. In his reinvention, the haywire hue is no longer a mere component; it has become content itself, muzzling the figurative scene that tries to emerge amid its rampant strokes.
Parallel to such subversive tendencies is Sharif’s will to elevate colour, albeit with the same ironic flourish. These gestures are frank and candid: colour here functions almost as a material. A particularly Sharifian humour simmers in Untitled (2016), this bucket brimming with blue-doused tissue paper into which the viewer must peer. The blue here is isolated, ring-fenced for us to ponder; the humble, paint-stained bucket its unlikely frame. In the triptych Blue (2016), colour has a life of its own, and indeed becomes strangely organic as it slides across the surface and seeps through the magma of used, crusty tissues.
Sharif is never straight with us as viewers. Part of the pleasure of reading his practice is navigating this gap between what he says and what he does, savouring the contradictions, enjoying this journey signposted by both the philosophical and the haphazard. In almost all the works in Blue, colour has the final word. It is inextricably linked to Sharif’s belief that art should shake us, push us to challenge inert ways of thinking. In his twin quest of generating both meaning and meaninglessness, colour emerges as a critical tool. Ultimately, through colour, Sharif demystifies the very notion of a work of art.
Text by Kevin Jones