My first meeting with Abderrazak Sahli was in 2007, and I was initially fascinated with his ideas and playful work with shapes and colour. Throughout his artistic life Sahli was inspired by abstraction and he deconstructed his artwork in a similar vein to an American Pop artist. Stripped to the bare essentials the work of any artist boils down to three specific fundamental elements; shape, colour and light. His work is the link between some of the most important art movements of the last century, American Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism and Russian Suprematism. Sahli is originally from Arabic North Africa but spent his life living between France and Tunisia.
Sahli’s artistic life started in the 1960’s and the consistency, continuity and thoroughness of his works are astounding. Inspired by his mentor and friend Nejib Belkhodja, Sahli adopted many ideas from the recognised Tunis School of Art of 60's, founded by Belkhodja, which looked at architecture, constructivism and the development of aesthetics through art. The image below is from his later works, “The Artist Door”, and effectively capitalises on the bright North African sunlight. 'Skyhooks' are needed when looking at his work as the light pours in from different directions and through the multi-layers he has created new and exciting shapes from standard shapes, mixed with layers of other standard shapes to create brand new shapes. Sahli has manage to tackle the age old question of the elusive light between - his work is wonderfully simple yet sophisticated and certainly philosophical. The standardization of all things – the accepted shape and the rejected unacceptable shapes colliding to create new unacceptably acceptable shapes, the work is a paradox and a guide to a wave of thoughts that are rarely uttered; the artist’s pursuit and perpetual quest to push the boundaries of art puts Abderrazak Sahli in the company of Modern Masters of Turner, Paul Klee, Mondrain, Kasimir Malevich and Nejib Belkhodja.
Sadly Abderrazak died earlier this year but was and still is considered one of the best artists from North Africa and his work is interwoven with numerous glorious ideas. His final works are amongst his best and they come alive wholly when filled with light, like the soul of mankind, light is the essential ingredient needed for life itself; like all things, without light the work becomes a two-dimensional object, lifeless and flat. Given space between the layers creates conversations that have enough time to be forgiveable. Space and time seen through the use of light makes everything believable and alive. Abderrazak created an innovation within art through his unique use of light, the source of which all artists strives to achieve. Observations and opinions change as the shape and colours change, what was unacceptable will inevitably become acceptable and even to the point of becoming the recognisable standard. All that is needed to create this phenomenon is light, space and time. Abderrazak strived for the unacceptable and waited for the world to wake up to the ideas of the unacceptable transformation into the general acceptance. This quintessentially is how the world works. The best art pushes the boundaries asking the viewer to consider what is seen and sheds light on the truth that abnormality will eventually become an acceptable normality given enough time and space. This colourful transparent “Artist Door” plays with the traditional screens in the Arabic world. The suggestion of sex is one of the major features within the work; as the screens are normally used for women to undress behind to entice men to see them at a glance, glimpses of naked flesh and the lustful joy of anticipation. His work can be read in copious ways and he leaves behind a body of work that is not only beautiful and intriguing but more importantly it is thorough and thought provoking.
© Joe Pollitt, 2009