Piecing Bilbeisi's Harf II

Looking at Omar Bilbeisi's paintings is like looking through a magnifying glass fixed over the pages of an Arabic language book.

His 29 tableaux that are on display at Zara Gallery are a delight to the viewer's eyes as they are beautifully produced and thematically exuberant. Bilbeisi's exhibition consists of enlarged letters from the Arabic alphabet and Qur'anic sentences that lighten up the walls of the gallery. Even though most of these sentences and letters are in fragments, one can still sense their underlying message.

Bilbeisi's current exhibition, entitled Harf II, follows in the footsteps of its prequel Harf, the subject of Bibeisi's solo exhibition also held at Zara Gallery in 2004.

A spotlight above one of his paintings was off, yet somehow the painting was emanating light. His brush strokes-much like a calligrapher's only on a larger scale-are bright and far from whimsical, as calligraphy is an art that revolves around symmetry and measurement.

"Calligraphy in my work emancipates itself from rules pertaining to the clarity of words and sentences in the structure that we know and use on a daily basis," Bilbeisi says in his exhibition's press release, adding, "the main theme of the exhibition is the extraction of Arabic letters from their literal and logical connotations that people use in their everyday correspondence; and using these letters outside their context, on a backdrop of prominent colors that are mainly borrowed from Pop Art themes."

Borrowing from "Pop Art" themes is what Bilbeisi certainly does only on a different level. He creates strong colored spaces reminiscent of the works of Roy Lichtenstein. However, instead of human characters Bilbeisi uses alphabetical characters stenciled over backgrounds of white, blue, red, yellow and green. The material he uses in creating his paintings range between acrylic, oil and mixed media.

Studying art in 1993 at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris Belbeisi also took part in the studio workshop of French Artist Ounis Amor in Paris. In 1995, he became Assistant Director at Darat al-Funun in Amman and in 1999 he was invited to participate in the Jordanian pavilion at the EXPO 2000 in Hanover, Germany.

"I like to experiment with letters because they are curvaceous, which gives my work a certain flow and a degree of fluidness, while the colors I use, are meant to make the letters more prominent and to bring more character and life to the letters embodied in my work," says Bilbeisi.

Producing interwoven fragments of sentence and intertwined letters is not an easy process as Bilbeisi has to imagine the whereabouts of each letter, line and shape within the boundaries of a painting's frame. While working on them Bilbeisi the artist was dealing with incomplete images that needed to be transcribed upon canvas opposite complete thoughts looming in his mind and this is where the brilliance of his exhibition lies; for a sentence is a thought comprising letters that are assembled cognitively in one's mind before being laid on paper or on canvas.

Bilbeisi, who helped to set up Dar el-Fan Museum and Museum of Traditional Life in Amman, held his first solo exhibition at The Orient Gallery in Amman in 1998. Bilbeisi participated in several group exhibitions. Besides Jordan, his works are displayed in France, Spain, Egypt, Japan, Monaco, the UK, and the US.

One of Bilbeisi's impressive paintings comes out as an unhinged triptych with colors of white and red adorned with black calligraphy. This painting-as is the case with the other paintings-can be seen as a large three-piece jigsaw puzzle that is waiting to be solved.

What makes Bilbeisi's Harf II an interesting exhibition is that it stirs the imagination of the viewer, who finds himself piecing the fragments hanging on the wall and at the same time instigates the mind into a process of thinking that might lead to an answer: The meaning of each painting. ¦Piecing Bilbeisi's Harf I

By Mike Derderian
Star staff write


A Celebration of Jordanian Contemporary Art at 4Walls Gallery

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At T Canvas Gallery: Art 4 Life, an exhibition dedicated to Lebanon and its people, was organized by artist Shereen Audi. The displayed works of art were donated by artists and art galleries from across the country and all proceeds of the exhibition went to Lebanon.


Harf I

The paintings of Omar Bilbeisi reflect his complex rapport with the rudimentary forms that embody language – the alphabet. Calligraphy in his works seems to emancipate itself from rules pertaining to the clarity of words, sentences and even meaning. They force the viewer to construct a personal significance of what is seen through their focus on a sinuous and continuous movement of line, color and space. The compositions and styles of representation in his exhibition are multi fold. While some tend to reach a purist state, others take on an expressive character, which at times pushes the work within the margins of pop culture and kitsch. This complex method of representation is further heightened by an infiltration of the ‘ready made’ to his canvases (i.e. leopard skin), which -if anything - emphasizes his resistance to an affiliation with a particular style by belonging to all. This ambiguous position has a double edge, which empowers the work on both critical and aesthetic levels. On one hand it claims that originality does not necessarily dwell in inventing a personal language of expression, nor does it burden itself with presenting what’s never been seen. Rather, the works concentrate on the synthesis of multiple styles into one palette with which various visual experiences are created. On the other hand his works points to the singularity of the subject matter regardless of the multiple visual manifestations of that stylistic palette.
Looking at Omar Bilbeisi’s works one tends to appreciate how “beauty” is often concealed yet depicted through noise, ambiguity and contradictory layers of meaning.

Sahel Al-Hiyari


Old & New at Zara Gallery Amman

An exhibition entitled Old & New was held at Zara Gallery Amman in August 2003. The exhibition featured 30 Arab artists who showcased their latest work. Omar Bilbeisi was among those that were invited to participate.

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