The living painting of Najia Méhadji
On the occasion of the exhibition “Najia Mehadji – Lignes de vie” at the 110 Véronique Rieffel art gallery in Paris until December 31.
In the series Woman & War, or in Liberté I write your name (works of art commissioned for an exhibition against the death penalty at MACMA in Marrakech), she handles screen printing combined with painting on canvas so well that the whirlwind which carries us in front of the canvas is, from my point of view, particularly astonishing. But from the 1980s, the work of art became a movement in the work of Najia Méhadji. If the volutes soar today in majesty from his Korean brush soaked in acrylic paint, we already found the vital flow in the abstract drawings in black and white, in charcoal and chalk of his beginnings, as in his figures with radiant colors of his oil stick, whether geometric or florally undulating. Thanks to the visit of journalist Elisabeth Couturier to the studio of the Franco-Moroccan artist for the magazine Connaissance des arts, I was delighted to have been able to get to know Najia Méhadji better, born in 1950 in Paris, who became a major painter of the contemporary art scene in Morocco but who has also been the subject of beautiful exhibitions in French museums. Hence the desire to share it with you here.
“Finally it took me thirty years to touch a canvas with a brush! » she has fun observing while chatting with the journalist in her workshop nestled in Ivry-sur-Seine, wandering around this vast space of two hundred square meters which was once a pigment factory, to show immense canvases made at different times, often placed on the ground. She settled in this calm and bright place in 2001, which she was able to buy for a modest sum thanks to the compensation paid by the City of Paris to the victims of the fire which ravaged the Magasins Généraux du canal de l in 1990. 'Ourcq, where she rented her studio at the time. As for her relationship with painting, which only established itself over time, it finds its origin in the “atypical career path and the proximity that I have long maintained with performance, theater, dance and avant-garde music, and also in the keen interest I took in the Supports/Surfaces movement. The idea of going to the paint dealer seemed outdated to me,” analyzes Najia Méhadji with hindsight. It was therefore only at the beginning of the 2000s that painting arrived in his work. An imperative necessity, as we can see with the sublime Mystic Dance series, where with a single sure, lively and fluid gesture, she traces a large arabesque with random contours with her brush. A flash. The pattern may be minimalist, but it tells a thousand stories.
I would have loved to have spotted the works of art for sale from this series when they were still affordable! Today they are found among collectors as well as in art galleries and museums. In 2020, a splendid red on black Mystic Dance from the Claude and France Lemand collection was sold for €4,000 at Christie's, sold for the benefit of the artists of the Arab World Institute museum. But in 2022, a Blue Wave already exceeded 9,000 euros in an art sale in Marrakech. You don't need to be a soothsayer to say that Najia Méhadji's price has continued to rise on the art market, and that's good for her... even if it's too bad for me!
“The Mystic Dance series evokes the ritual of whirling dervishes performing rotations on themselves in order to achieve a sort of ecstasy, as well as Loïe Fuller, a dancer filmed in 1897, when she waved with her arms an immense fabric as if they were butterfly wings, a vibrant homage to Icarus' dream. We also think of Hokusai’s famous Invading Wave or the windings of Arabic calligraphy,” writes Elisabeth Couturier in her article for Connaissance des arts. In front of the Lignes de vie series, I also think a lot of the works of art of Fabienne Verdier, this French painter trained with Chinese calligraphy masters, who works with gigantic brushes made of around thirty horsetails. and loaded with 60 kilos of ink, which she hangs from the ridge of the roof and moves with a bicycle handlebar.
Fabienne Verdier's recent collaboration with master glassmaker Flavie Serrière Vincent-Petit also allowed her to master the art of stained glass, and after having traveled the Aube department to immerse herself in the golden age of stained glass in the 16th century, the two artists were able in 2016 to create the stained glass windows for the Saint-Laurent church in Nogent-sur-Seine. I had the chance in 2022 to see the splendid exhibition “Fabienne Verdier, alchemy of a stained glass window” which echoed this wonderful work, at the Camille Claudel museum in Nogent-sur-Seine. In which The Forces tourbillons by Fabienne Verdier mingled with the entwined couples of Camille Claudel. The stained glass window homage to the sculptures of La Valse has also taken its place in the permanent collections of the museum, which I warmly recommend you visit. Just like other moving works by Fabienne Verdier whose vitality of the brushstroke recalls the whirling of waltzers. It’s difficult, you will agree, not to associate, at least in thought, these two forms of arabesque painting that resemble a vital impulse! Even if by feeling all the energy that springs from the paintings of Najia Méhadji, images of the Battle of Cascina or the Battle of the Centaurs also come to mind, this fresco and this sculpture by Michelangelo whose realistic motifs are They were basically for the artist only a pretext to represent the movement.
Either way, everything feeds Najia Méhadji's work. Especially the cultural and artistic differences, which she experiences as second nature since she was born to a Moroccan father and a French mother, regularly passing from Paris to Fez, and now from Essaouira to Paris with her husband , the writer and art critic Pascal Amel. After her baccalaureate obtained in 1968, she studied at the Sorbonne and at the Beaux Arts, combining the teachings of the lyrical abstraction painter Michel Carrade (1923-2021) with those of the director Serge Ouaknine, disciple of Grotowski, while attending Gilles Deleuze’s conferences… A real waking dream. That she relives at will by bringing out the treasures preciously preserved in the small library of her workshop, such as the copies of the magazine Sorcières of which, as a convinced feminist, she produced several covers, a catalog of the Deadline exhibition organized in 2010 by the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris which had brought together the last works of contemporary artists before their death, a postcard by Simon Hantaï in the middle of his paintings, the reproduction of a painting by Manet very symbolic for her, a book on Paul Cézanne, to which she devoted her master's thesis... We readily believe Najia Méhadji when she says that she loves coming to her studio...
Article written by Valibri in Roulotte
Illustration: Najia Mehadji
Wave 3, 2018
Acrylic on canvas