Morocco has been for centuries the motherland of artists at the crossroads between African, Sub-Saharan, Arab and European cultures. After the success of Orientalist painters, Moroccan artists turned towards academic art from 1910s onwards aiming to document through painting their traditions and daily activities. Following the establishment of several Fine Art Institutes throughout the country, many artists stood against the academic and colonial styles and developed what is known today as nave painting, a style that promotes spontaneity and vivid colours.
Following Morocco's independence in 1956, artists created an aesthetic dialogue between their cultural heritage and the post-colonial visual culture. Although inspired by their country's art history, artists like Jilali Gharbaoui and Ahmed Cherkaoui turned towards Modernity and endorsed the style of the Ecole de Paris and Lyrical Abstraction. Alongside them, fellow artists Mohammed Melehi and Farid Belkahia became the pioneers of Modern Abstract painting in Morocco. Since the 1960s, the fertile landscape of Morocco has provided the backdrop and source of inspiration for many local artists.
Mohammed Melehi's uniquely coloured and vibrant canvases marry the powerful effects of colour with the elegant simplicity of shapes. These artistic departures are evidence of a unique methodology that has evolved through years of artistic education and practice.
His native country Morocco as well as Seville and Madrid inspired the painterly aspects of his work, whilst studying sculpture in Rome and engraving in Paris added a new dimension and diversity to the artist's technique. After leaving Europe, he travelled to the United States in the 1960s where he taught at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and later received a scholarship to attend Columbia University from the Rockefeller Foundation. These years spent in America were hugely informative to the artist's visual language and to the development of his stylistic maturity. He discovered his own interest in the cultural heritage of his homeland and hence focused on the abstraction of cultural signs and symbols throughout his works. His palette became stronger, bolder and composed of more primitive colours.
Both of these striking canvases (lots 67-68 in this sale) are examples of works created during this period in New York City before returning to Morocco in 1965. He offers the viewer a fascinating glance into his endless and abstracted imagination, as he transforms squares into vibrant beacons of light and emotion. They carry a rhythmic quality that is in line with that of the city he had then discovered. The artist's emphasis on pattern and his obsession with geometric shapes is nuanced into both of these works.
The first work, entitled Zipper, provides a beautiful and intriguing manifestation of this proverbial object. The artist's genius ability to attribute a sense of grandeur to such a simple object is a truly incomparable feat. His artistic methodology, which pays particular attention to pattern, creates a visual description of the work which stretches far beyond its initial inspiration. Bringing to life on a grand scale a marriage between both strong Western as well as native Moroccan sources of inspiration, the artist pays homage to the diversity of influence throughout his life. Despite the flatness of the artist's work, Melehi references objects of the daily lives in a minimalist rendition.