A contemporary artist from Paris, Vincent Abadie Hafez, also known as Zepha explores the dialog between cultures through an aesthetic blending of Oriental and Western calligraphy. Over the years, he has developed a singular visual language through his research on the deconstruction of the letter and the cross-cultural meanings of the signs. His work is a symphony of letters and colorful signs, dynamic and expressive gestures punctuated by a harmony of colors. Drawing from his graffiti origins and combining Arabic and Latin characters, the artist has created a timeless visual oeuvre of a unifying significance.
The latest body of work of this talented artist will soon be on view at David Bloch Gallery in Marrakesh. The result of an art residency, the exhibition titled Hors-Sol will bring together new canvases, papers and sculptures, taking the viewers into the artist's unique graphic universe. In creating these new pieces, the artist described himself as "an architect of a modern city invaded by a binary stream, pierced by waves and algorithms." Capturing paradox-filled chaos and explosive speed and movement, these canvases are an allegory of a globalized society accelerating towards a futuristic techno world.
The exhibition will be on view from October 5th until November 2nd, 2019. The opening reception will take place on Saturday, October 5th, from 6 p.m. in the presence of the artist.
On the occasion of the show, we had a chat with Vincent about his latest body of work, his take on graffiti and calligraphy, urban environment, his working process and much more.
Widewalls: These new canvases capture paradox-filled chaos and exploding speed and movement. How does this reflect the dynamics of our contemporary society?
Vincent Abadie Hafez: In continuity and as an echo of the last exhibition Urban Jealousy which was on view in 2017 at the David Bloch Gallery, this solo show is meant to represent speed and to reflect the movement and flux of our modern world on the canvas.
Some works reflect the explosion of the shock wave felt when an aircraft exceeds the speed of sound, a pictorial supersonic bang as an alarm. Hors-sol is the allegory of this acceleration that the exponential growth of our system would not hear, too busy looking to a futuristic world in full shift with the pace of our biosphere.
Widewalls: How did you first become interested in calligraphy and decided to incorporate it into your art?
Vincent Abadie Hafez: By the late 1980s, I was engaged body and soul in the Graffiti movement that had appeared a few years earlier in Paris and Europe more generally, under the pseudonym Zepha. My experience with the graffiti movement brought me its share of adventures with the nights out spraying and making collective paintings and, more significantly, it allowed me to work in-depth on the subversion and stylization of the Latin alphabet. While I was working on street surfaces such as walls, trains, trucks, cars and other urban backgrounds, I also produced studio work on canvas, paper and copper.
The gesture intrinsic to the aerosol technique and the energy of calligraphic gestures led me to live creativity as a process, not only as a goal. This notion later influenced my post-graffiti graphic research and inclination towards abstraction. It became an alphabetical choreography, going towards what I call the "trance of signs". When I create, I am close to a state of transcendence, a deep dive into the All, the One, which goes beyond the duality of the signifier - signified.
Widewalls: Your work explores the dialogue between cultures through an aesthetic mix of Oriental and Western calligraphy, enriched by an urban context and modern approach. Could you tell us something about this unique blend that characterizes your work?
Vincent Abadie Hafez: My encounter with calligrapher and artist Abdellatif Moustad in 1998 profoundly influenced my work, leading me to an approach centered on the calligraphic gesture and the composition of the letters as well as on the relationship between matter and support. This also led me to put figuration aside and privilege the letter.
Through the Arabic calligraphy and its different styles that appears for me as a codex to decipher, I started a deep work of deconstruction of the Latin letters in 2000, creating futuristic hybrid alphabets with flat brushes on vertical surfaces with urgency and precision in the gesture.
For example, Hassan Massoudy, Rashid Koraїchi and Nja Mahdaoui are, for me, the pioneers who opened the way towards a certain idea of what contemporary calligraphic rooted in Islamic culture could be. Earlier, I had been also inspired by the impressive work of the French artist Georges Mathieu who created the Lyrical Abstraction movement, linked to graffiti with his instinctive and fast gesture on huge surfaces.
Widewalls: Your work demonstrates great responsiveness to the built environment, born of a deep study of each locale. Which aspects of the urban environment inspire you the most?
Vincent Abadie Hafez: I like a history of a place, the people who lived there, dreamed there on spot - the city soul can be felt in situ and it’s always better to sketch in front of the wall before painting it. In a big city, I like the verticality, the small discreet street details, the anecdote, the unusual, the wall’s textures - all the scars of the city are beautiful. I am also fascinated by the fast city inhabitants, flux and the density of the visual and noise pollution which transform us into a self hypnotizer or urban poet.
Illegal or not, writing has always been for me a way to release this urban pressure and stop this broken clock.
Widewalls: In your works, the letters are freed from their semiotic restrain, converted into pictorial symbols placed at fixed intervals. Could you tell us something about your working process?
Vincent Abadie Hafez: My hybrid characters (letters) often lose their meaning in favor of the power of movement, the gesture of the calligraphy, pen stroke on paper, the brush stroke on the canvas, the spray paint on the wall - all a balancing game between a planned composition and instinctive gesture.
The process is like a prayer, a transcendent pictorial choreography searching the right movement through rhythm and repetition always trying to find the balance to organize the chaos and to build bridges.
Widewalls: Over the years, your practice has expanded from its urban beginnings to the gallery walls. How do you differentiate between the work you are doing for the streets and in a more controlled setting such as a gallery, while still maintaining your visual identity?
Vincent Abadie Hafez: My indoor work has always been created with the same energy than when I was painting outside, trying to recreate the same flow, adding layers to the canvas to create an old wall surface aspect, texturing the surface and accumulating signs indefinitely as the genesis of a new cycle, always as a restart. I'm trying to fix the present moment, with the idea of a better future deeply rooted in the past wiseness.
Widewalls: What’s next for you?
Vincent Abadie Hafez: To continue to shape my sensitivity to the world by continuing to explore different mediums and persevere in the rapprochement of cultures by sharing my vision through my art.
Featured image: Vincent Abadie Hafez. Courtesy the artist. All images courtesy David Bloch Gallery.