Omar El Lahib Is Saatchi Yates' New Talk of the Town
Imagine a world where the only light present is omitted from otherworldly minotaur-like creatures stalking the earth. Colours are inverted to reflect a place like no other where darkness reigns and not-so-subtle mystery cloaks every corner. This is the universe of Cologne-based Lebanese artist Omar El Lahib, whose painterly otherness coats Saatchi Yates' new 10,000 sqft space in the heart of St James, believing 'The night doesn't diminish or limit things; it instead magnifies moments and renders them more intense.'
Bringing together over 18 large-scale paintings, El Lahib's solo exhibition sets itself in the nocturnal world, where the unconscious is at liberty to make itself heard. Despite its abstract nature, the characters in El Lahib's portraits pose in ways that are only reminiscent of haunched haunted beings, blending into their magical backdrops.
'El Lahib's work oscillates between figuration and abstraction', notes German art theorist Dr Larissa Kikols. '(He) uses lights and colours in a more targeted and subjective way, with moods, figures, and sceneries arranged as if in a dream. Often depicted by El Lahib is the same woman with long hair, captured almost in the exact same pose - slightly crooked, slightly bent forward, arms mostly hanging down' a pose that has only been associated with horror subjects before El Lahib turned that narrative on its head. They are very body like,' admits El Lahib, recognising that it's not just his atypical colour palette that strikes life into his work. 'The process of my paintings is very hard to explain. It a lot of working with colour, lights and shadows than working on the scenery'.
Existing in the ground space of the new Bury Street gallery, El Lahib's exhibition marks the first in a series of shows where the gallery will dedicate this space to breakthrough artists and dramatic private rooms for secondary market presentations. In true Saatchi style, support and backing for new artists remain at the forefront of what the gallery does best, with the St James' location allowing for the gallery to continue this work. Saatchi Yates Founders Phoebe Saatchi Yates and Arthur Yates commented:
'St James has always been our dream home, a brilliantly British destination for both the history and future of art in London. Our new gallery allows us to put on ambitious public shows for our artists and in our secret hallowed galleries, present some spectacular private sales. Omar's paintings immediately hypnotised us with their mysterious and unsettling power. We were confident he was the perfect artist to launch our new initiative in St James. Intermingling Lebanese landscapes with Germanic intensity.'
Certifying a love for nature, El Lahib revealed it's 'forest, rivers, the sea and mountains' that work his creative juices, all of which can be seen in his colourful oil depictions. The mystery inherent in his work also stretches to this very paint. 'Oil colours are extraordinary and the more you paint with them, the more you realise that you don't know much about them', leaving the artist to let the paint work its own magic, capable of catapulting the viewer into his very own imaginary dreams.