More than just pretty pictures

The Iranian artist Ahoo Hamedi's work at the B_asement Gallery in Dubai may be somewhat decorative but that's not to say that it doesn't have a lasting emotional effect.

One of the 24 untitled works by the Iranian artist Ahoo Hamedi on show at the B_asement Gallery in Dubai.
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For some artists and galleries, calling an exhibition accessible, pretty or easy on the eye is considered the ultimate insult: surely art should be opaque, cryptic, challenging and rather baffling? If you actually want to hang it on the wall, it must be (don't say it) commercial. Luckily, that is not an approach that the B_asement Gallery takes with its choice of artists, and it's not something that the Iranian artist Ahoo Hamedi is particularly worried about. The 27-year-old painter creates ethereal figurative works that are, it has to be said, quite beautiful. Soft, inky washes float across the thick, textured watercolour paper, expressively marking out eyes, faces, hair and lips in black, red and delicate oyster pinks. The compositions, whether the sad face of one girl or a dynamic Three Graces-style trio of women, mid-gesture, are harmoniously constructed, filling the frame but with large internal spaces in which what is missing is just as important as what is there. All in all, these pictures are rather pretty.

Crucially, though, they are also evocative, engaging - if not intellectually then emotionally - and heartfelt, far enough from merely commercially pleasing pieces to afford the artist some serious scrutiny and a keen following that has developed over just a few years. Even the fragile beauty of some of those faces, punctuated with strongly painted, expressive eyes and heavily rendered hair, goes beyond a surface attractiveness. The intriguing expressions, the respective strength or gentleness of the lines, the vividness or translucency of the colours all seem to point to some specific meaning, just out of reach of the viewer. Why are these three women locked in a moment of such yearning - and who are they?

They are no one in particular, says the artist: simply expressions of her own feelings as she paints, involving no more intellectual rigour than that. She professes no forethought when she sits down to create a work, simply seeing what develops from the first or second brushstrokes. Certainly, the spontaneity implicit in this approach is evident in each picture, with a commendable freedom of stroke and gestural vivacity.

If the pictures represent anyone, it is Hamedi herself, though each is untitled, perhaps allowing the viewer to project other features on those blank faces. The eyes proliferated on some of the works - particularly on a large piece made from a patchwork of watercolours, which represents her newest work - do indeed bear a resemblance to Hamedi's own features, and there is no doubt that the work has some element of autobiography, if only in its expression of her subconscious.

For the Iranian artist, the eyes have a special resonance: "When you look at someone's eyes, you see the whole person behind them," she says. The concept of eyes as windows to the soul is not a new one, but it is in the pictures that show women wearing the facial veil that it takes on a new poignancy. The first of these pictures came, she says, from her tried-and-tested method of the accidental mark: she painted a line, it washed out and it looked like a hijab. The eyes staring out from above it are strongly rendered and all the more compelling for their isolation from other facial features. In two more paintings along the same lines, she continued the hijab theme, but this time closing the eyes of the subjects, creating a sense of serenity without those anguished orbs.

Hamedi's sureness of touch is an asset when working in such a loose manner, and though the anatomy of the subjects' movement is not always entirely successful, there remains nevertheless a sense of the classic heritage of draughtsmanship, with one work feeling rather like a large rendering of a Rembrandt sketch, another calling to mind the bold stares of the women that Manet liked to paint. This painterly technique is all the more effective in those works in which she pares back the visual language to the bare minimum, using a few strokes to evoke a whole subject. Those works in which the brushstrokes are angrily scribbled and scrawled and the reds and blacks are messily combined may take more effort and be more emotive and even cathartic, but they somehow feel less worthwhile, as unrestrained, unedited tantrums on paper. These works are few, though, and the ephemeral lines and vaporous washes of her more successful works clearly point her in a direction that can only lead to more refinement of thought and technique as she develops and matures as an artist. It's early days for the young artist, but her progress looks likely to be worth following.

Ahoo Hamedi is at the B_asement Gallery, Dubai, until June 13 (04 341 4409).