x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Fine-tuning the emotion

It is necessary to stroll through Jean-Michel Macias' entire show to find the jewels that truly showcase his talents.

Jean-Michel Macias discusses his work at the opening of his Emotion exhibition.
Jean-Michel Macias discusses his work at the opening of his Emotion exhibition.

Jean-Michel Macias is a man of many talents and he's keen to show it. His Emotion exhibition at the Dubai International Arts Centre, is far from huge, but contains an embarrassment of visual riches, from brightly coloured bullfighters to delicate silver jewellery, Aboriginal-style dotted patterns to calligraphic pictures (using the Latin alphabet). The problem is, though, that all his works are not equal, and with the eye confused by the variety, it takes some effort to see beyond the attention-grabbing pieces to those that are more aesthetically refined and intriguing.

The big crowd-pleasers are those for which Macias is better known: his bullfighting - or corrida de toros - paintings. Macias is of Spanish heritage and was brought up and studied in Marseilles, close to the Camargue area of France, where bullfighting is a popular sport. The south of France is, apparently, filled with artists who obsess over the colour, drama and movement of the corrida, the power of the toreador and the aggression of the bull. Macias's own work features quasi-surrealist musings on the relationship between the bull and the toreador, with minotaur-like figures scattered across the canvases. The surroundings feature stylised patterns and decorative panels of engraved silver.

Here, though, is the problem with these images: the startling acrylic colours are gaudy rather than vibrant, as if poured straight from the paint tubes instead of judiciously mixed; and those attempts to create realistic figures - save for those that are collaged pieces from photographs - are anatomically naive. The Aboriginal dotting is a purely visual device, with no apparent intellectual or emotional significance.

All of which is a shame, because there is more and better to come. Venture into the other portion of the gallery, and you will find his latest works and some smaller pieces of typography, jewellery and engraving displayed - evidence of Marcias's real talent. An engraver and jeweller by trade and training, this is an artist who is genuinely at home with decoration, stylised images and meticulous detail. His eye for pattern, which is faintly explored on the bullfighting pictures, is given full reign here where a restrained monochrome palette prevents those colours from interfering with the shapes and motifs. In the corrida works, the flattened decorative shapes look unfinished, thanks to the painterly style that too many artists use on large canvases. Here, however, on a small scale and carefully planned and constructed, the arrangements of letters within shapes (a head, a tree, a hand) are competently executed and cleverly interwoven, providing the eye with plenty of elaborate action. Similarly, the tiny engravings in copper or silver (some placed on the corrida paintings, others works in themselves) show a delicate restraint and understanding of space and composition. Even the faces and figures in these pieces are superior in proportion and detail to their more flamboyant cousins in the other gallery space.

Equally, his pieces of jewellery are beautifully wrought Middle Eastern-influenced charms and pendants and pieces of coral or stone set in silver and gold. These exquisite pieces of decorative art are considered a mere craft-based sideline to those giant but infinitely less impressive painted canvases displaying the memes of self-expression. Luckily, Marcias does show signs of a happy compromise with his latest pieces, which are small black-and-white line paintings that are improvised riffs on some basic stylised motifs, almost tribal in their visual rhythm. Cleanly executed (none of the un-erased pencil marks or untidy brush strokes that deface some of his calligraphic works), and eschewing the gaudiness of the corrida pictures, these are pieces that, as the artist himself admits, will help his work to evolve in another direction. It is to be hoped - and it seems likely - that it will be into something more considered, more pared down, more complete and more resolved.

Emotion by Jean-Michel Macias, DIAC, Dubai, until June 8