x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Artist drawn to fine lines without designs

Painter and sculptor enjoys not knowing how a work will end.

Susan Hefuna's Cairo Dreams 2011 exhibition is on show at the Third Line gallery in Al Quoz. Jeff Topping / The National
Susan Hefuna's Cairo Dreams 2011 exhibition is on show at the Third Line gallery in Al Quoz. Jeff Topping / The National

DUBAI // When Susan Hefuna started work on a drawing for her new show, she not only had no idea how it would end up looking - she did not even know what it was going to be about.

Hefuna, whose works are in the collections of some of the world's great museums, is showing both drawings and sculptures in an exhibition called Cairo Dreams 2011 at Dubai's Third Line gallery. Some are huge - up to 4.5m by almost a metre and a half - a departure for an artist who until now has produced smaller works.

"For these drawings it's important that I don't have any image in mind of what the drawing will look like," she said.

"I just started by drawing a dot and a line, I didn't think about anything, so I ended up with something that I didn't think about before.

"Sometimes I start in the middle or whatever and then it unfolds, but I don't have an idea of what it is about. But then later I look at the work and I see it's related to, for example, buildings and some other structure, or maps and so on."

The large drawings consist of two layers - a drawing on paper and a second, on tracing paper, laid on top. Both are visible, creating what Hefuna describes as a three-dimensional effect.

She regards the aluminium sculptures in the show as 3D drawings, too. She produces a shape in clay and coats it in a layer of wax, then cuts shapes out of the wax to create the design for the sculpture.

The work is then sent to a foundry, where the wax pattern is cast in aluminium and the inner shape removed.

"They are made in the same spirit - I don't have a pre-sketch. I do the inner forms and then I start to cut out a piece and then the next one and the next one, but I don't have the structure in mind.

"It needs a lot of concentration but it's not intellectual.

"I'm capturing something that is there already, it's like mapping my mind or something, but I'm not aware before of what it will look like.

"It would limit me if I made a sketch and then made it bigger, it would be no surprise for me, it would not be exciting."

Also on show are a selection of small drawings inspired by wooden mashrabiya screens, a feature of traditional Arab architecture, and a bronze inspired by the phrase "patience is beautiful", a common Egyptian saying.

Hefuna's works have been acquired by the British Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the CU Art Museum at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris.

"The British Museum has two of my works, including one that's on permanent display in the African art section. It was great when I sold the first piece to them, it's a great museum and to see the work there is an honour."

Hefuna, 48, is half-German and half-Egyptian, dividing her time between the two countries.

The exhibition continues at the gallery in Al Quoz until June 16. The price range for the small drawings is Dh27,000 to Dh29,000, while the large drawings cost from Dh122,000 to Dh125,000.

The bronze is priced at between Dh198,000 and Dh200,000 while the aluminium sculptures cost between Dh98,000 and Dh190,000.