The paintings by Wassef Boutros-Ghali employ a rich colour palette in which warm, ochre or red-modulated colourations are applied in much the same way as clashing, cold blue colourings. On his canvases, which are almost all characterized as Untitled, he allows primary colours to collide with complementary colours, in order to create space and depth. In this manner he evokes the Mesopotamian desert landscape with its topography that loses itself in an infinite vastness. There does not appear to be, however, an overly excessive focus on the figurative: Boutro–Ghali’s paintings instead operate as mirages between abstraction and figuration, in which recognisable landscapes and geometric abstractions enter into fascinating alliances. “My goal is simply to achieve an aesthetic visual equilibrium of geometric shapes and colors,” says the artist himself.
It’s not possible to classify the art of this cosmopolitan artist, born in Cairo in 1924 and living there, without reflecting at the same time on his family history: the political dynasty Boutros–Ghali has been a co–creator of Egyptian as well as international politics for many decades; his grandfather Boutros Ghali Pasha was Prime Minister, his brother Boutros was General Secretary of the United Nations. Wassef, who was educated in European elite institutions and also lived in the United States for a long time, decided upon an artistic career, in which he has excelled not only as a painter but also as an architect. His role model with regard to modernistic consequences was Le Corbusier, while from his paintings one can easily discern similarities with the formal abstraction of, for example, Josef Albers or Ellsworth Kelly. But such perceived analogies fall short. In Wassef Boutros–Ghali’s painting another tradition comes into the picture, which one could term Levantine abstraction and which is also found in the works of Salida Douaihy and Etel Adnan. A tradition which, in an epoch of socio–political upheavals and military conflicts, conceives the post–colonial subject as an abstraction, and which integrates into the artistic process the biographical experience of colonialism as one of the most radical and inhuman forms of domination.
In this manner it seems much more productive to conceive of the dream–landscapes and colour field works of Wassef Boutros–Ghali not as copies, translations or distortions of the Euro–American avant garde, but rather as an ‘alternative Modern’ that has determined his entire life, and on whose aesthetic illumination he has worked consistently until today – regardless of the world region in which he lives and works. As the curator Kaleem Hawa writes, “One only has to think about the arbitrary borders with which the imperial powers have defined ‘the Orient’, in order to understand why structure is so important for an Arab artist.”
(quot. Thomas Miessgang, 2021)