The Hybrid Visions of Surrealist Anis Dargaa

Elephantus Woman Base, Paintings, 37.5 x 37.5
Like his fellow countryman René Magritte, the doubly gifted painter and sculptor Anis Dargaa, born in Liège, Belgium, in 1972, is a Surrealist fascinated with intriguing incongruities. However, Dargaa’s imagistic anomalies, rather than being centered on objects of the ordinary world skewed slightly out of synch, are of a wholly phantasmagorical nature. And for this reason, his true mentor is the Spanish Surrealist master Salvador Dali, whom he claims inspired him to begin painting in oils on the very day of Dali’s death. (Such a histrionic pronunciamento seems very much in tune with the spirit of the artist whom Dargaa refers to as “a spiritual father.”)  
    What Dargaa has learned from Dali, as well as what he has innovated on his own and hopes will serve as a benchmark for future artists, is on view in “Eternity,” the series of paintings  on view at Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, from June 29 through July 20. (Reception: Thursday, July 1,
from 6 to 8 PM.)
   Dargaa created “Elephantus Woman,” the first painting in the ongoing series fully twenty years ago. Concerned, according to the artist, with “durability, longevity, fertility, and Woman,” the series combines images of sensual female nudes with elephants in a manner much more graceful, beautiful, and logical than it can possibly sound when described in words. Perhaps the two paintings that pinpoint the hybrid metamorphosis most clearly, when viewed together, are “Elephantus Woman Base,” and “Elephantus Woman Eternity.” The first painting appears initially to be a realistic frontal view of an elephant’s head with descending trunk and protruding tusks, until one studies it more closely and a suggestion of female breasts, belly, and legs begins to emerge, almost subliminally, from its general outline. In the second painting the  metamorphosis appears reversed, with the image of the naked woman most immediately discernible, albeit headless and with what seem to be wings shaped like elephant ears rearing outward from her back and curved tusks entwining her slender waist.
   Dargaa’s sculptures explore the same theme in a somewhat more abstract manner, with golden tusks reclining like serpents on pedestals or encircling egg-like shapes. That both seem to defy description is what brings them so alive in a manner to elude ekphrasis, and make one realize how completely they belong to the realm of the visual.
   Perhaps more immediately comprehensible yet no less mysterious, are oils such as “Elephantus Woman’s Eggs,” in which the full length figure of another classically formed female nude with wings like elephant wings outstretched appears within a surreal terrain where egg-like shapes float like blue balloons; as well as “L’Envoi de la Femme Elephant,” in which another full length nude levitates in profile against a deep, dark ground, her breasts and legs again alluding to the animal’s forehead and trunk.
   What makes it possible for Anis Dargaa to create such essentially contradictory imagistic hybrids, which in the hands of a lesser painter would be discordant, is his unique way of bringing about tonal and chromatic harmonies by virtue of a carefully controlled palette based on the colors and light of the Mediterranean, with the blues of the sea and sky and the ochers of the land predominant. These hues, combined with a flawlessly smooth classical realist oil technique enable him to blend the most improbable elements in a visually harmonious synthesis. Thus this gifted artist imbues his most fantastic dreams and visions with startling verisimilitude.   
Written by: Maurice Taplinger

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