Framed, Ink drawings on paper, 70 x 100 cm, £3,500
LINES OF BEAUTY
29 April 2019 - 8 May 2019
“When I first saw Effie’s work a few weeks ago, I was quite mesmerised” says Shahbaz Afridi.
Within a matter of days a dozen drawings by an artist Shahbaz had never previously known were enhancing the walls of the Afridi gallery, amid African pots, modernist lamps and antique Ziegler carpets which they clearly complement. With swirls and patterns, they are a whole undergrowth of images from nature, from art, from memorabilia and world events, showing a restless energy and provoking myriad thoughts.
Effie Carmel is as delightful and tangled up as these ink drawings. He appears like The Shock of the New, in pale pink shirt and flowing beige coat, his dark eyes dancing, his cloud of greying hair exploding with the ideas that careen around his head and arrive in conversation that ranges through a score of topics fed by an insatiable curiosity.
“Knowledge… information… understanding. Is knowledge possible? Can wisdom be taught?” The questions tumble out. His drawings are fairytales, he says. “It’s about a mystery, the imagination trying to take control. I don’t know why. Sometimes I think I have more than 10,000 flowers in my head.”
His work on paper is the result not just of his art training in America, but also of many years absorbed in libraries, and he compares London to the Great Library of ancient Alexandria.
“I have spent 17 years of my life in libraries, many of them in the old circular reading room of the British Museum in Bloomsbury, four or five years in the V&A, and in the Warburg institute, and the IClass classical collection of London University. I spent four years in the Vatican Library, too.”
Born 62 years ago in Israel, Effie was, he likes to point out, conceived in Burma. As a boy, he was ‘completely dyslexic’, for years unable to write the figure 8 the right way up. But he liked to draw, and would spend hours with a popular ‘Etch a Sketch’ device that allowed drawing on a screen of aluminium powder by controlling two knobs, one for horizontal lines, one for vertical.
From 1967 to 1972 his father had a diplomatic posting in Iran, where Islamic architecture was an influence, particularly the mosaics of small pieces of glass and mirrors, which can be seen echoed in some of the patterns of his drawings. From 1978 he attended The School of the Museum of Fine Arts and Tufts University in Boston where, at the end of his school year, he had a large drawing chosen to be exhibited in City Hall.
In the 1980s in London he painted things he found in the street — a mattress, doors. In 1990 in LA he produced a bathtub full of oil on which gold books floated. “Contemporary art is so exciting,” he says, admitting that he is “an artist with no style”, an outlook that chimes with the Afridi gallery’s eclectic range of items that are chosen for themselves and not in order to conform to any pre-conceived aesthetic.
His productivity is impressive, and it is no surprise to hear that he is writing a book. He has written scripts in Hollywood, too. He can, he says, create three or four paintings a day, but once he starts one of these ink drawings, he does nothing else. “I obsess,” he says. “I work on them for hours at a time, and sometimes I wake in the night and do more, listening to music.” Starting, perhaps, with a leaf, he often has no idea where his lines will take him, but his resource of knowledge combines with an endless imagination to keep the flow around the paper, working “like a Swiss watchmaker” on minute details.
He is not aiming for beauty, he says, but in the search of the imagination, everything is beauty in the end, and he quotes a line from Proust: “Leave the pretty women to the unimaginative men.”