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Ica Wahbeh

“I seek elemental power in the material that I am using at the time. I collaborate rather than subjugate, seeking maximum freedom by establishing a dialogue whereby all options are open but only one is optimum.”

This is the credo of Samer Tabbaa, accomplished artist who lives in the Arab world, where he carved, pun intended, a distinguished place for himself in the artistic world.

Sculptor and painter, he works with different media to create works that are unmistakably his. His approach is consistent, anchored and harmonious. His labour-intensive and patient investment in the process can be seen in the delicate, worked and kneaded, yet physically strong pieces he produces.

Whether minimalistic, suggestive of Japanese art/interiors — uncluttered, serene, inviting to meditation — or painstakingly elaborate, Tabbaa’s works are often abstract, pared down to a minimum. No crowded imagery to bombard the retina, no shrieking colour combinations. His works are quiet, soothing the senses, calming, cathartic.

Of pure line and colour, they reveal inspiration drawn mostly from nature: undulating dunes, dolmens, wave crests, gently rolling hills, layers of civilizations that settled in this part of the world.

Wood, paint, tar, coal, stone, marble, metal, acrylic are all compliant materials in this artist’s hands that shape them in unlikely, highly tactile forms of remarkable beauty.

Evoking, at times, distant worlds of twinkling and swirling stars of immense depths in which space debris is pulled by some gravitational force, Tabbaa’s bits of graphite, coal or golden dabs of color “land” in a sensibly chaotic pattern on the warm surface of some of his works, in patterns that evoke lunar, barren landscapes of eerie beauty.

How long will they hang precariously on the surface before another mysterious, stronger, force pries them free and sends them whirling in the atmosphere?

Is their delicate sturdiness hinting at our frail, temporal life? Are they representations of the infinite cosmos? Are the images renditions of the outer space, voracious black holes included, or of more familiar expanses of desert that may have lingered in the memory of the artist’s genes?

Whatever they are, like a magnet, they pull the viewer in a lulling embrace, entrancing and mesmerizing.

His slabs or chunks of stone, carved with a labour of love, present smooth, shiny surfaces that are often contrasted with rough, tactile areas that make one wonder whether the rock resisted the artist or he bowed, in deference, to its resilience. For, Tabbaa believes that the “stone carries with it the infinite wisdom of millions of year. It is all there for one to explore”.

And explore he does, hammer and chisel gently teasing surfaces, often following the grain of the stone to create minimalistic works that ask to be touched, caressed, felt, or subdues them, softening sharp lines, changing the original shape and creating intriguing sculptures reminiscent of totems, old civilizations, meteorites and ancestors hard at work to create tools that ensure their survival.

If he is in control of the wood, hewing it and arranging pieces to suit his pursuit, stone seems to be the master.

“I am attracted to its (the stone) resistance and individuality. I am never sure of what to carve — only of the desire to carve. As my work progresses, the stone breaks the silence and I listen carefully. Ideas flow as the stone tells me more, and I record the interactions — and , I must add, the struggle, too,” he professes.

The viewer has no way of knowing whether it all went easy or it was a struggle. All he will know is that the outcome is most esthetically pleasing and places Tabbaa in a class of his own.

The combination of contrary forces — the solidity and heaviness of the stone and the lightness of the image — may be puzzling, but it also attests to the artist’s mastery, establish him as the uncontested master, notwithstanding all statements to the contrary.

Ica Wahbeh

Amman 2023