Maverick Life


The artist who banks on his intuition

Taher Jaoui - The cat was a Junkie

Tunisian artist Taher Jaoui discusses the spontaneity behind his work –  oil paintings of clusters of irregular and colourful objects accentuated by bold dark lines.

Taher Jaoui’s use of colour and texture is inspired by abstract expressionism, an art movement developed in New York between the 1940s and 1950s; a movement inspired by the artist’s intuition and emotional state, and characterised by dynamic shapes and rich colours achieved through exuberant movement.

Born in Tunisia, Jaoui moved to Paris in 2002 to continue his studies in computer science and worked as an engineer and also an investment banker for a few years.

“I come from a very scientific family, my mother was a teacher and my father was an engineer, but as I was working in Paris (in finance), I started thinking about doing something else – something more creative and emotional. So, in 2007, I started painting in my flat.”

Jaoui graduated from the Sorbonne University, in the Latin Quarter, in the same year.

Unable to showcase his work, he moved to Los Angeles and tried to work as an actor before returning to art, focusing on working with plastic. In 2014, he moved to Berlin to focus entirely on his art, incorporating techniques he learnt while acting to stimulate emotions.

For each piece, Jaoui starts his drawing using a pencil, ink, spray, and gradually adds detail with oil, acrylic, and pastels. He works on two to three pieces simultaneously, each can take from to two or three days to months to produce, depending on the size of the canvas and, most importantly, when he feels the piece is complete.

Taher Jaoui – Genie in a Bottle

“It’s not really an intellectual or logical decision, it’s mostly a feeling in terms of space, colour and shapes. It’s like cooking, you just know when you are done,” he says.

“I let the viewer make their own understanding of the piece, to discuss it directly with their own imagination and creativity.”

His work is influenced by and is in some ways similar to that of US artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose art was enthused by social, cultural and political commentary.

Jaoui’s first sold painting in 2018, War Zone, was inspired by a moment of civil resistance during the Tunisian Revolution. It was a figurative piece depicting a black character on a white background with collages of spaceships and bombs and a dead body gushing blood. The painting was sold for €2,000 at the Saatchi Gallery in London.

Jaoui also draws inspiration from the classic Franco-Belgian comic series Spirou et Fantasio, particularly the movement, colours and composition. Other artists he is influenced by are Jean Dubuffet, Cy Twombly and Arshile Gorky. He is also a Trent Reznor fanatic and says he admires the alternative rock artist’s dedication and focus towards his craft.

Talking about his career highlight, Jaoui recalls the day in 2018 when he received a call from Mika Gallery in Tel Aviv, and was told he had sold his first big piece, I Think I Found the Cobra (2m by 3m), to an art collector in England for $1,600.

When he is not painting, Jaoui enjoys running, watching movies, and listening to different styles of music from metal to rap and classical music.

“Music is very important in my working process; I work with music all the time and it helps with the required energy I need to focus.”

Taher Jaoui – Black Noir

His work has been showcased in group and solo exhibitions in galleries around the world, from the Jinsan Gallery in Korea to Uncommon Beauty in New York. He also participated in a group show with artists Jonni Cheatwood, Taylor White, and Gregor Hiltner titled The New Abstract – An Atlantic Bridge, USA – BERLIN. They met through curator Hiltner who discovered them on Instagram as a group of new American abstract painters with “refreshing creative freedom in technique and composition”. The show was dedicated to the Atlantic Bridge between Berlin and the US where they creatively mixed the abstract art of both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and their work was showcased at Kremers Gallery in Berlin.

Closer to home, Jaoui works with Ghaya Gallery in Tunisia and his recent solo exhibition Genie in a Bottle is being showcased at Graham Modern and Contemporary in Bryanston, Johannesburg until June 13. ML



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