One of the main things that drives me crazy in Britain – well to be precise one of the things that drives me mad in the London art environment – is the emotional disengagement and the lack of reaction.

My attempt to cover the walls of the corridor is mainly aiming at attracting emotional engagement and human reaction.

I’m not saying that I’m going to succeed. But as an artist, I need to understand how these people here in London think. I’m not the kind of artist who’s oblivious to the audience; I’m always aware of them even if I don’t like them. If the eyes of the audience are only looking at the artist’s work, without the hearts and minds being engaged with the artist’s work, it’s as if both the artist and the work will be like they never existed.

I don’t mean by this that the artist has got to give the audience “what they want” or expect. A few days ago I finished my first painting – it’s 1.8 m high x 5 m wide. Before hanging it in the corridor, I waited for some fellow MA students who were studying on a course that I don’t know, to walk into their classroom right in form of the wall where I was going to hang the painting. I wanted them to pass in front of a white wall and then to hang the painting while they were in the seminar. I then hid behind the glass in my studio, overlooking the whole event, with a cup of coffee in my hand, waiting to see their reaction when they came out of their room, to face a very loud and aggressive painting the like of which I haven’t seen on any wall in my time here at CCA. The painting has a very loud and aggressive use of colour, with a disturbing and unsettling composition. It reflects a state of panic and angst, and there are some disturbing sexual references. It’s coming straight out of the chaos of my unconscious – and yes, it was designed to make people jump.

above: the corridor at CCA, my paintings

Well, they came out of their room one after the other, accompanied by their tutor, and they walked past exactly as if the wall was still white. I sat there and watched their eyeballs, their bodies. They just walked – expressing nothing positive, nothing negative, Just nothing. As if the wall was still white.

I found this very troubling personally, since I’ve practised mural painting since 1995 in many different environments, from galleries to shopping malls to high-traffic main roads. I learned to be a “traffic stopper.” At the end of any mural job the artist has got to go and sit on the street corner and watch the traffic slow down as the drivers can’t help themselves but to look at the mural. This relationship that I have established over 15 years of mural painting, this relationship with my audience with my audience just evaporated like white spirit in front of my eyes.

The main question for me now is, did I lose my capability of commanding the eyes of my audience? Or is it the very nature of this audience to pacify commanding work by ignoring it.

“constructed mythologies” mural at Whitewall, Centre MK, Milton Keyne 2008


About nazirtanbouli

British-Egyptian artist Nazir Tanbouli works in drawing, painting, book art and mural. He is based in London.
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One Response to Audience

  1. pat kermode says:

    I have found that a lot of students and people who look at art, do not trust their own gut reactions. They want to be told what art they should look at, what art is worthy of their comments , which depends a lot on the reputation of the artist. The fact that these students showed no reaction at all to your work is really strange, especially considering the contrast of white walls and then your striking art work. Maybe it’s a british thing or maybe at their age anything that is not about them isn’t even seen.

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