Tarek Montasser

The artist’s earliest childhood memory is at the foot of his uncle’s work table in his grandparent’s house, collecting little scrapes of cloth, calque paper, thread, pencil stubs and little splinters of blue chalk and arranging them in imaginary landscapes. He has been painting ever since.

Montasser went to a french school where rigorous classical educator Monsieur Philip, his tyrannical eccentric art teacher recognized his natural aptitude for art, and since he was a trouble maker at school, he made him a deal he couldn’t refuse: which was if he draws the portraits of his classmates he would wave off some of the frequent punishments that were vested on him, a punishment per portrait.

Montasser didn’t go to art school; he studied mechanical engineering at the American University in Cairo. He was an indifferent engineering student, but he managed to audit all the art classes of the limited curriculum offered by the university. During this period he rented a washing room on the rooftop of an old building in Garden city near the university and frequently skipped classes to paint freely all day. He was influenced at the time by the work of the American Abstract expressionists, De Kooning, Gorky and Franz Kline.  To date he still starts his work with an under layer of action painting, which determines the energy of the work, and sets the extremities of the color scheme, all the work that comes over it later is only attempts at taming that beast of an under-layer.

After graduation he moved into a houseboat on the Nile and started painting full time. During this time he discovered acrylics as a medium and its welcoming acceptance of other media in general and collage in specific. This period was the happiest of his life. The houseboat was the meeting spot of the underground intelligentsia, and the discussions were intense and revelatory. He read avidly, painted all day, slept little and lived to the maximum.

He ventured into Advertising by pure coincidence. He couldn’t believe that someone was willing to pay him hard cash to do what he normally does free of charge which is namely draw, come up with ideas and generally be creative; He thought why not? He’ll try it out for a couple of months. Twenty years later he’ still trying it out. Advertising was for him the great school of art and life.

In 1997, he relocated to Dubai. It was not the megalopolis of today, it was a calmer more laid back city. There were yet no film production facilities, which meant that he was always living out of a suitcase, always traveling all over the world to produce his advertising campaigns. The extensive traveling offered him exposure to all the world’s major museums and art galleries. He studied avidly all the works in their original forms and not in reproduction, which makes a huge difference. His memory of himself at the time is that of a man with a sketchbook crouching in front of some painting, in some museum, in some city copying and taking notes on technique and detail. He began composing his own virtual museum, the drawings and the etchings of Rembrandt, the small preparatory paintings of Rubens where he solves his big machines before execution, the thumb nail sketches of Franz Kline and his newspaper cutouts as he struggles with the compositions of his seemingly spontaneous black and white action paintings, the gestural nude gouache sketches of Rodin, the preparatory drawings of Rafael for the school of Athens.

He returned to Cairo in the fall of 2004, and when he returned he discovered that one never actually return to the city that they left, they come back to a completely different city, and the hardest part is the homesickness you feel after they return back home, the nostalgia to the city they left almost a decade ago and that is no longer there. That period of his life was very emotionally charged, the birth of his first daughter, reconnecting with Cairo and rediscovering it. Painting was the only way to deal with the sensory and emotional overload, and he began painting like man possessed.

He was no longer concerned with stylistic and plastic issues, he was just expressing subjectively, and he was talking to himself, almost like looking at the mirror. The expression determined its own medium and style, he was not at all discriminating or loyal to any medium or method, and of course the flexibility of acrylics and its readiness to collaborate with other media made it a constant in any mix of materials he was spontaneously reaching for. He didn’t start any painting with any preconceived intension, he discovered what he was painting as he went along, the starting point was and still is a high octane layer of action painting that releases the subliminal charge of the moment, the rest of the work is a dialogue with that initial outburst. The intention was never the finished product, the essential was to keep talking, keep painting.