Dina El-Sioufi's work is an act of painting; a form of writing involving difference using ready-made elements and recreating them in each painting through imagination and the desire to bestow narrative. Her work is mainly figurative although she paints instinctively, immediately and develops the work as it is progressing.
El-Sioufi never draws or sketches. "I never organise a composition beforehand unless it is a fixed subject portrait. I can stare at a blank canvas for sometime until I feel I can transform its blankness." So far she has been painting in oil on oil primed linen. Once an idea forms she paints directly on the canvas. As she paints the initial idea can change drastically and become another idea as she goes along.
"There is a constant dialogue while painting which can surprise me"
"Usually I work on one painting at a time, but because of the need for oil paint to dry I have worked on two or three during the same period. Plus different colours dry at different paces. Ideally an oil painting takes a good six months to dry completely. There is also no beforehand sketch/experimental process or colour note taking as some of my colleagues do. All this happens during my act of painting. I normally use a palette and rarely mix colours on it. This mostly happens on the canvas with some trial and error degree. If a colour clashes or achieves a 'bad' effect to the whole, accommodations need to made. Often rubbing over adds to the painting texture."
When it comes to selection of the subject matter things get more complex. This comprises of a thinking process and the volatile choice of a subject matter, unless it's about life portraits.
"Such fixed subjects require some discipline and formula or process. Constant observation, some sort of repeat measurement as the painting goes on. But once a basic foundation is achieved my painting becomes more free and instinctive. My aim here is to capture an expressive likeness without losing freedom in painting ; that is, expression in both material as part of the subject."
El-Sioufi obtained her PhD degree from UCL-London University in 2006. She then returned to painting, attending courses at Royal Drawing School, Heatherleys and France. Her high level academic degrees do find a voice in her art practice. "Learning is continuous and never ends. There is no need for any degrees for this, just an open curious mind and a love for the world. High level degrees can be a focused chance to deepen one’s learning. That then is wonderful and a privilege. But they can also be the excuse for complacency and self-satisfaction. That is sad, limited and of little value outside of a profession. Certainly the knowledge that I gathered from my studies and the ability to think and develop from this knowledge finds its voice in my art work. But I stress that knowledge and the ability to think and observe can preexist in anyone or be acquired without any particular degree.
My first degree BSc Physics has developed in me a certain ability to think analytically as well as relatively. I did teach too then. And learnt even more doing so. As for art history that is extremely important for any painter and artist. Books and museum visits can provide this. For one painting is part of an ongoing conversation with the art of the past while expressing its present and trying to project itself in the future. It can also be in argument with the past having known it in order to erase it as a sign of the times paving the way for a new future. Examples are Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art. Futurism and Russian Constructivism.
As for philosophy, literature and to a degree psychoanalysis in my MA in Modern French Studies and PhD, I have to confess I owe a great deal to what I learnt there especially in writing up my dissertations which were about artists. In fact this was the reason why I decided to take the odd art class and gain further insight into artistic processes and write academically. So I owe my painting in a way to my last degrees. But instead of writing books and essays on art I ended up trying to do this writing via painting on canvas. The intellectual ideas gained there that include the artists, authors and poets I studied find some fragmented voice in my work."
"Instead of writing books and essays on art I ended up trying to do this writing via painting on canvas"
El-Sioufi's work is also experimental. The thinking process, choice of imagery, their fragmentation, their collage, the materiality, colour, pigment, texture, brushstrokes, and questions when to stop or continue a work, when to describe it as complete, all these contribute to the experimental nature of her practice.
Dina El-Sioufi can clearly see the role art plays in shaping culture, economies and politics in our modern societies. "I believe multi-cultural and social interactions further human understanding and respect for one another. They inspire the desire to know more about what lies beyond a closed or limited environment. This allows for widening relations across borders or rather dissolving borders between nations facilitating communication and exchanges between nations. Such interactions also enrich our thinking and emotions. All this in turn gives rise to collaborations that are economic assets and therefore also powerful political tools helping businesses to thrive as well as being made use of diplomatically in terms of consolidation or of boycott.
As one sees from International tournaments, competitions. For instance Art & Music Festivals, major exhibitions such as Art Basel, Vienice Biennale, Frieze to name a few. Art Basel for example was limited to the Swiss city of Basel annually in May. Because of the huge economic success brought about by multi-cultural and social interaction in terms of International galleries and artists participating, large numbers of visitors and tourists attending, private events at State and diplomatic levels organised. Art Basel has expanded and now takes place in other places around the world such as Miami, Dubai at different times during the year. The same with Frieze. So such interactions are extremely fruitful economically on both the political and business levels."
Based in London, El-Sioufi is very much aware of the local art scene. "I think the London art scene has reached a plateau of 'absolute development'. Art has become an investment more than ever where London is concerned. It has also become for many a form of refuge and escape from the day to day reality be it as spectators or collectors. Of course the past month and during the lockdown all this has stopped. Exhibitions have become exclusively virtual and online. Digital exhibitions have been going on for some time now. Many people do not have the possibility to travel for various reasons nor have time to attend these events. But still want to. Therefore the demand for online services including digital exhibitions has skyrocketed in the past years. Of course online is not the same as the actual experience but it does provide an excellent service and substitute - as technology develops further.
This brings to mind the excellent essay by Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, 1935. As early as that philosophers among others were aware of technology “taking over’. So I believe that digitally exhibiting online had become in many cases mainstream and extremely useful. As well as a powerful tool. The current situation has merely reinforced all this."