Saif Gaddafi's paintings

People keep talking about Saif Gaddafi's artwork, but it is useless without pictures. Here are a few of the paintings ascribed to him in press reports. Many are sadly but necessarily shot at oblique angles to make them more interesting.

Whenever they've been exhibited, critics have been very unkind to Mr. Gaddafi. It's true that the paintings resemble a high schooler's first stab at a selection of genres. But these critical notes play strongly into an established narrative of 'tyrant art' that does not do Mr. Gaddafi's spectacular work justice. In fact, Mr. Gaddafi's surrealism is not like, say, the studied mediocrity of a Hitler landscape. It is quite its own thing.

Take The Challenge, for instance, above. It appears to feature three Christian crusaders being burned from reality by the stern glare of a giant airborne bust of Muammar Gaddafi. Zardoz-Muammar is wearing vintage cocaine shades like you can get on Etsy. There is also an eagle. This one is my favorite.


Seen here at the Flickr of Ross Hayden, The Desert is not silent resembles a late-1980s "youth programming" segue on BBC 2. If it had been titled "Janet Street-Porter is not silent," it would have been a masterpiece of reflective pop-culture irony.


In this work, Gaddafi is doing that thing where you go for inoffensive decorative gradient effects so that it'll be decent no matter what. This is the sort of painting that journeymen do over and over again, until everyone realizes that it is going to be their career-defining motif and says, OK, sure. You could totally sell prints of this to restaurant chains in the southwest, or to tourists as numbered Giclée prints in galleries in New Orleans or whatever. It is seen here in Moscow at the international Default Art For Small Picture-frames Expo. Photo: REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin


Unfinished Cat, (2001). Photo: REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin


Mr. Gaddafi demonstrates his technique during a news conference ahead of the opening of the traveling art exhibition in Tokyo, on April 5, 2005. The painting places elements of a traditional still life against an expressionist backdrop, juxtaposing the traditional way of Libyan life against the violent forces of Western modernity, etc. Photo: REUTERS/Toru Hanai


Titled Still Life, this one was presumably put in just to make sure he'd get a C if the examiner was really old-school. Evincing a degree of technical accomplishment not present in his more strictly symbolist entries or indeed the prior still life, this might be Mr. Gaddafi's Akiane moment. Photo: REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin


Titled The sun of the oasis, this one depicts three dark-skinned persons in what may be traditional north African garb, in varying stages of corporeality/completion. It kind of looks like he got bored with a portrait and thought, "Fuck it, time for more expressionism." Photo: REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin


Bela Rosa, in its directness and conspicuous symbolic simplicity, might be the most likely entry in Gaddafi's ouvre to win over a European art critic unaware of its creator's identity. But there are shibboleths: the daft handmade frame, the 'outsidery' rendering of sky/sea/whatever at the top posed against the more traditionally-painted rose, and the textural smearing of the composition-unifying white splodge, reveal that the artist has not actually been to Goldsmiths.


Some kind of 1930s Dali thing going on here with that pointy cloud. The waves in the foreground, however, are what makes it truly worthy of a Basildon jumble sale.


The most touching work by Saif Gaddafi, to my eye, is this formal portrait of Henry Silva.

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