THE FRENCH were inspired to send Mehdi Qotbi to America along with his paintings. When you see the work you've just got to find out something about the mind behind it.
He was the hero of a reception at the D'Amecourt gallery on 22nd Street, just off the P Street gallery row, the other evening. Short and slight, with wildly curling hair, he is exactly the combination of energy and subtlety you see in the oils and gouaches he brought with him.
They are amazing. They are simply covered with minute figurings based on the wonderful, organized whorls and angles of Arabic script. A small painting takes him two or three weeks; a large one can go on for as long as six months. There is a touch of mania in these endless, intricate meanderings, as there is in most good art.
But that's just what you see at close range. Back off a few feet, and the colors strike you, the rich, sun-shaded colors of a Moroccan souk, offbeat colors that sing of silken robes, dim, still patios, afternoon silences. And there is more: barely perceptible changes in the patterns and colors seem to make the pictures literally pulse with life. Shapes keep appearing and disappearing like hallucinations.
A large piece, "Hommage a Monet," summons up the purples, blues and greens of Monet's last great water lily murals, those swirling jumbles of color that move as you watch them, evoking the bountiful chaos of nature.
Another oil is built around the Arabic script word for silence, repeated over and over until the curving lines become a calm sea.
Even the smallest works, done with the tiniest of brushes, have an organic look to them, perhaps like something seen in a microscope.
"Maybe it's like working on a tapestry," says Qotbi. "I see music in it sometimes."
The show will be up through the month.
A dedicated painter from the age of 13, he studied at Rabat, Morocco's capital, with the wary approval of his doctor parents. At 21 he became the youngest artist to get a diploma from the School of Fine Art in Toulouse in France, where he moved as a youth. He is 31 and married to a French woman. He teaches in Paris, and his paintings have been shown from Brazil to Malaya.
Qotbi wears glasses now, the better to follow the exquisite little twistings and turnings of his brush, but his effervescence bubbles on unchecked.