Ayyam Gallery Beirut is pleased to announce Drawings on Paper, the forthcoming solo show of Syrian painter Nihad Al Turk. Featuring a new body of work, the exhibition will highlight an essential component of Al Turk’s artistic practice by examining his use of drawing as a formal device that gives volume and depth to expressionist figures and objects—subjects that appear to shift in place as masses trapped in disfigured shells.
Although widely known for allegorical paintings exploring a cast of monstrous, semi-autobiographical characters, Al Turk recently produced a series of large ink and acrylic drawings that chronicle the current conflict in Syria from its early days as a popular uprising to its current state as an all-consuming war. In place of detailing recent events from the vantage point of traditional documentary modes, however, the artist depicts the ways in which such violence is internalised by those who experience it firsthand. Rendering the daily impact of large-scale devastation as a process of malformation that transforms the body, Al Turk draws the physicality of his subjects with the solidity and organic contours of weathered boulders. The artist’s protagonists seem to bear the scars of the conflict, their faces rendered as illegible maps of ruin. The series comprises portraits of known martyrs, anonymous witnesses, and key figures of the war, each with swollen faces, and many posed with the gesture of victory, a two-finger salute that indicates the steadfastness of his vanquished subjects.
While the densely layered crosshatching found in the artist’s previous works is intensified in the series, the drawings signal a bold break from the formalism of his early paintings as he reconsiders space, figuration, and colour. Layers of crisscrossing lines detail the shapes of his figures, creating a sculptural sense of volume that offsets the flat surface of the paper and provides a degree of realism. In all of Al Turk’s works—which are often self-portraits accentuated by recurring symbols alluding to his biography—figuration describes the psychological state of the subject. The artist’s painted figures are semi-human, outwardly anonymous, and mostly missing limbs—the parts of the body that provide the ability to move and the sense of touch. His recent drawings portray protagonists whose features are realised. Unlike his past characters, they possess eyes and arms, and are isolated in the composition as though frozen in undefined settings, allowing the viewer to supplement the narratives that situate them.
Al Turk’s new works follow a period of his art that restructured his compositions as he injected brilliant hues and minimised backgrounds with flat areas of colour. Inspired by his move from Damascus to Beirut after the outbreak of the war, the last series is ostensibly optimistic. In contrast, his most recent drawings provide a somber account of displacement through a medium that allows for the laden inferences of markings. As the artist’s lines seem to cut into the surface of the paper, an evident tension is created.