The ever-continuing conflict within the Middle East has plagued the minds of numerous artists, however none tackle it with as much vigour and bursting creative expression as Ayman Baalbaki. Ranging from his subject matter to his complex artistic methodology, Baalbaki has the ability to transform the one-dimensional plane of the canvas into an overwhelmingly turbulent surface of creative dynamism. Born in 1975, the year of the Lebanese Civil War, it was inevitable that the dramatic imagery and strong emotional turmoil would extensively permeate his oeuvre, critically informing the trajectory of his visual language. He uses his powerful feelings as the ammunition to craft beautifully intense works of art, using the subject-matter of war as a vehicle for his artistic expression.
It is with great excitement that Christie's presents a monumental work from Baalbaki's oeuvre, part of a collection entitled Destruction & Loss, through which he confidently tackles the ravaging effects of Middle Eastern conflicts. Through tremendous visual complexity, Baalbaki attempts to re-construct the savage ruins of bombed out buildings. By filling the entirety of the picture plane, his technical mastery combines a unique formulation of space and dimensionality to breathe new life into the reconstruction of war-plagued structures. Despite the visible violence of the scenes he creates, his approach to painting seems to soften and invigorate the subject, making the scene one of fascination rather than negative feeling. With a comparable work having recently been acquired by the Tate Modern in London for their permanent collection, the skillfulness of such a piece is unprecedented.
From a family of painters, it was not long before Baalbaki began his own artistic journey. While war time imagery has frequented the most recent subject matter of his oeuvre, he described his earliest paintings as 'polite' and 'soft.' Unlike some, he appreciated that it took time and a growing passion for artistic production to achieve one's mature creative aesthetic. Now, the energetic flare that has become synonymous to his paintings are evidence of the deep emotional connection he shares not only with his works, but also with his country.
Baalbaki completed his undergraduate education at the Lebanese University then moved to Paris to pursue the arts at l'Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs. He recounts that studying art in France proved to be an important time of self-introspection, enabling him to connect emotionally with the troubled feelings and emotional traumas of his childhood and he learned how to translate these feelings into creative energy. By painting with aggression onto his canvases, these visceral explorations stem from the displacement, loss and instability he experienced growing up in a war-riddled society.
As a painter with the skill to portray both portraits and landscapes with equal creativity and finesse, Baalbaki ensures that each one of his canvases are unique. Known for two distinct series of works, Destruction & Loss - the one from which this present work is taken and the Moulatham series which presents veiled war heroes, Baalbaki expresses the true diversity of his creative abilities and proves himself to be a master of the monumental. Despite being known for his paintings, the extent of Baalbaki's creative practice does not limit itself merely to works on canvas. He has also carried out a diverse array of notable installation works similarly on the theme of conflict and war.
In this present work, we see broken buildings depicted in the expressionist style that his known to be his signature. Formulating a practice that is truly his own, the artist revives otherwise desolate and depressing images of the architectural damage of war into tableaus of dynamic structural representation. Painting with conviction, the confidence he possesses in his style is the inherent outcome of his painterly skill.
Despite the literal qualities of the displayed scene, Baalbaki's densely packed acrylic canvases do far more than serve a monotonous documentary purpose. On the contrary, the artist uses these structures as the visual apparatus for sharing his personal traumas. The thick application of paint orchestrates a new dimension of dynamism which he achieves with every brushstroke. Each one contributing to the impasto technique that forms thick layers of paint on his canvases, they help to create a unique surface texture that attempts to mimic the complexity of the devastated environment he is trying to portray.
Fuelled by the personal trauma induced by the war, it is undoubted that Baalbaki's canvases are the result of a deeply intimate moment he shares with his canvases. As a form of emotional release, painting provides the artist with the sense of liberation envied under the societal pressures and restrictions of war. At first glance, the contrast between the sunset-kissed sky seems to bring a sense of lightness to the predominantly dark and solemn scene below, however upon closer investigation, the juxtaposition seems less than obvious. With the unusual traces of pink permeating into the rubble of the damaged structure, there is a visual sense of continuity that has a profound impact on our visual perspective. Translating into a more fluid and less stark visual representation, Baalbaki's attention to detail amongst the myriad of colours and chaos he portrays on his canvases is tremendous. Softening the scene with a rosy pink hue, one sees this less as a scene of violenc, but more as one of sadness and loss, eschewing the aggressive for the troubled or wounded.
What further enhances Baalbaki's unusual technique is his fascinating ability to convey a sense of movement on the canvas. Constructing scenes of resounding energy, each stroke is emotionally charged and intricately purposeful, each one armed with a strong sense of conviction. As though we are looking at a photograph, Baalbaki has the ability to capture this moment as if a snapshot in time. With its monumental scale, the work transports the viewer in the action of the deconstruction, consumed by its intricacies and bold subject matter. Exacerbated by his impasto technique, the dense layers of paint and the consequently orchestrated turbulent surface texture add to the sense of drama Baalbaki expertly creates on the canvas.
The work of Ayman Baalbaki is nothing short of a myriad of personal traumas and material complexities. Through a truly unique artistic methodology, Baalbaki's monumental artistic feats are the result of having a deep emotional connection to one's artistic process.