Syrian artist Safwan Dahoul has always used one title for all his paintings. "Dreams", reflecting an oeuvre mostly comprised of variations on an enigmatic theme. It is a mysterious subject matter with a large spectrum of many interpretations. This one title acts to connect works that can be grouped as an uninterrupted series. Not an unusual activity for many artists to conduct lengthy explorations of subject matter, styles or concepts, his examination acts as a visual stream of consciousness. Each canvas is prompted by its predecessor, while simultaneously informing the next. Yet each one processes an individual narrative. Dahoul's minimalist palette and his signature treatment of the use of a strong contrast, black and white, positive and negative, full and empty, depict a world where apparitions and ambiguity reign supreme.
Safwan Dahoul is not good with words, he is not a talkative artist and yet he is one of the most important artists on the Arab contemporary art scene. When asked to write an introductory text about himself and his artistic experience in a special book published to commemorate his show back in 2008 at Ayyam gallery in Damascus, he managed to write six small sentences as follows:
'I have always dreamt of becoming an artist.
Now my profession is artist.
I am 180cm tall and my weight is 78kg.
I am married and have three boys.
I still draw because I still dream of becoming an artist.
It is just destiny.' (Safwan Dahoul)
At that moment, he didn't anticipate that the destiny he trusted was going to steal his wife away from him shortly thereafter. With the loss of his lifelong partner Nawar, Safwan Dahoul lost so many dreams, so many unlived dreams. He was struck by the fact that his memory betrayed him, that his ability to retrieve his old dreams was a painful emotional experience. He understood that his decision to remember even temporary stories from his past with her, to relive the tears and laughter they shared, the true love story that bound them together, was near impossible.
Safwan Dahoul, hit by the sudden realization that he lost track of his many bygone dreams decided at this moment to number his works. He has numbered every painting since. The present lot bears the number 47.
This was not only an archival moment and a good tool to document his own oeuvre, it was a stepping stone for a long journey towards healing - a journey filled with internal suffering, shared with the viewers through his work over the past two years where the use of the intense deep black was dominant on his canvases, wrapping his emotions with great sadness, and with an exceptional use of mostly darker shades of greys, and ochers with faces bearing empty frozen emotions.
In doing that and in trying to live through his sadness in complete silence and darkness, Dahoul seems to have finally attained some contentment, being lifted in a mystical ladder to an upper life. His 47th dream took him to a state of abstraction, a minimal approach to the face where the pure and limited lines of this painting take him to a life in which Nawar is living happily. This is the first work and the only work to date in the last two years that has a dominant use of a pure white; a white that contains in its hidden layers all the colours in the world. Like heaven, we don't see it, but we picture it in a painterly colourful way. The face is positioned in the middle of the canvas, occupying the whole space with serenity and peacefulness, where the eyes of the figure are closed, shot away into a peaceful darkness from the world of soil. This figure is beautifully content looking at another reality, basked in light from within.
By registering his dreams, giving them codes and numbers, but keeping track of his present, he is able to not only retrieve his lost memories, but to treasure them. His dreams will never stop and he returned to his own life with this realization. Dahoul's journey is not easy, but it is continuing on a positive path. One dream has gone, another is alive inside him at the moment of each new creation, and one is yet to come. The sealed lips have a hint of blue, a colour that has extremely high beneficial elements and acceptance to many Middle Easterners.