Animated brushstrokes with striking colours provide the formation of their shape. Continuously repainting his canvases, Marwan’s paintings may be of faces, people and even a marionette, but as he explained, “it is not a portrait, it is, a touch of the world, of myself in the painting”, he dreams of landscape and thus each face has a “touch of nature”. On display too, are a series of etchings, entitled ’99 Heads’, referencing the ninety-nine names of God in Islam.
His art, works on two levels, what is shown on the surface and what lies beneath. Beneath the heads, the layers and the colours lies, the inner being, the search of an artist. That search formed part of a discussion one Saturday at the Mosaic Rooms, between Marwan and the writer and former director of the Berlinische Galerie Professor Jörn Merkert.
Hailing from Syria, Marwan studied painting in Berlin, where he is based, and had had the same teacher as Georg Baselitz. That cultural and geographical dimension was bound to have played a part in his art, forming tensions and identity notions felt within the binding of his brushstrokes. Nevertheless, as Professor Jörn Merkert expressed to Marwan “You are not an Arabian master, you are not a European master”. In agreement, the artist proclaimed, “No I am a painter”. Choosing to exist in a space that floats around notions of identity but electing not to cling on to one with his art.
During the discussion, we discovered that the artist had come to Germany by accident, having wished instead to go to Paris and yet as he declared “Berlin became my second Damascus”. An accidental correlation between the artist and Berlin, perhaps, but that correlation can be seen in his paintings, through the blend of his colours and his expressiveness. And who knows, if he had gone to Paris, if his art would have developed in the same way.
Alongside Berlin’s impact and German Expressionism, through elements such as ‘Arabic’ literature and poetry, notably the poet Adonis having writen seventy-five pieces in homage to him, it is noticeable that Marwan’s heritage has remained present with him and through his work. A bridge between the two cities, two cultures, collapse into his paintings.
Many share the story of being torn between two cities and thus two identities, if not more, especially in a time in history where we are seeing the horrors of war and sufferings. With floods of Syrian refugees pouring into Germany, Marwan’s journey becomes more relevant than ever.
It was compelling to follow Professor Jörn Merkert’s impression on Berlin’s effects and influences on the artist, observing:
“You left a paradise to find another paradise, but ended up in a disastrous town after WWII” […]“All people after Nazi Germany and the horrors occurred, had to find themselves and look for identity. Marwan was there to also find his identity” […]“Marwan brought his own conflict to Germany […] his own tension”.
Those comments and the talk can lead us to some interesting notions to think about regarding art and identity and the influences of a city.
How much does an environment influence one’s art? What are the boundaries between each identity a person may carry? Can art transcend notions of labelling? How to reconstruct and understand, our own perceptions of our influences?
Art plays a part in posing those questions, and if it cannot wholly answer them, then at least art creates a space to suggest a perspective, that others may be able to relate to.
Still, as Marwan’s thoughts on his relationship in his art with literature shows,
“there are secrets in […] paintings, you think you got it and you understand it, but then you understand nothing”
Secrets perhaps left up to the viewer to decipher and bring their own stories to the paintings.
Part of the joys of art, i find, is not always completely understanding exactly what a painting or work of art means, but to feel an emotion, feel a moment of empathy, imagining that deep within the layers of paint, lies secrets in the artist’s head.
The exhibition at the Mosaic Rooms is on until the 12/12/2015