A Mosaic of Chairs (profile of Syrian painter Walid al-Masri)

Syrian painter, Walid Al-Masri presents his own approach to painting.

Do you think there is anything in common between mosaic works and Walid Al-Masri’s paintings? According to Al-Masri, there is!

While in mosaics, one simple element –usually a square or triangle tessera- is repeated thousands of times in every mosaic work, yet achieving each time a different result, Al-Masri, who used to be in charge of a mosaic workshop, repeats the chair in all of his paintings achieving each time a unique artwork.

“It’s like clouds, they can form countless shapes, but they are still clouds.” Al-Masri says.

And just like the single tessera in mosaics, the chair in Al-Masri’s paintings isn’t important by itself. Rather, it gets its importance as part of the whole art work. In fact, Al-Masri chose the chair, after long experimentation with portraits, nudes and still life, because of its simplicity.  Unlike a circle, for example, which is simpler in terms of painting but is open, on the other hand, to too many interpretations as a sun, ball, balloon etc… , the chair can’t be interpreted into anything else but a chair.

“I don’t paint chairs in an attempt of realistic depiction or to imply countless interpretations, I only paint them for their endless visual possibilities.” Al-Masri says.

For him, the chair is a starting point just like the paths Al-Masri used to dig as a 13 year-old boy in the muddy side of the Akraban river in Jaramana. Blocking the water with a small bar, once he finished the paths he used to let the water rush into his little labyrinth, washing away some paths and opening new ones

“The chair here is like a flashlight that shows me the way into my painting,” Al-Masri says. “It is the only stable element in my works; nevertheless, it is still open to change.”

Crammed at the top of the canvas, the upper side of Al-Masri’s chairs is sharply cut making them look as if dangling from nowhere. A bright blot, usually in yellow, at the lower end of the painting however restores the balance.

“The sharp cut reinforces movement in the painting,” says Al-Masri. “Cramming the chopped chairs in the upper side of the canvas, on the other hand, puts more focus on space, turning it into a preamble to a bigger space.”

In his latest works, Al-Masri enclosed the chair in a bright circle against a darker background as if placing it in the spot light, thus turning the exterior space into an interior one stuck behind the circle.

In fact, critics argue that it’s not chairs what Al-Masri really paints but space. Syrian journalist, Ali Alraee wrote in his article for Al-Thawra newspaper: Space is more deliberate in Al-Masri’s paintings than the elements themselves, which he uses to highlight space not the other way around. Space in this case is like silence in pantomime.

Talking to Al-Masri, I found out that neither chairs nor space is his main protagonist. “A painting, even if it’s not a self portrait, resembles its painter, not because it looks like him but because it feels like him,” Al-Masri says “Behind these chairs, what I really paint is my emotions.”

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