On Friday 19th May Gallery DIFFERENT will present 35-year-old contemporary painter, Tarek Sebastian Al-shammaa’s debut solo show Fall of Europe II (until 22nd May).
We at ArtAttack stumbled upon Tarek’s artwork last year and have been great admirers of his painting practice ever since. His painterly use of space is quite extraordinary, filling the canvas with symbols and figures that tell stories of our world within the greater context of mythology. Each tiny element he chooses to include says something powerful. No iconography is wasted.
The artist’s main practice is history painting as he explores historical and mythological subject matter juxtaposing it with the harsh realities contemporary Western society. Within each of the epic paintings he presents the viewer with poignant psychological insight into his own life and heritage; Al-shammaa is half French and half Iraqi, and so has found himself straddling two oft-opposing cultures throughout his life.
Recurring themes across the young artist’s paintings include consumerism, war, love, lust and political oppression, as well as the opposition and even conflict of Western and non-Western culture and ideals. In the body of work on view, Alshammaa depicts everything from iconic myths like that of the Tower of Babel to mythical iconography such as Mother Earth, all within a present-day context.
ArtAttack contributor, Franzi Gabbert, had the chance to interview Al-shammaa in regards to his upcoming exhibition as well as his general practice.
Franzi Gabbert: What do you try to communicate with your Art?
Tarek Sebastian Al-shammaa: Just life. I’m not really communicating a message. It’s more a need to make it [the painting] and when one is done I can then work on another.
FG: Your work often represents a real taste of duality which is visible in Pied-Noir (2016). Did having grown up with both the Iraqi and French culture trigger this?
TSA: My parents background didn’t really trigger anything till later in my life and it did so very unconsciously. I grew up in London; everyone was from everywhere. As I got older though people’s reaction to things have become interesting.
FG: Your work shows a huge interest in history and mythology. Where and when did your interest in history and mythology begin?
TSA: The main element I take from history is how everything is meshed – fact, fiction, propaganda – to the point that everything is liable.
FG: In each of your paintings you present the viewer with insight into your own life and heritage. What is it that you want us to experience?
TSA: I want things to play out in a way that surprises the viewer. Most of my paintings start with one idea and become something else entirely. I don’t really have criteria for the work or how it’s perceived.
FG: Your work draws similarities with Still, Bosch, Gaugin and Caravaggio. Combining portraiture and symbolism. Which artists do you most associate yourself with?
TSA: My work is a combination of all things around me. That includes music, books and film. I really like stuff that doesn’t really go anywhere. Like a hypnotic loop or a film about a guy trying to find a job.
FG: How is your personality reflected in your work?
TSA: It’s one and the same.
FG: Do you have creative patterns, routines or rituals? If so, what are these?
TSA: I put off the work until I must do it. Then after a couple of days or weeks, it’s done.
FG: Can you tell us about the process of making your work?
TSA: I always have a few ideas for paintings in my head. Sometimes the one I planned on starting changes completely by the time the primer dries. I never really know what will happen.
FG: Your art has recurring themes of consumerism, lust and political oppression. What made you want to investigate these themes?
TSA: I make what I know, see and witness. Most of the time images that I place in the painting are second nature; they fall in. Sometimes I think of ideas on the bus and write them down.
FG: You will have your first solo exhibition at Gallery Different from the 20th of May. Can you tell us a bit about your series Fall of Europe II?
TSA: The paintings were made during the Brexit vote. I actually started it about two weeks before it [Brexit] went through. The work reflects that time and its ongoing effect. Brexit became a prominent image for me and I made four paintings. Only two survived and are in the show.
Interview: Franzi Gabbert
Tarek Sebastian Al-shammaa: Fall of Europe II will be on view at Gallery DIFFERENT from Saturday 20th May – Monday 22nd May; Private View: Friday 19th May from 6:30-9:30pm; 14 Percy St, Fitzrovia, London W1T 1DR; Open Friday 6:30-9:30pm, Saturday 11-7pm, Sunday 11-5pm, Monday 11-7pm; Admission: FREE