Galerie Kornfeld is delighted to present, for the first time, works by Syrian artist Tammam Azzam. On display are new collages made from up to 50.000 pieces of paper shreds and paintings.
Tammam Azzam first gained attention in 2013 when he was forced to leave his studio in Syria and began making digital photomontages in his new home in Dubai. These works take an unromantic look at the conflict within art making in the face of war and violence, directly addressing the on-going conflict in his home country. One of these works shows an image of Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss” superimposed on a bombed Syrian building . This work went viral on Social Media, and even today is among the most well known works of the artist.
Following these experiences, Tammam Azzam found his way back to painting, but in a different register. With “Storeys”, a series of monumental acrylic paintings depicting the magnitude of devastation in his home country through expressionist compositions of destroyed cityscapes, the artist chronicles the current state of his country in a cathartic exercise of reconstruction, storey by storey.
His painterly work subsequently evolved towards three-dimensional objects: in addition to acrylic paintings, the series “Iron Laundry” features both pictorial and sculptural objects made of iron, as well as large-format paper collages created with a technique developed by the artist himself, combining painting and collage in a novel way. In his large-scale paper collages, the artist works with up to 50.000 shreds of hand-painted paper, arranged in several layers, creating visually impressive compositions. From afar, these works look like paintings. From up close, however, they reveal an affinity with mosaics – a multitude of small, coloured particles combine to form a large image –, making apparent the three-dimensionality and thus the object- like nature of these works. Through the tactile interactions of surface and form, they add a new dimension to the medium of painting. Mostly these paper collages are mounted on canvas. In those works that are not mounted on a canvas but are shown as a three dimensional object in space, the fragility of the paper as well as the tenderness of the back of the work, showing a completely different image than its front, is heightened and intensified.
The tension arising from the juxtaposition of paper collages – both painterly and object-like/corporeal –, the physical use of acrylic paint and the dense architectural abstraction creates the impression of looking at a place of oppressive chaos. Art critic Ralf Hanselle remarks: “Ultimately, it is this technique of reappropriation and decontextualization, of disintegration and reinfatuation, which ... permeates almost the entire repertory of Tammam Azzam. Along the waves of the ever-new media, the 38-year-old Syrian is today testing a reality that has been thrust into turmoil.” The comparison with the Dadaists, who used the means of collage intensely over 100 years ago to deal with the horrors of the First World War, is obvious, even if Tammam Azzams works rather captivate “the contrast of aesthetic attraction and immediate terror”, as Swiss curator Heinz Stahlhut mentions, as “the layering of his collages realistically reproduces the broken surfaces of the bombed-out architecture, but at the same time, however, they are indicative of a most sensitive style of painting.”
Tammam Azzam's works are based on photos of mostly destroyed architectures and cities, freely transformed into pictorial compositions that often seem abstract. Although the motifs can often be precisely located, the transformation goes beyond the object and beyond the event the picture is based on. The visual clues that are used to identify the places that served the artist as a model are abstracted to such an extent that their individuality is replaced by a form of universality: Tammam Azzam’s pictures thus always tell of the wounds and the destruction of every warlike conflict, both contemporary and historical.
Due to the visual power of his abstractions, a space for identification is created for those who have not experienced the catastrophes of war first-hand: a kind of singular universality, which is directly linked to Syria, but at the same time expresses an experience of shared global horror. Azzam himself describes the creative process behind his works as physical and emotional. Despite his belief that “bullets are currently more powerful than art”, he is convinced that art can help rebuild the future, or, as Heinz Stahlhut remarks: “Corresponding to Tammam Azzam's hope for the constructive power of art, he does not make reference to the critical aspects of collage. Instead, he places his focus upon the constructive nature of the synthesis.”
Azzam holds a degree in painting from the University of Damascus. After getting acquainted for the first time in 2001, he was closely associated with Syrian-born Berlin artist Marwan Kassab-Bashi until the latter’s death in 2016. Since 2016 Tammam Azzam is a fellow at the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg, Institute for Advanced Studies, in Delmenhorst, Germany. Recently the artist moved with his family to Berlin.
Tammam Azzam’s works have been shown in exhibitions in the Middle East, Europe and the US, e.g. at Ayyam Gallery in Dubai, at Art Dubai and Untitled Miami as well as at Haines Gallery San Francisco, which also presented him successfully at the Armory Show in New York in 2018. His works can be found in renowned institutions such as the Barjeel Art Foundation in Sharjah, the Atassi Foundation or the For Site Foundation in San Francisco, for which he has worked on his own projects.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue with essays by art critic Ralf Hanselle and curator Heinz Stahlhut; texts in English and German, ca. 56 pages, color images of all works exhibited.
Should you require further information, or wish to interview the artist, please do not hesitate to get in touch. We are happy to provide printable images on request.
Dr. Tilman Treusch