GHASS

Thomas Schlesser

is an art historian, director of the Hartung-Bergman Foundation, where he "has the mission of ensuring the conservation and enhancement of the thousands of works, archives and architectural heritage of the property of Antibes , designed by Hartung »

 

 

For Ghass, creativity hinges on a deep motivation, a necessity; in his painting one senses an urgeny, that of giving shapes – not necessarily the same thing as giving – to his vision of the world. 

 

Is there anything worse than finding ourselves confronted with a work and the realisation that the artist has nothing to say? We cannot feel more bitterly disappointed space – visual, literary or musical – is occupied by something and for nothing. And worse still, we often see that the creator of the catastrophe believes he is giving himse lf to us as part of the world of creativity. He is deluded. For he is only taking from the viewer – taking his time , energy, money – as he dupes him with trivia that are decorative, playful, entertaining, vague, and vaguely pleasing to the eye. 

 

Ghass has known war, violence and painting. His aesthetic is viscerally suffused with the barbaric. For most of the elegant spectres who haunt private views, this is doubtless no more than a detail, a mere trifle: who among them is capable of imaging the taste of blood in the throat? Yet what Ghass has become is a lanus who has moved from the spectacle of the madness of armed combat to that of the arts. And the spectacle he offers in return is eloquent.

 

This is no ordinary journey, even if it has become regrettably more common down the centuries, with conflict so often gaining ground at the expense of peace. Thus the first world war brought the blooming, like flowers on an ash-heap, of the greatest poems – those of Apollinaire – and of such great artists as Otto Dix, Marcel Gromaire, and Henry de Groux. This is but one of countless examples. 

 

From death to life, from despair to the future, from destruction to creation; the transition from war to war is symbolised by Janus, the two-headed Roman god. 

 

To convey the terrifying echoes of violence with such economy of means – all is pared down to black, red and white – requires work that is unrelenting, dedicated, and constantly renewed. This is precisely – and rewardingly – what Ghass’s oeuvre brings us. There is no point in overstatement when your vision must fluctuate between the song of the bombs and the cries of the heart. 

 

The tension between this simplicity and a multiplicity of meanings – sometimes in conflict, as in life itself – underlies the distinctiveness of Ghass’s painting. Beneath its apparent austerity, this tension also attests to a subterranean complexity in which truths exist only approximately, lines zigzag and, the invisible seeks to show itself as the visible seeks to disappear.

 

Ghass has much to say in his oeuvre, and listening to him is not easy; for where some believe that a moralising point of view is enough to settle an issue, he questions ceaselessly. His painting is, as Ronald Barthes once put it, “this very fragile language that men set between the violence of the question and the silence of the answer”. 

Press Release

 

Born in 1964, Ghass was 15 years old when the Iranian revolution began. A year later, Iraq invaded, sparking a conflict that would last for eight years - making it the longest conventional war of the 20th century. For a young man, the war was unavoidable. Ghass spent two years as a soldier on the front-line, fighting Saddam Hussein’s forces. After his part in the conflict, Ghass left for Paris, where he hoped to exorcise the images of war that had pervaded so much of his early life.  

 

Feelings of rage and memories of blood and violence lingered, but Ghass sought to master the negative aspects of his history and transform them into something therapeutic for himself and the general public. Painting became his primary mode of self-expression. For nineteen years, Ghass limited his palette to three distinct colors. Red was chosen to reflect the sky after a bombing, black in memory of burnt nature, and white as a traditional symbol of peace and innocence. In 2010, after the death of his parents, Ghass decided to introduce a fourth color, yellow, to his paintings. The new color came to represent a rebirth of sorts, a “hymn to life and hope.”

 

Ghass’s paintings are abstract, but orderly, with occasional spontaneous flourishes. Ghass’s geometric shapes are often loose and playful, playmates of dripping paint and scrawled numbers. The content itself is malleable, capable of adhering to stricter forms or becoming wildly unwound. Often, though, his work is a synthesis of order and chaos, an aesthetic pairing that succeeds despite its incongruous nature. Over time, the psychological portraits of war that Ghass began with have been replaced by equally remarkable examinations of the everyday. The old scars haven’t altogether faded, but they no longer take precedence. Today, hope triumphs.

 
 
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