The first UK solo exhibition of paintings, drawings and prints by London-based Iraqi-British artist, Athier. Renowned for his iconic style that draws on a range of influences, from European Modernism to contemporary Iraqi art, Athier’s striking new body of work explores notions of fluidity and the circumstances in which we become detached from human destruction, themes with profound resonance in recent Iraqi history.
Athier left Iraq before the first Gulf War in 1990 and has divided his life since then between London and Paris. The works in this show reflect his past, each canvas depicts a deft and imaginative integration of motifs, which include Mesopotamian and Assyrian symbolism, figurative abstraction and Islamic geometry. Elsewhere there are echoes of a pre-revolutionary Iraq, testament to the powerful and enduring sense of exile and nostalgia, which suffuses so much of Athier’s work.
The central symbol throughout this new series of works is the Portuguese Man of War, a highly sophisticated ‘colonial’ organism, often mistaken for a jellyfish, which is made up of many separate parts incapable of independent survival. This creature exists without a central brain or what we would call thought. Yet it has perfected the ability to hunt, kill and destroy. Like a jellyfish, its movement appears intuitive, its abiotic form collapsing inwards and pushing outwards, creating the tenuous expansion and release that propels it through the water. The paintings show this fluid movement broken up and distorted by a rigid structure, which traps a diversity of life within its trailing tentacles. Subverting the concept of this marine life form is a reflection of Athier’s experience of watching warfare in the Middle East from his position of exile in the West. His dense, painterly compositions, replete with human teeth, hands, eyes and pockets of blood cells, echo both the kinetic energy of an explosion and the organic form of the Man of War, always on the move, homing in on its target, stealthily and with precision.
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