Yousif BG

Yousif Naser

Black Rain

Fawzi Karim (Writer, Critic and Poet)

For many artists, the painting of a square or rectangular canvas is often the medium they employ to express their creative vision. It can also be their ultimate refuge and the site where their true identity is realised.

Yousif Nasers aspirations are somewhat different. His work - which consists of a series of sketches on canvas or paper using a variety of media - such as oil and acrylic paint, pastel, oil crayon, charcoals and collage - seems to be in a state of perpetual preparation for a grand picture, that he has no desire to accomplish or finalise.

Observers watching Yousif Naser in action, or who chance to look through a stacked pile of his work, will arrive at certain conclusions about its true nature - that he is not concerned with an end product, and that the subject matter of his painting is, equally, always vague and undefined, with titles such as "Head", "Landscape", "Portrait" or "Sea".

His brushstrokes aspire to recreate movement, rapidly picking up momentum, becoming intense and forceful. His gestures in a particular direction, suggest the direction of movement. Only the vigour of his brushstrokes reveal the surging of movement lying within those very brushstrokes. The tension in his paintings is reflective of his state of being. As though colour alone is no longer sufficient to express the intensity of his emotion, he resorts to the use of line which is at times coarse and wide, or fine and intricate but nevertheless always dominant and powerful as if to accentuate his inner state of conflict.

In Yousif Naser's work movement is exploding within every brushstroke. There is no apparent resistance in line or colour. Just like a swirling wave rushing over a calm and sandy shore.

Even in his figurative works such as ‘Head' or ‘Portrait' some vague element in the painting may emerge unexpectedly - such as a hand for example - assuming a vague and eerie gesture that's meaning is hard to fathom.

In his landscape paintings we find two recurring and repetitive images - of the dog and the fish - creatures Yousif befriended in his childhood. He was born in 1952 in Amara, on the edge of the mysterious and dark marshes of southern Iraq.

Dogs and fish are important symbols for the people of southern Iraq. In Naser's paintings they are transformed unintentionally into creatures with pointed heads and assume a nightmarish appearance. These are images from a past that still haunts this Iraqi artist, who deserted the smells of the southern countryside for such cities of exile as: Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Nicosia and London.
Then in contrast to this image of violent movement - of chasing dogs - we encounter a head, still and eerie, surrounded by a halo-like crown of thorns - or might it be barbed wire?

In the "Head" paintings we encounter the stillness of silence. Heads without features, self absorbed. The fish makes an appearance in these compositions erectly juxtaposed as if to symbolise male virility.

In the ‘Bygone Landscape' paintings, there is a deceptive use of colour to mislead and deliberately provoke. A head appears as if decapitated contemplating his fate, turning at times with lost sunken eyes towards the onlooker. This isolated head swimming in the expanse of the crimson of genesis assumes the air of a saint; not belonging to this mundane world. All these elements are painted without much concern for aesthetic values, preoccupied with a deep and complex human psychology.

His recent work has been executed in response to the grinding Iraq war declared to depose dictatorship in Iraq. It is as if Yousif Naser was waiting for the impossible and is suddenly caught unawares by the wailing of the griffon or the Black Rain - omen of good and bad news. It is like the fall of rain after a long drought, only this rain is so ominously dark that it may not be what it seems. It is with this theme that Yousif Naser makes a real departure in his work.

In this recent project, small sketches have been rapidly pieced together to make a work of huge proportions where colour is muted and the painting becomes almost monochromatic. This use of line and a restricted pallet, co-exist well in such an expansive work. In doing so the artist seems to have found his personal language through the manipulation of line, form and colour which has no interest in embellishment or decoration, nor with expressing any particular message. In fact he is trying to do the exact opposite, by eradicating all extraneous detail, attempting to tell a tale which comes to an abrupt full stop in those expressive brushstrokes.

Disappearing feet caught running, a lonely staircase, the murky cloudy eye of a fish, a head - probably decapitated, a falling bomb - appearing from nowhere and going nowhere; these are some of the themes of his work in the "Black Rain" project.

In one of these paintings Yousif Naser explores the image of a tree in a way that is reminiscent of American painter Franz Klein, who's work was inspired by the American industrial cityscapes with ferocious cranes, virtually blocking out the horizon.

Perhaps "Black Tree" by the French painter Pierre Soulage in the mid-50's, with its use of thick black brushstrokes is the closest to the approach of the Iraqi painter
"Black Rain" is a project that will be an ongoing theme for the work of Yousif Naser - as long as the black rain continues to fall on Iraq. For it is a rain far less merciful than that described by Iraqi poet Badr Shahkr Al Sayyab. who describes the clouds as ‘streaming to unload their burden of tears'.


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