Tishk Barzanji's Complex and Surreal Utopia

April 02, 2018

When confronted with aesthetically pleasing art, some are quick to nitpick the medium, quick to find a reason why it isn't worth conversation, and quick to move past it and onto the next. This byproduct of the information era is pretty common amongst art enthusiasts, and I'm sure we've all been conscious participants at one point or another, making it nearly impossible to judge if it's a good or bad trait. We try to weed out the bad from the good, and engage with others to get context, all the while sailing past thousands of things we might just enjoy.

One of the things this habit hinders is an engagement with the fun that can come from looking at a work of art that just dazzles you. When art excites from the first moment, I'm quick to try and cut myself down to size for some reason. The inner critic can be fed and sustained when engaging with art, and we all run the risk of letting that stop us from getting the magic, almost embarassing feeling of just digging something.

So, when I first saw the work of Tishk Barzanji, I was quick to try and find a reason to not really like it, since it was so visually intriguing and pleasant. However, the more I dug into it, the more I found myself asking questions I didn't expect, and liking it even more. I was in his created world, kind of playing around with the idea of what that place is like, walking up and down the stairs, just like his characters, searching the long corridors and staring into the pools. By the time I got to ask him some questions, I had read more about his background and experience, which painted a deeper and more complex picture about wh. Tishk is Kurdish, an ethnic group that's been denied statehood and is primarily split amongst four other countries, none of which provide them sovereignty. He moved to London and spent his formative years there, eventually going to university for Physics. He committed his time and life to art, using it in a cathartic way to deal with anxiety and depression. His work takes on a mythical quality in its abstraction of his experience, making it no coincidence that the work is so elegant and surreal. 

Little moments and encounters with art are what makes the internet so nice for art enthusiasts, so read on below to hear our brief encounter with Tishk Barzanji.

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Eben Benson: So, you have your hands in a number of fields as far as artwork goes. What's the breakdown like? Do you spend more time in one area than another? Does it help when you combine your mediums, like your collage-type work and mixed media works?
Tishk Barzanji: I've explored a number of fields over the years, I did this so I don't restrict my outlook and medium. It was important for me to look at the ideas I am trying to portray, through different angles and viewpoints. Initially I used photography, because it was available to me and quick. This was the period I was researching, and documenting the things that jogged my mind, or created a shift in my thinking. If I see something on the streets, I would document it, like a strip of paint or a unique shape in the way that concrete are molded in to the floor. Initially I built my work with acrylics and oil paints, and sketches with watercolour. However I would always come back and I wasn't satisfied with the outcome, so that's when I turned to digital. To manipulate the work and change the colours and forms. From this new digital world, it opened new doors to me. I started to build animations. The next stage is to create these worlds in reality so the viewers can experience and feel the atmosphere and journey I am trying to portray. Although, you can see the development of my work through these fields. It was natural for me to mix these fields, I feel they flow together. Whether its through a lens or paint on canvas, you are showing something only you can see. So, it felt right to mix.

In your feature on It's Nice That, you mentioned having gone to school for physics before you got into making art. How do you feel this shows through in your work?
In Physics, it was all very methodical and structured. There was a deep thought process, it was something I took away with me to apply it in my everyday life. So, when building my work, I spend days thinking about how I will position every line. I am obsessed with every line, and position of every object. Sometimes very minuscule changes I would make till I am satisfied the whole piece functions how I want it to. The second aspect, in Physics you are searching and learning the physical world, I try to do that in my work. I'm looking ahead to break boundaries and to see how far I can take it.

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What do you think draws you to urban atmospheres and brutalism? Do you feel like this speaks to certain traits you have? I grew up way outside of cities, and when I went to college, my school was filled with brutalist architecture and it made me more anxious. Does that style bring you comfort?
I grew up in brutalist social housing in London, it was everything I knew for most of my life. It's not particularly looked at as a pleasant places to live, and I totally can understand what you mean in that sense. People always tell me they find it ugly and a eye sore. But for me I wasn't particularly interested in the exterior but I was interested in the function and the spaces that was created within the walls. Also the people that lived there. I realised that these places get bad coverage, and judged as a whole. But there are hundreds of people that live in these places. Each level represents a life. I really wanted to show that it's not just a building, it has a heart and soul. That really got me interested in the way humans will be living in the future. I want to build solutions for housing, but housing that has the mental health of humans a key aspect of the architecture. My life hasn't been normal, I feel like I lived in a utopia. My work is for me to take back control, by showing people my Utopia through my eyes. Urban atmospheres and Brutalism speaks to my struggles. It's a type of chaos that I can't explain - it brings me comfort.

Does creating art make you feel more in control of anxiety? If so, when did you make that realization and what was it like?
So about four years ago, I was in my room for months. It was the lowest point in my life. I knew I had to make a change, I thought of it this way - either i'll melt away in this sorrow and never fulfill the vision I believed in or keep going and actually have a say in this world. Making art is therapeutic for me. It really helped me take control of my mind, build my confidence socially and mentally. I would set a goal for myself everyday, sometimes it was to go for a walk, sometimes to make breakfast, and sometimes finish a painting. I never believed in myself before this, I was lost. Now I have a purpose. It's a feeling I can't explain in words, the transformation was so slow. I never felt it, until when I look back at my old life.

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Is there a political element to your work? Do you find yourself getting politicized because Iraq is seen as inherently poilitical in today's media climate?
I haven't made any political work so far, and I do get people ask me why I don't, because I have the platform to speak to people. I'm Kurdish, and I understand why they want me to. However, when I make my work I'm making it through every humans struggle, not just Kurdish struggle. Whether it's relationship problems or homelessness. A struggle is a struggle, I look at everyone's struggles equally. My background does play a big part in my way of thinking. Relating to what we spoke about earlier, where I was born, to me that is a different planet; a Utopian world. I felt like I was born there for a reason, to show me how bad life can be, and then I went in a time machine to London, and here is how life can be if you lived in harmony, go and teach the world what you learnt. I lost faith in politics, I'm not here making work to complain about the past pains, I'm here to build new bridges and leave a legacy for people, we need fresh ideas. However, if there is something if I see it's unjust, I won't hesitate to make work about it.

What's your relationship with showing in a gallery? What do you print on and do you think there is something gained or lost when showing your work on paper, or in a gallery?
Although you can't get the same atmosphere and feeling as seeing a piece of work in reality. I believe the internet has been revolutionary for art. You have a gallery in your pocket at all times. You can discover so many new works in a split second. It has also bought the art community together. However, it can sometimes dilute the quality of the work. Sometimes you see the same style of work repeated. I think it is really important to keep progressing your art, over trying to gain the most popularity.

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Do you have some plans you have for your work in the future?
I have plans to create installations of my work, so the viewers can experience it in reality and also, to develop my art. I've only been taking my work seriously for 12 months, so I'm in the really early days of my career. I also get requests for an exhibition daily, so I'm working towards my first exhibition in London later this year.