Houssam Ballan (b.1983, Sweida)
Figurative painter Houssam Ballan’s canvases are informed by his accomplished technical abilities and through his extensive academic and research endeavour. As an artist, Ballan’s frequent experimentation informs the growth in his work as he works intuitively. In his earlier paintings, Ballan’s young protagonists are executed with close attention to detail, a form of realism that relies on painterly effects and meticulous line work to create a sculptural sense of figuration. As the bodies of his subjects are given dimensionality, the artist renders their clothes as lines, patterns, and evident brushstrokes with a stylisation that alludes to the passage of time and the presence of an ongoing narrative.
In his newer works, and through a series of informed experimentation and drawing inspiration from Sufism and more specifically ‘Illuminationism’, Ballan moves away from his hyper realistic detailed painting to taking on a more simplistic style, almost reflecting the characteristics of miniatures. At the centre of his work is the idea that representation cannot solely be based on what one sees, but the understanding of what one is seeing and the feelings it invokes in a person - be it through looking at it from different angles, touching it, allowing it to move you subconsciously, as well as other experiential interactions. Drawing upon the idea that when one tries to remember a person or a specific incident, that person or incident is not remembered in concrete shapes and lines and colours, but blurred into an overall multi-dimensional feeling, the artist minimalises the detail in his work.
The paintings are reminiscent of icons - the figures are usually situated in the centre of the canvas, adding light to his work without painting any shadows on their faces. The artist minimalises the size of the figures bodies, ignoring original dimensions, also characteristic of icons. Ballan explains that ‘when painting an icon, Christian painters didn’t cared more about the sacred story or idea than other aspects of the work. I like this spontaneity in painting.’
In his work Untitled (2018), Ballan paints four figures, almost equidistant from one another, creating a balance using each character’s placement on the canvas. The four figures are facing one another, holding hands, and seem to be engaged in a dance or a game. The positioning of their feet, the opening or turning of their chests, the direction of their gazes, and their connected hands creates the illusion of an infinite loop of motion. The background is divided into two unequal parts, painted flatly, with a darker upper section. Even though there is no shading or distinct depth created between the foreground and the background, the viewer still feels a sense of depth. The stillness in the colour in the painting evokes feelings of a bygone era, however contrasted with the figures are dressed in modern clothing and with their seeming actions - or actions about to come or just passed, creates a time continuum in which the painting and its characters continuously exist. The viewer does not feel like they are standing in front of a snapshot or a moment in time, but in front of a scene that holds both an ever-changing past, present, and future.
Houssam Ballan depicts everyday life without representing specific objects, rather aiming to emotise interactions and expressions through the use of colour. Ballan’s paintings narrate a sense of movement that is continuously juxtaposed against the silence of the two- dimensional canvas. Rather than each painting being a snapshot of a specific moment, the paintings carry an ongoing dimension, allowing the viewer move through this created dimension of space despite being still standing in front of the work.
The works are painted using a small number of harmonious colours and have uncluttered, simple scenes, and pure intentions. The artist removes his personal presence within the scene that he is painting, taking on an all encompassing eye that views the scene instead. Behind his works, Ballan poses the question that is the driving force to creating works that evoke emotion in the viewer: What is the potential power behind this silence?
Taking this one step further, Ballan questions his role as the artist and the duty he has when painting a figure. The artist explores themes of representation and the lines that are blurred between reality and perception.
About the Artist
Ballan is a tutor and member of the Teacher’s Association at the University of Damascus since 2009. Between 1999 and 2007, he participated in workshops with artist J. Bradley Adams and painter Jose Friexanes, and trained in mural painting with Pierre Palas. Ballan has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions at March Hachem Gallery (2014); Arab Cultural Centre (2010, 2007, and 2005); Ayyam Gallery (2006); French Cultural Centre Damascus (2004); among others. His works can be found in numerous private and public collections.
Ballan was born in 1983 in Sweida where he currently lives and works.