Joy and terror coexist in the disturbing paintings of Vian Sora


LOUISVILLE, KY — What you shout in the woods resounds, the title of a new show by Vian Sora, is the translation of a German proverb which means something like “What happens comes back”. In a word, karma. Together, the 20 paintings on display seem heavy with the accumulation of history: karmic cycles of violence, pestilence and death. (Sora, who was born in Baghdad, remained in the city through multiple wars, including the 2003 American invasion, before emigrating.) And yet the work also sings with the equally constant presence of growing , rebirth and new life.

Sora layers his canvases in spray paint and acrylics, in various pigments and using a variety of brushes, sponges and tools, to create his largely abstract works. To this cacophony of colors, she adds an opaque application of paint in a single color (sometimes two) to sculpt shapes, highlighting the base coat. More recently his work has veered into the figurative, with forms resembling disembodied limbs, heads, animals, plants and organs emerging from abstraction.

Vian Sora, “Crossings” (2022), oil on canvas, 48 ​​x 60 inches

Three paintings near the entrance to the gallery evoke a desert landscape, both modern and ancient. A palette of dark brown, black, ocher, and gray generate textures that resemble fossilized bones, animal skins, wood grain, and gas clouds; the light blue and azure brushwork creates blocky, rounded shapes and suggestions of a clear desert sky. The press release states that the artwork in the exhibition was informed by Sora’s Berlin residency in 2021 as well as paintings like Picasso’s 1923 “The Pipes of Pan”; indeed, the characters in “Outerworld I” and “Outerworld II” (both from 2022) recall Picasso’s idyllic Mediterranean scene of classical antiquity. Sora listens to the aesthetic casualties of war: ancient art and artifacts that are lost or destroyed, not just in Iraq, but in Berlin and, more recently, Kyiv, as well as countless other cities. . History repeats itself, the losses pile up.

Three large works occupy more nebulous ground, with sections of black, blue, white and gold that evoke swirling masses of interstellar dust. But it’s unclear whether the scenes that are constructed from this cosmic confusion are post-apocalyptic worldviews or a paradise lost. In “Rhapsody” (2022), at least three figures struggle to emerge from the primordial chaos — a hand, a foot and, at the top left of the canvas, a human figure with arms raised, sprayed with an ecstatic cry of golden paint. metallic. To the right, another body appears to be doubled over, pink and red drops dripping from its head and chest. This ability to reside in equal parts joy and terror gives the paintings their unsettling power, a stark recognition that creation coexists with destruction.

Vian Sora, “Rhapsody” (2022), oil on canvas, 48 ​​x 60 inches
Vian Sora, “Outerworld I” (2022), oil on canvas, 60 x 48 inches

The bodies of “Traverses” (2022) are more defined, but the relationships between them are more ambiguous. Two are in a sea or a river (looking for bodies or food?), while another is sitting at the water’s edge with arms raised (in welcome or surrender?). In the foreground, a seated figure contemplates what could be a butterfly; a dead blackbird lies on the ground behind her. A small leaf-like object hovers in the sky above her – a blazing comet or just an orange feathered bird? The press release offers another possibility: While in Berlin, Sora frequented Fritz Schloß Park, where a Trümmerfrauen memorial commemorates the German women who cleaned their cities of rubble in the aftermath of World War II. Sora may have transported these workers to his hometown of Baghdad, on the banks of the Tigris, as they take part in this act of community rebuilding.

In an adjacent hallway, seven smaller works compose a pleasing gradation of softer blues, purples and pinks. Two in particular struck me: “Pink Field Study” and “Moabit Study” (both from 2021), the most abstract of the bunch, feature areas of black and kelly green amid gorgeous expanses of peach, purple , violet and lavender. With minimal painterly intervention on the base layer, the works appear relaxed and open, as if Sora is allowing himself brief moments of pure aesthetic pleasure. Arching, drybrushed strokes of dark purple are seen in both, gestures that stand up to the taut mark of his other pieces. “Moabit Study,” in particular, feels like a work that is unfolding, that is still becoming. By giving up some control, Sora achieves a measure of hope: if nothing is settled and determined, any outcome is still possible – certainly a most welcome idea in these most uncertain times.

Vian Sora, “Moabit Study” (2021), acrylic and India ink on paper, 34 x 27 inches

Vian Sora: What you shout in the woods resonates continues at the Moremen Gallery (710 West Main Street, Louisville, Kentucky) through April 2. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.


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