Tishk Barzanji's Meditations On Colour

By Adam Baidawi
19 May 2019
Zeitgeist, Design, Tishk Barzanji
Tishk Barzanji
The Kurdish-British artist’s surreal, atmospheric landscapes delve into notions of space, time and human connection... with extraordinary results.

Informed in equal parts by colour and architecture, Tishk Barzanji’s works are an exploration of space, emotion and human interaction. Those works also happen to be really, really pretty.

Barzanji spent the first eight years of his life in Iraqi Kurdistan – a time that would act as an incubator for his future work. “Living there was very profound,” he says. “I travelled through a few cities in Iraq with my dad. What stuck with me through these travels was the terrain, and how clear the light was and how the shadows were cast on the streets.”

A move to London in 1997 ignited his passion for art and architecture. The body of work he’s built is knee-bucklingly beautiful, and has been championed by galleries, brands, and other artists alike.

How has your heritage influenced your aesthetic?
The terrain in Iraq ignited my interest in history. So, I looked at the Babylonia period extensively. The structures and spaces they created were monumental. I wanted to explore these ideas in my own work, which led me to create surreal spaces, and structures that made me think about my existence. 

Tishk Barzanji

How did you begin to shape your distinct style?
The style I work in came together after a year of researching colour theory: the relationship between colours, and how they create an atmosphere. I wanted to create pieces of work that showed simplicity and complexity, with the rich atmospheres the colours created. Surrealism is a recurring theme in my work, with a hint of modernism. I try to achieve an aesthetic that flows, and connects the space and colours. 
Who were your biggest influences?
My environment and my parents. The struggles I saw in life resonated with me. I wanted to show these people’s stories through my eyes, and to give them a voice. My parents really worked hard all their life, so it was natural for me to push myself and keep trying.
I always look at someone that’s already accomplished something. I look at their journey, and try and use that in my own life for the good. Artistically, I’ve been very inspired by De Chirico. 
How does architecture inform your aesthetic?

I see it as a stage for the ideas I want to portray. To draw the viewer into the work, the spaces I create are very important. We spend most of our lives within buildings, so I see it as an extension of our lives – just like the role nature plays. 
You’ve also studied physics – has that made its way into your work?
Yes, for sure. Physics taught me to be very methodical, and question all aspects of what I’m doing. When I approach a new work, I solve it like an equation. Everything in the piece needs to have a balance. It really helped me develop my work. I don’t think I’d be making the same work if I didn’t study  physics. 

Tishk Barzanji
Tell us about the characters that appear in your work.
I began to use black silhouettes in my work after experimenting with a few ideas. I chose black silhouettes because I wanted the characters to be anonymous and not judged on race. There wasn’t any particular reason to use black, it just worked well in the composition. Furthermore, some of the characters that appear are people I’ve encountered in my life, issues that have affected me – moments that changed my life – so it was natural for me to portray them in my work. 

Isolation and anxiety seem to permeate some of your pieces. What do you hope your work expresses?
This is a personal topic for me. A few years ago, I experienced full-blown anxiety and didn’t leave my home for eight months. I felt trapped, so I created art to express how I felt. I realised it affects many people in this generation because of the fast-moving nature of life. Some people can be isolated for a number of reasons. I wanted to not only highlight that, but to tell those people that I feel their struggle. I hear you, and I’m here for you. 

What messages do you hope your work carries?
A message of hope, aspiration and growth. I believe no matter the situation you are in, you can change it. I see that a lot of young people feel stuck and lost, or fixated on trivial things.
Deep down, I want to show that ‘legacy’ is bigger than ‘now’. It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it, into something that’s like you, after you take away your hands. So, I try to make work that can still resonate with people in 500 years’ time.

Illustrations: Tish Barzanji