Depicting the shrouded face of a lone, heroic figure gazing at the viewer, Untitled is without question one of Baalbaki’s rarest paintings to come for sale. Intimate yet grandiose in it's array of colour and depth, the impenetrable visage of the subject rises forcibly up the picture plane, towering above the viewer in a vertical crescendo of expressionistic brushstrokes. The characteristically ridged vigour of Baalbaki’s thick brushstroke intensifies the sculptural physicality of the portrait which the artist here sets in dramatic contrast against a floral composition whose delicate surface draws inspiration from the colours of the Levant. The rarity of this work lies in the choice of the colour palette; only two of these "autumn" inspired floral tonalities have been painted by the artist. Baalbaki further breaks with the conventions governing traditional portraiture by denying the viewer full access to the subject’s face. Looking straight at the viewer, perhaps lost in his thoughts, possibly in despair or even defiance, here only a glimmer of the eyes and forehead are left exposed to examination. The viewer is therefore forced to speculate as to the sitter’s emotions, searching instead for a possible meaning amongst the methods and materials constituting this monolithic composition.
Painted with such expressionistic force that it almost seems to implicate the hidden identity of the sitter, Untitled is a powerfully charged portrait saturated with ambiguity, nostalgia and hope. Dominated by the traditional red and white kaffiyeh headdress, a garment worn by men throughout the Arab world as protection against sun exposure and sandstorms, Baalbaki’s portrait evokes a broad spectrum of interpretations and responses ranging from the political to the emotional. Viewers often misread Baalbaki’s kaffiyeh portraits as specific references to the fighters in Palestine’s civil war. However in reality, the artist’s intentions are far broader and further reaching. By focusing upon the kaffiyeh, he seeks to explore the acute tension and ambiguity within this everyday garment which has, through war, conflict and the media, morphed from a traditional utilitarian object into a powerful symbol of turmoil in the Middle East today. Examining its function, meaning and misinterpretation both as metaphor and mask, the artist tackles universal issues of identity, prejudice, and tradition.
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