LONDON – At last a chance for Londoners to celebrate the work of Syrian artist Marwan Kassab-Bachi! Omar Qattan, the indefatigable force behind The Mosaic Rooms is opening its doors to a landmark exhibition that is eagerly anticipated and a long time coming.

Marwan, a leading artist of his generation is, at 81, a grand master of portraiture. The exhibition covers a journey through his stylistic approaches but the captivating force in his oeuvre remains the human head. In early works there is a more formal figurative approach, with aspects that challenge the traditional, including flatness of plane, disproportion of the skull, and limbs which appear and disappear. In later works the expressiveness becomes freer, larger in scale, more focussed on the face with beginnings of abstraction in vivid brushstrokes and colours. This leads to the visual language for which Marwan has come to be known: bold strokes of paint and layers of colour to build the face which morphs in and out of the paint.

MARWAN, UNTITLED, 2009–2010.

The Mosaic Rooms show also exhibits for the first time the artist's latest works. Now we see a pared down sensibility and a reduced layering of the surface. But the head dominates, and Marwan leaves his unmistakable imprint on a genre in which innovation would seem impossible. The artist has managed to bring his unique voice and expression to portraits that are at once inquisitive, disturbing and masterful. On display also for the first time in London are Marwan's '99 Heads', a series of etchings made between 1997 and 1998, which reference Sufism and the 99 names of God. The 100th work is never completed by the hand of man as this space is reserved to represent one hundred, a place for the Divine light.


The artist is featured in dozens of Western museums including the Tate Modern, the British Museum, and currently as part of the Barjeel show at the Whitechapel Gallery. Although I first spotted his masterpieces in New York's New Museum 'Here and Elsewhere' blockbuster a few years ago, I have to say the Mosaic Rooms celebration of Marwan's work is nothing short of a gift to our appreciation of this exceptional artist.