‘He’s the Picasso of the Middle East,’ says Charlie Pocock of Meem Gallery. ‘And that’s not just me saying that. He and Ali Omar Ermes are seen as the last of the modern masters in the Arab art world.’ Talking of Dia Al Azzawi, Pocock is jubilant about this huge retrospective of the Iraqi artist’s works. And there’s no denying Al Azzawi’s influence: a key figure in the formation of The New Vision Group, a movement in ’60s Baghdad that brought together artists searching for a link between art and revolution and a shared aesthetic among all Arab countries, Al Azzawi’s art ushered in an age of pan-Arab belief and expression.
The compositions are chaotic, climactic but brought together under a careful harmony of colour. This is what sets Al Azzawi apart: his ability to build colours carefully, structurally into a tapestry that reflects influence across the Arab world. A patchwork of movements and brash shapes builds into this very kinetic style of painting. This huge retrospective pulls in his early, vivid works, right through to the improvisation and boldness he showed in his years with the New Vision Group and to his present works.
Having left Iraq in the ’80s, Al Azzawi now lives in London. And his work continues to develop: taking his influence from the Islamic tomes of the British Library, he’s moved ever closer to the belief that book art, the art of illustration and textual play, is the true form of Arab art. This comes out in the retrospective and offers a career-wide education in Al Azzawi. Don’t miss out.
Meem Gallery (04 347 7883). April 28 to June 10.