Tarik Berber, Alembic of a Process

Apparently there is such a thing as “La Cuisine des Anges” and there in the cool furnace of the glade, no one bothers with drama, for it is not the point, neither to inflict action on the eye nor to trigger reactions in the cerebellum. What may surprise us is the ease with which the hand of a painter can mobilise an era and engineer a counterpart by juxtaposing two diametrically opposed styles in a new form of harmony. It is a journey, not dissimilar to that of a gourmet tasting his way through cultures as disparate as they are related, hiding a common origin in a simple colour tone, or the intonation of a voice, thus interpreted as a curve wider than the breadth of a resolutely thin rectangle poised on the edge of another in the midst of hundreds of other rectangles, themselves also the repository of other painterly traces, drawn with utter precision as a backdrop to a scene empty of dogmatic scenery, for each element is essential, none speaks a message or invites the viewer to decide what it all means. We are in the land of the madrigal, a very urban single voice reverberating on each surface, echoed in each pattern, yet alone, modulating its own chords with sensorial elasticity.

There is in Tarik more of a Marco Polo than a Vasco Da Gamma, and like the traveller of Jules Verne he cannot limit himself to the here and now which, as we know, turn in an instant into the “once upon a time”, the bygones, the passé, the long ago…the “yesterday”. So how can we bring the relevance of the past into the incoherence of the present?

We may be subdued by a first impression of tranquil opalescence fused to a familiar sense of materiality perpetuated by the relentless motion of the knife and other devices beyond the realm of optical illusion, for this feels like the imprint of a deep emotional search into the psychological meanders of a civilisation in the throes of a subtle yet unsolvable contradiction. Tarik perhaps unwittingly uncovers the symptom of a fundamental flaw located in the region of the collective unconscious, portrayed before him through innumerable mythological scenes. Sophocles and Euripides brought about the limpid emergence of a cruel theatre exposing the dilemma eating at our soul. We are torn between desire of the flesh and aspiration of a supra mental quality, cities are filled with our “mal d’être” and artists somehow torture themselves with the vision of an impossible unison. Yet, I perceive this endless quest for the quintessential constituent in the molecules of stone, pigment, clay, ink or plaster will only cease with the final moments of our planet. This painter refuses to bend to the will of banality, yet he dares to exploit the effect of the mundane on the patina of a latent philosophy.

How is this done? The eye has trained itself to depict and decipher, to measure and replicate, it recedes later and lets the seat of transience, the spheres of universality inspire and expire. In these words resides more than a breathing exercise. They are also meant as a reference to pneuma. The catalogue open on my table is a compilation of works completed in two parts of the world, as different from one another as night is from day. This also entails they cannot be separated without causing the extinction of the other. The works were created respectively in Zadar(Croetia) and London. Leafing through the pages I feel as if I am actually peeling layers of art history, and equally need to negate the idea of a history of art. We have apparently reached a milestone, the edge of a flat plane of existence where we could once rely on indications of permanent identity. Somewhere along the line, a bunch of artsy business kids in the belly of London, in the late eighties of the first millennium, decided to call it a day and fake it while retaining a kind of irony; it was an unprecedented success crowing the post modern era with the death of authorship and beauty. The cumulated effect of entrepreneurship and the glorification of the product, pornographic saturation and empirical pathological obsession, numerical fixation and cultural trivialisation contributed, in the second millennium, to the rise of a para-evolutionary counter reaction that nevertheless was not based on a critic of a previous outmoded movement but on a personal ontological instinct, not of self preservation but self realisation, spreading below the thickening layers of apathy. Despite the prevailing erroneous notion of a linear artistic development through the ages, we are shown time and again how the single mind defies the canon applied to please a pervasive mob of dilettantes, arising without warning against the smooth tide of reasonable productivity and its affiliated moral etiquette. And this happened before, long before theorists agreed on the relevance, the birth and the extinction of the original, i.e., the unique vision of a human being and the singular materialisation of an imagination already embracing an impossible future. We could nevertheless speak of a lineage of poets in all forms and mediums who have illuminated the darkest valleys of history long before and long after the so-called age of enlightenment. These inspire the new generations, and Tarik indeed revels in this magnificent heritage, fusing this rich material with an evident love of contemporary visual expression.

I am not inclined on name dropping but a few ancients come to mind as I gaze at his works. I think of Mantegna, Pierro della Francesca, but also further back, of rock paintings as in Rocamadour, of Nordic Tempera, the catacombs of  St Callixtus, travelling towards Etruscan masters, Domenico Ghirlandaio, map makers from the 15th century, an example of Devonshire Tapestry, a 14th century illustration by Abelard of Bath,  then moving closer to our times, Puvis de Chavanne, Eduard Degas especially in some of the Zadar pieces, but also in Mystique 3 and 4 for instance, certain American painters like Katz, Jasper Jones, Hopper or Lichtenstein and on the continent, Gustav Klimpt emanating from the Lady in Dark Olive Green Stripes. But what strikes me is the feeling that I am not assailed by the weight of knowledge, that a certain freedom has erased the frontiers between what we call high art and sub-culture. There, in the midst of hazy faces, of the outline of sculptural bodies, of the entwined arabesques, of the complex patterns derived from the open source of the world, the presence of a fictional universe borne out of comic strips and graffiti is undeniable…such as Corto Maltese in the London drawings.

In the paintings the human figure is often treated like an objet d’ art, limbs are removed torsos are polished, faces turn to stone, the air surrounding them transmutes into psychedelic volutes, and this leaves one thinking of a museum of anthropological forms recently excavated, issued from yet unnamed archaeological layers of our past. This museum however is also the site of a hologram experiment where we can no longer be certain of the relationship between objects, space, thought, and time. They are characters fallen out of different stories, fragments of dreams that may lead the mind to the origin of mythology. Some seem ethereal, impossible to believe in terms of corporeal reality, others have mass and expressionistic baggage, one in particular, as his face stares at us, much larger than life. I met the man, but there is no doubt that, despite his acting feat, the person lingers therein. It is difficult to say whether the painter used the subject or the other way round to convey the affirmation of a personality. I am now aware the Sammy portraits are part of a study in view of illustrating Rod Stern’s poems. These facial contortions are anything but static, they tend to antagonise rather than exhort. Portraiture is somehow destabilised, thrown off the pedestal of traditional aesthetics. Once more the painter has made an unpredicted turn, he veers off the road into the ravine, but he is not driving a common vehicle, and his wings are not made of feathers and wax.

Copyright © Pascal Ancel Bartholdi 2015

Currently showing at Darren Baker gallery in London until the 30th of May