Ayyam Gallery London is pleased to announce Landmarks, the solo show of leading Syrian painter Thaier Helal. In addition to serving as the artist’s first exhibition in the United Kingdom, the event will coincide with the European launch of a new monograph on the artist.

Landmarks presents two new series by Helal, and indicates a return to abstract painting after several years of chronicling the Syrian conflict through appropriated media images that are reworked as immovable apparitions of the war. Departing from the imagery that first transmitted Syria’s descent into chaos, Helal figuratively reenters the country through neo-expressionist compositions that explore its varied landscape. With the Mountain and River series, Helal alternates between distinctive facets of Syria’s topography, reproducing the monumentality of its natural environment as a metaphor for its past, present, and future. Although a sense of melancholy permeates his impastoed surfaces through a somber palette, cliffs appear to shift across the canvas in several works while riverbeds swell in others, signaling a terrain that is capable of regeneration despite visible devastation.

By combining various media such as acrylic paint, sand, found objects (leaves, rocks, and coal pieces), and powered paper, Helal seeks to recreate the experiences of encountering specific sites firsthand. Formal elements are utilised to communicate such properties as volume, temperature, and light in order to stimulate sensory perception and the process of visual association in the viewer. In an untitled 2014 work, for example, coarsely applied areas of mixed media are partially covered by gestural brushwork, emulating the force of water washing over rough sediments as a brilliant blue undercurrent is revealed. Several of the artist’s new works are inspired by the Asi River, a waterway known for its south to north path—an unusual course that is emblematic of the unpredictability of nature, or a resistant force that is beyond the material world built and governed by man.

Many of Helal’s Mountain series paintings are rendered from memory, particularly compositions depicting the imposing rock formations near the historic town of Maaloula in central Syria, a few kilometers from his birthplace. Numerous Syrian artists have painted the town since the modern period, especially the tiered homes that are built into its mountainside, yet few have captured its significance as a place of cultural pluralism given the survival of Western Aramaic among its residents, who belong to various sects. In Helal’s recent works, the mountainous region symbolises Syria’s rich history, above all the survival of its culture through the many civilizations that have flourished across its diverse landscapes.