Walid El Masri, Cocoon, Ayyam Gallery, London

Featuring a new body of work, this solo exhibition by Paris-based Lebanese painter Walid El Masri reflects a departure from the artist’s ongoing Chair series. In this work an inanimate object provided a point of entry for meditative contemplations on life despite its unpredictable nature. In contrast, the new works are less peaceful: in light of the recent conflict in El Masri’s native Syria, the artist has created a response inspired by this violence.

There are still similarities with his former work though: he continues his formal investigations of movement, repetition and the transcendence of the boundaries of the picture plane. His interest in these concepts is expressed through compositions that utilise space to create a sense of instability in the representation of time. Here, in Cocoon, this instability is referenced by the four life-stages of a butterfly. The movement is the metamorphosis between the stages and repetition is found in the multiple representations of the same subject. Transcedence can be perceived not only in the reach beyond the physical limits of the canvas, but in the butterfly’s own journey from stationary chrysalis to soaring butterfly.

In the context of Syria, Cocoon also contains notions of breakage and violence, requiring damage in order for the pupa to emerge from its protective covering. This is explored further by some of the smaller works, which contain a palpable energy and dynamism underscored by the use of a vibrant orange and green palette. As if likewise encased in a cocoon, Syrian citizens lie in wait to see what time will issue forth for the country: a blossoming into something fuller, or a retreat into itself. It’s notable also that there is a limited movement within the chrysalis stage of a butterfly. It’s not until emerging with wings that the butterfly can make a movement: often for change to occur there needs to be a moment of stasis.

El Masri’s work is about the possibility of transformation that is derived from the passing of time. The dramatic transition of the butterfly, its metamorphosis over time, stands as a symbolic representation of the challenges that face the future of Syria.

Walid El Masri, Cocoon, until 2 August, Ayyam Gallery, 143 New Bond Street, London, W1S 2TP, www.ayyamgallery.com.

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1. Walid El Masri Cocoon (2014) Mixed media on canvas. 155 x 200 cm Courtesy of Ayyam Gallery.