Considering his upbringing in Iraq during the years of political unrest, Tishk Barzanji is an artist whose work is perhaps unusually focused on surreal, otherworldly subjects, rather than polemic realism. 

His approach echoes both M.C Escher’s labyrinthine constructions and Edward Hopper’s eye for striking geometric forms and balanced composition. But to become preoccupied with spotting similarities in Tishk’s work is to do him a disservice, because he occupies a place which is entirely his own.  

How has your heritage and early life in Iraq influenced your art, and what was your path towards becoming a full-time artist?

The first seven years was chaotic. I’m Kurdish. There was a lot of oppression in those years. I guess it was survival mode. I’m lucky to be here. Although it was a tragic period in my life, I learnt a lot from those years. It really made me think about how I can create something to represent my people and gather support for our struggles. I didn’t know what that ‘something’ was, but I knew I needed to create something to make the world listen. Art gave me that avenue.

Becoming an artist wasn’t something I planned. I came into it through an unfortunate moment in my life. I was ill for a year with migraine vertigo mixed with anxiety. That was the point I had to take a step back and revaluate my ambitions. I went back to basics, explored my passion for art by researching and documenting my surroundings for two years. I took baby steps until I was fully committed to creating work for myself.

What are the themes that run through your work?

I touch on escapism and utopianism, but also human tragedies, things that we all experience in our life. I want to create work that all types of people can relate to.

Are the elements of surrealism in your work symbolic and calculated, or do you feel they come from your own subconscious?

Sometimes a piece subconsciously pans out very surreal and sometimes I build on my imagination to really convey my ideas. I’m fascinated by the way we live in this 24-hour connectivity and the way architecture leads the way we use space. Surrealism helps to connect these ideas and to show a glimpse of my imagination. I spent two years analysing how people use space in stations, theatres, parks. I documented every movement in a diary. The small descriptions took me back to that moment. I used this to build the narrative in my work.

Architecture and interior design play a big part in the worlds you create. What draws you towards experimenting with these other forms in a two-dimensional medium?

My fascination with interior design and architecture is actually to build a stage for where my ideas can merge and deconstruct at the same time. The shape of the interior dictates the light and shadow. This sets the mood of the piece. Two-dimensional form […] is more accessible than three-dimensional, for me. 

You’ve said in a previous interview that you’d eventually like to move into installation work. Can you tell us more about this?

I will create these worlds with found objects and recycled materials. I’m looking into building within an old space. For it to be a real-life replica of my two-dimensional works, it needs to capture the mood that I have used in my 2D work. It is something I’m working towards. I need to develop my ideas further to get to a point where I can produce an installation. My work now is really designs for eventual 3D work. Light, colours and shadow will be prominent.

What’s next for you? Anything in the near future that fans should look out for?

I’ve just collaborated with Film4 and Somerset House to create the artwork for the Film4 Summer Screen. I’m currently working with a housing development in Brent Cross to illustrate a book that will inspire the architects that are designing this new development. This will take 20 years to complete. I have a few editorial pieces coming out later in the summer. My solo exhibition will be later this year, date to be confirmed.

tishkbarzanji.co.uk

Liam Casey