Yaser Safi Invents Figures beyond Vision

Farouk Yusuf / 2010

No one knows where to look, where the inquiring look is going. Eyes wander. Does Yaser Safi really look, as he is supposed to or rather, as expected, is he busy doing something else while looking? Yaser hears the questions the same way he looks: hearing only a part of the question, the part that enables him to answer what may come later.

I contemplate on him in order to avoid falling into the trap of his prickly look. I doubt that his thoughts intersect at any particular point; each goes in a straight line to its termination. Lines are parallel to each other, and thoughts never surrender to one common destiny. He doesn’t seem exhausted. However, there is a hint of deep immersion. He is submerged in mysteries of the unseen and its bewilderment. The idea of something being hidden away before its fulfillment torments him. His eyes will not rest until they find out that something, and if not, they will keep looking into the distance.
Where is that Distant located? Guessing it is beyond anyone's ability. Yaser's paintings have a kind of merging with that Distant which has not yet revealed its location. His look, which neither has to do with description nor comment, is the same look that captures his creatures in a zone with no identity, a zone that belongs to no particular place and which also doesn’t care to create a place of its own.
Let's say, I do not exclude any of his figures from the passion of giving up all signs of certainty. Safi is doing an improvised illusion, he purifies it from the blemishes of reality, gets it back to its basic elements, and then he reconstructs it as if it had never existed before. His one concern is that the illusion remains faithful to its nature.

“The size of the car bothers you? What you see is but an illusion”, he says commenting on my resentment towards a toy which occupies an enormous part of a painting. Nothing matches its life size, and no equation shows a mathematical logic. After all figures have been liberated from the measures of their past existence, each one has now its own logic. Such figures will never exist but in painting. They are creatures the painter invents to exist in and through his painting.

Yaser Safi (born in Qamishly, 1976) invents his figures out of a matter incomprehensible to mere vision. His passion for There - as if There is a determined direction - gives him a unique freedom to mix each creature with the other, and thus makes him both elaborate and distinct. So many a tale leaks through him to the surface of the painting.
He offers only a laconic sentence as a definition for this, and I disappoint him showing indifference to what he had just said. But he neither gets angry nor loses his balance, he still has something to say.
“Tell me your personal story, Yaser". It makes him think of failure. If his paintings can’t help him, then what else can? In his eyes there is blame, complaint, riot and suffering. But his modesty doesn't allow him to embarrass me. We both do not pay attention to understanding, Yaser knows I don’t read his painting as a speech addressed to someone, and I know Yaser lives in his painting more than he does in Damascus.

Back in his apartment he tells me with unrepeatable spontaneity, "After you check out from the hotel you will sleep here”, pointing towards a spacious comfortable bed. When I told him that Munir Sha’rani had beaten him to the offer he looked sad and silent. That same spontaneity controls his hand's movement while painting. The way he told me he too tells his creatures: “Here is your place”, but once he puts them in their assorted place a different kind of adventure begins; he corners his prey and once it surrenders he stuffs it with speech, and tales descend all of a sudden to compose the biography of that creature which has just surfaced naked. Safi improvises his tales at length by telling details of his daily life, all which he thought I missed absent-mindedly.

Because engraving is his passion he makes use of its techniques with colors. So he starts to dig deep into the secrets of color pigments where each color is but an embodiment of one chapter of the tale. Life carries its ornamentation as to be ready for taking in the idea of its own resurrection.

Ascetically Safi minimizes the lines to display the luxury of colored spaces and the tension between them. Something unexpected comes up; the painter himself doesn’t know where the adventure will lead him. Yet he leaves not one inch of the painting escaping his firm hand, being faithful to his pain and not embarrassed by disappointments: on the contrary, they make him stronger. His mirrors breathe; every creature thrown on the face of the painting is but an image of himself. He starts with you as if he knew nothing, and once his sentiment calms down he glows like a sparkle of fire. Whenever I see him I feel that he just came from There. That There of which no one knows its location.

Years ago I met him in Sharjah, a young man whom questions glow in the eyes. It wasn’t easy to avoid his inquiring captivating look which revealed that this young man has determinedly made a route of his own, taking him far from the common ideas of art and its schools. Intuitively you could understand that his personal distance rewarded him with a kind of solitude which the eyes of others could not penetrate. “This Yaser Safi is a boy of secret missions” I said to myself at the time, “no one will be able to reach him”. I haven't forgotten him. This time when I met him in Damascus his eyes showed a wider loss: an idea forked till it could bring innocent monsters out from their bedchambers. Weapons, dolls, masks, little animals, and carts, all made by a child heedless to his destiny. His creatures fall with neither the earth to receive them nor the sky to contain them. Safi is obliged to paste his little monsters on the surface of his paintings as if they were fugitive visitors.

So the painter is innocent to twaddle. He avoids meeting his creatures, not to be overwhelmed by their temptation, that is the temptation of a dictionary flung open to interpretations. “The world is not enough, more is less”. When my eyes reached his paintings I realized that Yaser Safi is summarizing the real world in order to serve his illusion, an illusion which expands and forks whenever it fades away. “The world will end, and we will become more beautiful”.

Led by the alleys of Old Damascus, its quarters akin to labyrinths, “The monster awaits us behind the first corner”, he turns to me without laughing, as if he wanted to ask me: “How could you predict that?” My friend, there is someone waiting for you? “I am young” he twice said to remind me that he is twenty years younger than I am. “But you, my friend, you are old”. Safi is afraid of getting older, lest he looses the pleasure of playing with his creatures and becomes a guest like me.
“This bed is yours”, he said, pointing towards a bed that was not mine. Hence I was able to imagine the kind of relation that attaches Yaser to his creatures. He is the mother, the father, the sister, the house maid, and the anticipated king of the land.