Mohammed Sami can never anticipate what the subject of his next painting will be. “The things I articulate in my artwork are memories hidden in the brain cells that are waiting for a trigger,” the Iraqi-born artist says in his London studio, which is lined with large-scale paintings. “So whenever the trigger is available, then the image comes.”
He points to one titled Slaughtered Sun, a figure of speech in Arabic to describe sunset. A burnt orange sky casts an unearthly glow over wheat fields gouged by heavy purple furrows – they could be tractor tracks, but the blood-red pools in the foreground hint at latent violence. “I was drinking coffee and I saw bike tracks on a puddle in London,” Sami says. “This connected me immediately with the tracks of American tanks during the 2003 invasion and the flattened fields.”
The artist, who emigrated to Sweden in 2007 as a refugee, was a standout of last year’s exhibition Mixing It Up: Painting Today at the Hayward in London and the 2020 Towner Eastbourne’s biennial. This month he has his first major UK solo show, at Modern Art in London.
Sami’s paintings are generally devoid of figures but nonetheless have a human presence, whether he is depicting claustrophobic domestic interiors, haunting landscapes or charged ordinary objects. A shadow of a spider plant can metamorphose into an ominous invader, or chairs in a parliamentary hall become a vast graveyard. Rife with ambivalence, mimicking the unreliability of memory, Sami’s hallucinatory paintings have a way of getting under the skin. One huge canvas, actually titled Skin, portrays human-size pink and red patterned rolls that resemble carpets or leather-bound tomes, and yet the horror of flayed flesh simultaneously comes to mind.
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