We welcome back Dusseldorf-based painter Driss Ouadahi to the gallery for Extra Muros (outside the walls), his third solo with a series of new paintings, which mark a departure from his work of the last decade, alongside earlier paintings that show his trajectory over the last decade and a half. Whilst Ouadahi’s earlier works (shown in the two previous exhibitions at the gallery) demonstrate social and political concerns, his new works shift from social structures to exercises in geometry and light, bringing his practice full circle.
Following a visit to Algeria fifteen years ago, Ouadahi’s first return home since leaving to study in Dusseldorf, his paintings were predicated around the politics of class, religion, and ethnicity. The physical boundaries in the city of Algiers and the sense otherness affected him on that trip, and the first works he made thereafter were of heavy concrete modernist buildings: Postwar faceless housing estates, as present in Algeria as they are in France and metropolitan areas of other European countries, which segregate the societies that dwell within them from the surrounding urban fabric. Ouadahi’s fence paintings, his underground paths and his urban landscapes all sprang from that experience.
In Extra Muros we show one of these early works, Carcasse/Heimat (2005), a large format painting made soon after this trip. A powerful expression of these concerns, with its brutalist alienating architecture and grid with a strong horizontal emphasis, this painting is a precursor of Ouadahi’s urban landscapes of the next decade.
Since late 2018 onwards Ouadahi sought to rebuild his method of painting, but without leaving his general concept. In his abstract sketches and painterly experiments of 2017, Ouadahi attempts to shatter his previous practice - Tenir sur un fil and Funambule resemble shards of his earlier urban landscape paintings. Translucide (2018) points to his new direction. Stripping away all recognisable traces of urban settings, focusing instead on light and transparency, this work is devoid of social commentary, more about engendering a kind of feeling through visual sensation. Finally, Ouadahi’s latest works remove the frontal grid altogether.
The titles of two large works in the exhibition, Diaphane and Ethereal, are as descriptive of the subjects as they are of Ouadahi’s state of mind and the maturation of his practice. Ouadahi creates luminous, transparent, impossible spaces. These works are poetic, emotional, and highlight the process of painting itself and the meditative qualities of the painting and the space it evokes.