Ahmed Alsoudani: After the Attack

by Matt Forcey

In 1995, a 19 year-old budding artist, rambling about the streets of his Baghdad neighborhood, thought it would be a good idea to deface the local mural of Saddam Hussein. Ahmed Alsoudani, saw this as prank, not any sort of political statement. It was a prank he immediately began to regret. Under Iraq’s violent Baathist regime the consequences for such an action were severe. With a growing feeling that his life was in danger, Ahmed hightailed it out of town in the back of a taxi and made his way to Syria, where he lived for four years before being granted political asylum by the United States.

Arriving first in Portland, Maine, Alsoudani concluded that he truly wanted to be an artist. Walking into the Maine Collage of Art, with little grasp of the English language and only a few sketchy paintings in his portfolio, he announced to the admissions coordinator, “My name is Ahmed, and I would like to be a painter.”

Almost 10 years later, having just moved his studio from Connecticut to Berlin, Ahmed has found himself on top of the art world. Forbes Magazine has named him to their “Watch List” as one of the most influential up-and-coming artists. Art world aristocracy such as Francois Pinault, owner of Christie’s auction house and of the world’s most valuable private art collection, is a big supporter of Ahmed’s work. And now, at Sotheby’s contemporary art sale in London earlier this month, an untitled painting by Alsoudani, initially offered at $111,000, sold at auction for $463,378 to advertising executive Charles Saatchi.

Ahmed had just begun his studies in Portland when terrorists struck on 9/11. He watched as his newly adopted country ripped through his homeland, every day fearing for his family’s safety. This experience began to direct his artistic style. As his professors at MECA supported and encouraged his use of vibrant color and overdrawn startling imagery, Ahmed’s painting became progressively stronger and more violent.

“Most of my work deals with the war,” he said in advance of a Portland gallery show during his MECA days. “The war for me is a life-and-death issue. I’ve been dealing with it since before I’ve been here, and it’s hard to step away from it. I’m not interested in showing blood and war. I’m working really hard to capture the moment between when the aircraft are attacking and the moment after the attack… that line between life and death.”

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Having broadened his formal education with a graduate degree from Yale, Alsoudani proclaims “I am proudly a continuation of the New York School,’ citing Philip Guston and Willem de Kooning as painters to whom his work most closely relates. From a lofty studio, he creates his works on colossal sheets of canvas or paper, on which he imbues a mélange of oil, charcoal, acrylic, and pastels.

Ahmed’s continues to channel his inner horrors, with hints of Picasso and Goya, his paintings reflect the destruction left on the ground after the planes have past and the bombs have fallen. Some of his latest work will be featured in the Iraqi pavilion at next year’s Venice Biennale.

Check out other artists we like here.

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