Mon. Aug 15th, 2022

Bistyek would like to be the next Basquiat (minus the early death).

It has been a long, difficult and unlikely journey for the Syrian-born artist, 25, whose work has been compared to the neo-expressionist art of the late American Jean-Michel Basquiat. The next critical step in that journey is on its way: his first show in Toronto, which opens Oct. 12 at the Narwhal Contemporary Art Gallery at 2104 Dundas St. W.

It’s also a journey that has attracted the attention of Toronto filmmaker Geordie Sabbagh, who shares a Middle Eastern heritage and who recently received a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts to make a film about Bistyek’s life and work.

“I found (Bistyek’s) story interesting and I love the work. It has a very Basquiat feel. I think his voice develops with his work, ”said Sabbagh, who has a degree in art history and is of Lebanese descent.

“I love that he has no formal education. I love that he brings his journey to his art and we are connected to our similar heritage. Two artists trying to find their voices may be where we connected, ”Sabbagh said.

“By knowing the history of art, I have found that some of the great art of our time comes from struggle. A lot of great art is born out of poverty and struggle, and is trying to find a creative voice in the world. I think great art is emerging from the Middle East, ”he added.

Bistyek's work has been compared to the neo-expressionist art of the late American Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Bistyek is Kurdish, an ethnic minority group found throughout the Middle East, including Syria, Iraq and Iran. It is also a persecuted minority group that the artist, who used to live in a single room with six other family members before fleeing to Lebanon more than a decade ago, is well aware of.

“And when I moved to Lebanon, it was the same. ‘You’re a refugee, you do not belong here,’ ‘Bistyek recalled.

Bistyek and his family are among the thousands of Syrians who have settled in Canada since 2015 and moved to Winnipeg four and a half years ago, a place he literally knew nothing about.

He had been engaged in art, drawing as a child and then while working at a coffee shop in Lebanon as a teenager, he swapped java for wood from an adjacent construction site for use as his canvas. He wanted to paint with three colors: black, white and gray (mixture of black and white).

When he came to Winnipeg, Bistyek began learning English while volunteering for a summer camp for Syrian and Kurdish refugee children, where he was eventually hired. He also worked in construction, with Tim Hortons and at Starbucks, doing “literally anything” to make money.

And then one day his artistic muse could no longer be denied.

Bistyek dabbled in art, drawing as a child, and while working at a coffee shop in Lebanon as a teenager, he traded java with wood from an adjacent construction site for use as his canvas.

“The day I quit my job, I went home, I put a piece of fabric on the wall, and I started painting. I finished one after the other, and I did not stop for three or four months, and I finished 30 to 40 paintings, ”Bistyek recalled.

Bistyek made friends in Winnipeg’s art community, including Tim Borys, who had an empty store with gallery space. Borys agreed to let Bistyek use the space and exhibit his work, and last October he had his first show and sold most of his paintings.

“I was thinking, ‘Wow, is that real?'” He said.

As grateful as he is for the opportunity to come to Canada and explore life as an artist, there is something about his new home that ranks: the way this country treats its indigenous people. Winnipeg has one of the largest populations of indigenous peoples in a major Canadian city.

“When I arrived here and I started learning about the indigenous people, the First Nations people, it was a shock to me that yes, I got this opportunity, but still there are many people on the street who need it. same thing that requires attention, ”Bistyek said. “It simply came to our notice then. That is exactly what happened to us (in Syria) and is still happening. ”

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