Raafat Ballan | About

Ranging across a spectrum of subjects and mediums, including oil painting, prints, sculpture and watercolor, Raafat Ballan's work aims to highlight particular social and political urgencies that he has experienced first-hand through his artistic and political journey. Ballan was trained as a painter at Damascus University, Faculty of Fine Arts. Having left Damascus shortly after graduating in 2014, he relocated his studio to Lebanon, and then Turkey. The challenges of transporting paintings made him curious to explore lighter materials out of which he developed series of paper works including etching and watercolor experiments. In 2015, he eventually settled in the Netherlands.

Stylistically, Ballan’s work finds itself between the late modern masters of the West, such as Francis Bacon, and canonical artists of the Syrian diaspora, such as the late Marwan Kassab-Bachi (1934-2016). His portraits – faces, half and whole figures – often seem to revolve around a family setting. Series of works do not stand alone but rather deepen in their meaning as they intersect, and mirror Ballan’s moments of consciousness over the years since he has fled Damascus.
In his most recent series, House (2019-2020), Ballan distills scenes of family life into discrete compositions, snapshots of isolated figures in the presence of absence, with bold colors that tinge these paintings with playfulness. The gestures of these figures are captured by heavy paint strokes over brightly saturated surfaces. The forceful encounter between spectator and subject that these expressions produce conveys a moment of truth: a moment that reveals its initial impact, which in its turn is often grounded in the tensions Ballan experienced in his country of birth.

Over the last few years, Ballan has been an artist-in-residence in several institutions both nationally and internationally, including AGA LAB and Studio Yalla in Amsterdam. In 2017, he collaborated with Maze de Boer at the Tijdelijk Museum in Amsterdam. After, the works went to Art Rotterdam in 2018, which also led him to take part in a project called Give Us the Museum at Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam in 2018. He was given a solo exhibition at Herman van Veen Arts Center in Soest in 2018. He presented an important body of works entitled the Black Wednesday series in the group show ‘Stages of Life’ in SANAA Gallery in Utrecht, October-November 2019. In the same year he was awarded the Galatea prize. Most recently, Ballan was selected for a graphic art commission for the EU project Minosia Labyrinth, which he is currently developing.

In addition to his personal creative practice, Ballan started an artist collective under the name “Just Shout” in 2019 along with artists Sophie Steengracht, Andrea Renon, Yara Said, and Sultan Alawar. Together they curate pop-up exhibitions and performances in which they often showcase their “work in progress”, and occasionally invite other artists and creators to join them in these presentations. Ballan continues to develop and discover new methods of working, as well as experimentations with techniques and mediums.