Yassine Balbzioui: The Circus in My Head

21 March - 20 April 2024 London

Private View : Wednesday 20th of March 2024, 6 - 8pm  

London (Tower Bridge), 36 Tanner Street, SE1  3LD

Trapeze performers, magicians, clowns, lion tamers, acrobats, horses on skateboards, hybrid creatures, showers of mushrooms, branches of tropical birds. For his latest solo exhibition, The Circus in My Head, at Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery Yassine Balbzioui conjures a shape-shifting world out of water and ink. Featuring all new paintings, a large-scale mural that wraps around the gallery’s walls and a special performance by the artist, the show celebrates fluidity, play and the unbridled imagination.
For Balbzioui, the context of where and how his work is made is as important as the image itself, it’s part of the story that he’s trying to tell. These paintings were created during a residency in London, where he worked intensively in the studio over a period of a month. While he describes feeling initially quite isolated in his new surroundings, this also allowed him to engage more deeply with his material and to experiment with a more performative approach to painting. For the larger scale canvases, this involved working on the floor, following the movement of ink and water and then hanging the canvas up to dry before applying the next layers. ‘Working with ink and water is like a game. It’s the closest material to performance: you can never fully control it,’ he says.
We see this process play out in the paintings where forms merge and the colours bleed into one another, creating a destabilising effect. Take, for instance, the painting of what appears to be two soldiers – perhaps inspired by London’s guards – either descending or ascending a flight of steps. The figures, both translucent, have a spectral quality about them, while the staircase leads into or out of a watery swirl of pink and purple – the sky, some kind of pool, a different dimension? This ambiguity allows the viewer to freely interpret the image and is essential to Balbzioui’s own process which centres around spontaneity. Through the making of art, he seeks to access a childlike state that brings with it joy as well as the accidental and unexpected.
This is not to say that Balbzioui’s art is simplistic – these paintings in particular draw on a vast array of references and experiences. The colours, for instance, were influenced by Balbzioui’s travels in India where he worked collaboratively with a group of artisans while the circus theme comes from the artist’s admiration for artists, such as Picasso or more recently Cindy Sherman, who have explored similar imagery. The hybrid, morphing creatures take root in the artist’s performance work as well as from periods of ‘play’ at home with his family and the overarching mood, which Balbizoui describes as a balance between ‘melancholic and humorous’, was inspired by his listening to Lou Reed and John Cale’s album Songs for Drella.
Importantly, it is also a show born out of struggle. In the aftermath of covid, Balbzioui, like many others, found himself feeling lost and sees this new work as a part of a process of self discovery and renewal. This is perhaps most obvious in the paintings of figures surrounded by what appears to be visualisations of childhood memories or perhaps dreams – a boy riding a bicycle, a rocking horse, masks and swirling patterns – or else, in the portrait works. In one, an open-mouthed face appears behind or amid droplets of red paint while in another, the face is only half visible behind an abstract red shape, reminiscent of an organ or blood cell. ‘To me, all of the paintings are self portraits,’ says Balbzioui. ‘It is a journey into my head.’
Populated with fluid, other-worldly forms, vivid hues and swirling brushstrokes, Balbzioui’s paintings invite us to embrace the freedom found in creativity.