Daniel Soresa: “I crack my paintings”

I took some photos on my mobile phone and chatted with Daniel Soresa at the opening of his solo show at GAFRA (Gallery of African Art). Soresa was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1978, and lives and works in Norway. His solo exhibition at GAFRA closes 1 April 2017.

Address: 45 Albemarle Street, London W1S 4JL. Opening times: Monday to Friday, 10am-6pm. Saturday 11am-5pm.

Details from Daniel Soresa’s paintings at GAFRA. Close-ups taken with my mobile phone. From top row to bottom row: “Following a bird”, 2017, oil, pigments and marble powder on canvas; “Belle Epoque”, 2016, oil, pigments and marble powder on canvas; “Lesbos”, 2016, oil, pigments and marble powder on canvas.

Yvette Greslé:  Viewing your work for the first time, I am struck by layering, cracks, textures, marks and scratches. As I look, I project “feelings” and sensations that have to do with how I personally experience the work. You have spoken about the relationship of some of the works to contemporary politics and, specifically, the stories that are mediated and relayed to us through the news media. You refer to current narratives about refugees and immigrants fleeing their homes and their countries because of conditions of war, and social and political violence. You speak of people who are searching for hope and a way to survive. As you are making these works, you are experiencing the news in particular ways, and this is part of your personal and private world, your thoughts, associations and memories.

As I look at the work, I imagine marks and crusty surfaces that make me think of scratches, wounds, and scars. The surfaces you produce make me think of skin as a surface that is vulnerable to illness, violence or pain. It is a protective surface that, in a purely physical, bodily sense, contains the internal life of the body and its processes. But skin can be marked or ruptured, and it changes with age and time. Its life is ultimately temporary and transient. Skin, conceptualised through historical, social and political narratives, is also a site of psychic projection; and historical and contemporary violence related to racism and xenophobia.

There is also an opaqueness to the work. I am aware that how I am experiencing it is contingent on my emotions and associations at any particular time and place. You work with the visual languages and vocabularies of abstraction and your own personal symbolism and vocabulary. While you have articulated narratives that relate to the human condition, and the human body, you don’t deploy figuration. The works make me think of internal worlds in the sense of psychic and emotional life. They retain a sense of that which is not yet in consciousness or language; of that which is hidden or buried. At times, your surfaces suggest openings to other spaces beyond what it is we can see with our eyes. But where it is these openings lead is not made transparent. I am engaged by the specificity of your encounter with abstraction as an idea and as a strategy in art at this specific time and place; and by your specific relationship to memory, history and geography; to materials; to process; to sources and methods. 

Daniel Soresa: I am interested in the relationship between perfection and imperfection and in how these things are imagined. Sometimes we can only appreciate the beauty of something when it is in proximity to something that is broken. I play with my materials.I crack my paintings. I work with marble dust. Marble powder breaks in the places where I want cracks to appear. I also wash these marble dust paintings with water at a high pressure.

The cracks relate to my anger with the world and all its problems. All of us have to fight in the way that we know. If you are a writer you write. If you are a painter you paint. I cannot make the perfect, beautiful work that I imagine. I would feel egotistical and ashamed to make work that doesn’t reflect on the things that are taking place in the world. Of course, I use my own language to reflect on these things.

Marks and lines refer to struggle.I think that the works can speak for themselves but I can speak a little about some of the things that are present as I am making work. For example, in 2016 I was making work as people were fleeing Syria (see:“Lesbos”, 2016). When I saw the photograph of Alan Kurdî‎, the three-year-old Syrian child who drowned in the Mediterranean sea I couldn’t continue making my work. I was affected by this event. Then, as I returned to my work, the struggle of the refugees was in my mind. I imagined a boat trying to pass through obstructions. I imagined struggle through lines. In all of my paintings, there is hope but it is influenced by all the stories we listen to everyday. All of us who are immigrants come from somewhere. We can all become immigrants tomorrow. We are in a difficult moment. I have made a painting that is in memory of all the people who have had to cross the sea to find hope and a dream.

The title of the painting, “Following a bird”, comes from a composition played by the Italian musician Ezio Bosso who has ALS, a motor neuron disease. I imagined that through his music he is able to walk and follow the bird. I worked with my perception of his music and his performance. As I was painting, I imagined myself ill in hospital and how I might survive. Survival and self-belief are things that interest me.

As I am making work, I am aware of being open and sensitive to all the things that I have kept in my unconscious. Memories and everyday experiences might come to the surface. Sometimes, I work better from memory then from the present.


Daniel Soresa, “Following a bird”, 2017, oil, pigments and marble powder on canvas. Image Courtesy of GAFRA.


Daniel Soresa, “Belle Epoque”, 2016, oil, pigments and marble powder on canvas. Image Courtesy of GAFRA.


Daniel Soresa, “Lesbos”, 2016, oil, pigments and marble powder on canvas. Image Courtesy of GAFRA.


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