A seasoned storyteller, Syrian artist Jwan Yosef moves into a new atelier overlooking Los Angeles to begin an innovative new chapter.
Minimal, profound, and candid, Jwan Yosef’s art is universally forthright with a touch of ambiguity and a signature air of playfulness. Exploring multiple sides of the same story, each of his brushstrokes paints a wide spectrum of meanings. Over the course of the past two decades, the Syrian-Swedish visual artist has instigated numerous conversations and challenged various boundaries through his work. Living and working in Stockholm, London, and Los Angeles, his art has featured in solo and group exhibits like Tensegrity, Basilica Santa Maria in Rome, 2019; Artists for Lebanon, a benefit organized by Taymour Grahne and Noura Al Maashouq, online, 2020; and Object/Object at the Henzel Studio and Frozen Palms Gallery in Miami, 2021. Yosef closed 2022 with a group exhibition in the Middle East at the acclaimed Art d’Égypte in Cairo. Now, he has moved to a new Los Angeles atelier, putting in motion a fresh, creative beginning.
Yosef’s current chapter is grounded in making art effectively. Fulfilling a long-time personal goal – and after eyeing out the intended building for several months – Yosef put a foot forward and moved into a new atelier that aligns with his artistic endeavors. “I have been in Los Angeles for seven years now. I have had the same studio for nearly six years, and I felt like I needed change, it was time for a bigger space,” he says of the decision. The new studio is in a distinctive brutalist building with plenty of architectural charm. He furthers that the façade is built with modern floor-to-ceiling windows that boast incredible views of all of Los Angeles – from downtown through the Hollywood Hills. “I knew of a few galleries and artists that had spaces here already; it was somewhat of a goal for me to have a space in this building someday,” Yosef reveals. “The studio’s layout was perfect for my practice of both larger and smaller works, and I just had to make the move.” While the bigger room serves as the main studio area, where larger paintings are conceived, next to it is what the artist defines as a more intimate zone, furnished with a comfortable lounge, where the artist often finds himself sketching, working on smaller artwork, or simply contemplating. “When you move to a new place, it paints everything; you change, the work changes,” Yosef adds.
Speaking of his recent exhibition at Art d’Égypte, where he built a face with Galala limestone that appeared to emerge from sand, he comments, “I have done so many exhibitions in the past few years, some like the one in Cairo, which was huge, and I wanted to get back and refocus on making work. So, rather than producing exhibitions, I want to strip it down to just painting, which is something that I think I have been needing to do for a while now. Just to get to the notion of painting and doing it every day, repetitively.” Arriving early to the studio and leaving late, the artist is whole-heartedly devoted to the joy of his canvases, all while enjoying the views of the surrounding robust city. Continuing his painting series of superimposed, almost abstract portraits, Yosef is intrigued by the idea of putting both motion and closeness at the focal point of his work. Once again delving into his life-long passion of pursuing self-discovery through portraiture.
“Since a very early age, I was always painting and drawing. This was nurtured by my family and parents,” Yosef recalls. “Parents worry, but my father always had the best advice – rare advice coming from any parent. When I was a teen, he said, ‘Jwan, never work for money, work for something that you love, and money will come.’ I think this was also core to what my parents stood for. It was this mentality that you must find your passion, and in that there is going to be success.” With a master’s in fine arts from Central Saint Martins, Yosef set out to launch his career. Slowly but surely, success followed. The artist’s work speaks volumes without the need for visual clutter nor loud hues. Yosef does not limit his career to specific milestones such as a certain artwork – but rather believes that his breakthroughs are the result of his continuous need to veer off the obvious path. His body of work includes paintings such as Repeat to Remember, which took part in The Threadneedle Prize 2013. Augmenting contradicting emotions, the painting highlights Yosef’s flair for dark humor and preference for neutral tones, especially when combined with unexpected techniques borrowed from different forms of art, such as photography.
Nurturing a distinctive vantage point – fueled by his heritage and travels – has earned Yosef an international base of clients that relate to his ceaseless determination to capture the most complicated human emotions with a signature sense of wittiness. “My heritage colors everything. I believe that the older you get, the more you embrace your heritage,” the artist explains animatedly. “In your early 20s, it is all about breaking out and in a way trying to create a new being that is going to become yourself. I think what happens slightly later in life, the circle becomes complete. You realize what you are, what you come from, what your family is from. I was born in Syria. When we left for Sweden, I was two years old. I do not have memories of living in Syria, but we visited many times. Obviously, we spoke the language at home and practiced the traditions. However, the more I work now, the more I realize that I am always in conversation with my heritage.”
Originally published in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Vogue Man Arabia
Photographs Brianna Bakke, Marten Elder, courtesy of Jwan Yosef Studio