Self-taught artist whose work has been compared to the late Basquiat looks forward to first show in Toronto

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

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It has been a long, difficult and impossible journey for the 25-year-old Syrian-born artist, whose work has been compared to the neo-expressionist art of the late American Jean-Michel Basquiat. The next important step in that journey is coming: their first show in Toronto, October 12 at Narwal Contemporary Art Gallery at 2104 Dundas St. W.

It is also a journey that has caught the attention of Toronto filmmaker Geordi 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 Bistyak’s life and work. have received.


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

“I love that he doesn’t have any formal training. I love that he’s bringing his journey into his art and that we’re bound by our common heritage. Two artists trying to find their voice, maybe We are connected there,” said Sabbagh.

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“Knowing art history, I’ve found that some of the great art of our time comes from conflict. A lot of great art is born out of poverty and struggle, and trying to find a creative voice in the world. I think That great art is emerging from the Middle East.”

The Bistyak are Kurds, a minority ethnic group found throughout the Middle East, including Syria, Iraq, and Iran. It’s also an oppressed minority group, as the artist, who lived in a room with six other family members before fleeing to Lebanon more than a decade ago, knows all too well.

“And when I went to Lebanon, it was just like that. ‘You’re a refugee, you don’t belong here,'” Bystyak recalled.

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

He dabbled in art, drawing as a child and then working in a coffee shop in Lebanon as a teenager, trading java from an adjacent construction site for wood to use as his canvas. He used to paint with three colors: black, white and gray (mixing black and white).

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

And then one day, his artistic collection was undeniable.

Bistyak dabbled in art, drawing as a child, and then working in a coffee shop in Lebanon as a teenager, trading Java for wood from an adjacent construction site to use as his canvas. did.

“The day I left my job, I went home, I put a piece of cloth on the wall and I started painting. I would finish one after another and I wouldn’t stop for three or four months, and I finished 30 to 40 paintings, ”recalls Bystik.

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

“I thought, ‘Wow, is this real?'” he said.

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

“When I got here and I started learning about indigenous people, First Nations people, it was a shock to me that yes, I got this opportunity, but still there are a lot of people on the streets who need this thing. , which needs attention,” Bistyek said. “I relate to it. That’s exactly what happened to us (in Syria) and is happening now.”

Bruce Demara is a Toronto-based culture reporter for Star. Follow him on Twitter: @bdemara

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