Marwan Kassab-Bachi

Das Bein (The Leg)

Marwan Das Bein Private Collection Angelika V  Schwedes Frei - © Marwan Kassab-Bachi. Photo: Jörg von Bruchhausen
  • Marwan Kassab-Bachi
  • Das Bein (The Leg)
  • 1965
  • oil on canvas
  • 81 × 100 cm
  • - © Marwan Kassab-Bachi. Photo: Jörg von Bruchhausen

In the words of the artist, Marwan Kassab- Bachi’s work examines “the body’s ability to incarnate erotic, social, and political yearnings, inhibitions, and prohibitions.” Drawing on the twin traditions of landscape and portraiture, Das Bein (1965) depicts the artist’s own face superimposed on a stilettoed leg that reaches toward him from the space of the viewer, restraining the artist and catching him “in the act.” One of the artist’s eyes remains transfixed ahead, while the other shifts away in embarrassment, reflecting the psychological push and pull that underpins erotic urges. This painting acts as an alibi for a world tormented by Eros and Thanatos (love and death), allowing the incarnations of the artist’s personal torment to resonate with a universal tenor. Further emphasizing the artist’s sense of alienation is the ambiguous blank white space occupied by both the head and the leg. That space is similar to the spaces occupied by the artist’s other portraits of the period, which are said to be located within the soil of a quintessentially “Arab landscape.” Placing these figures in uncertain space-fields parallels Kassab-Bachi’s own precarious sense of place (as a Syrian artist living in the former West Berlin), while also implying that such topography is associated with both the concept of a pan-Arab identity and a specific space and place.

Damian Lentini

Biography of Marwan Kassab-Bachi

  • Born 1934 in Damascus, Syria
Kassab-Bachi moved to Berlin in 1957, where he studied at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste (College of Fine Arts) with Hann Trier (1915–1999). He began painting portraits while working at a fur factory from 1962 to 1970. In 1963 he began associating with future Neue Wilden artists Georg Baselitz (b. 1938) and Eugen Schönebeck (b. 1936). Kassab-Bachi describes the 1970s as a turning point in his art, where he had a vision of a face that morphs into a landscape. He returned to the motif throughout his career. Kassab-Bachi’s knowledge of Abstract Expressionism and tachisme can begin to be seen in the same decade. His portraits are archetypes, individual yet universal. Kassab-Bachi uses color judiciously—sometimes using only four or five hues—creating his faces through a fluid blending of paint, emphasizing the painting’s flat surface. The flattened figures are situated within unidentifiable settings, isolating them and emphasizing the painting’s surface. Kassab-Bachi was a visiting professor in painting from 1977 to 1979 at the Hochschule für Bildende Kunst (College of Fine Arts), where he was appointed full professor in 1980. He taught at the school until 2002. He became the first Arab member of Germany’s Akademie der Künste (Art Academy) in 1994.