With the wisdom and tranquillity of he who has experienced and gone through a whole lot, Tishk Barzanji, a Kurdish artist and graphic designer based in London, feels like he has lived through a thousand lives. Infinite stairways to heaven and dreamy landscapes at dusk star in his fascinating pieces of work. Though the apparently perfect, serene and comforting atmospheres of Barzanji’s world, his art encapsulates some of the darkest times of his life.  
Before becoming a visual artist you studied Physics at the Loughborough University. How did art make its way into your life and how did it stay? Did you find art or did art find you?
I guess I never planned to study physics or become an artist; I grew up in a unique place that taught me a lot. I wanted to do something to understand my struggles but also to create something that helps people and leaves a legacy. This was always on my mind while growing up. In college, I was split between arts and science. I studied both Fine Arts and Physics in college but I thought physics would be more insightful in my understanding of life, so I did that.
It was not until my final year that I had a profound moment that changed the path of my life. I was ill for a period of eight months and I spent the majority of my time at home. This was the moment I decided to make art again for therapeutic reasons – more than for a career. So I guess you can say I discovered art and then lost it, but art didn’t let me go.
You say the people you grew up with and the environment that surrounded you shaped the ideas of your current practice. How have they been essential in the process of becoming an artist? In which situations have those things shone through?
Those moments in my life really showed me all sides of life, it was important to experience that. Not only it gave me something to make art about but also motivated me to give my all and show raw emotion in my work. I feel like I lived through a thousand lives and I carry that with me with each new work I make. I don’t forget the people I met, the conversations I’ve had, etc. These shine through in all my work.
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Many define your art as a ‘modernist utopia’.  There is a clear predominance of modern architecture, abstract scenes and urban spaces, though still, you claim finding inspiration in Ancient history as well. How do you balance such opposing references in your art?
Architecture is dominant in my work, so I can understand the definition of utopia and modernism. However, these ideas of modernism and Ancient history aren’t really about the architecture for me, but more about how space is used and created by the people within these structures. How the shadows and lights create an atmosphere, and how people are navigating these spaces. The structures I create are just the stage for these battles to be laid bare. By battles, I mean the people, shadows, movements and colour. To create this, I need to have an open approach and study these contrasting ideas.
One can recognize some of Ricardo Bofill’s characteristic features in your art, such as his iconic Muralla Roja building. Where else do you find inspiration?
I do respect a lot of artists and architects. However, my main source of inspiration is everyday life: my experiences, the way people communicate and objects I find on the streets. These are all very inspiring for me. I also get inspiration from books and movies; it can be a short sentence or a short scene that jogs my mind.
You don’t mind mixing and experimenting with different shades. Your paintings have a wide variety of pastel tones and contrasted colours, often juxtaposed. But pink always finds its way to appear in every single piece. Is there a meaning behind that?
There isn’t a deep meaning behind the use of pink but I do need a powerful colour to break up the darker tones, and pink is the right balance to achieve it. I guess I also want to break the misconception that pink is gender specific. The colour also creates continuity in my work, which is also important.
“I feel that during sunset there is a unique chemistry in the air; it’s a signal that the day is ending. In these pieces, I need some sort of closure.”
In every painting of yours, humans are represented as black silhouettes with no facial expression. Does this suggest or symbolize isolation and loneliness?
The use of silhouettes in my work is really to keep the identity and gender of the characters neutral. I wanted the viewers to make their own mind up regarding those aspects, and also not to judge the work based on gender or race.
It seems like your paintings are always either set at the crack of dawn or at sunset. Is this to create a feeling of nostalgia?
There is a sense of nostalgia in them, especially in my darker pieces. It relates to moments in my life, most of which have happened during the crack of dawn. I remember vivid details of those moments, so I try to amplify that to the viewer. I feel that during sunset there is a unique chemistry in the air; it’s a signal that the day is ending. In these pieces, I need some sort of closure.
In an interview with Juxtapoz, you pointed out that urban atmospheres speak to your struggles, alleging that they are “a type of chaos that I can't explain… It brings me comfort.”
What I meant by that was that the way people were functioning in these places may look chaotic from an outsider’s point of view; however, for me, it felt good to be around this energy. Everyone trying to build and grow. No one was in standstill. This gave me courage.
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You stated that creativity helped you as a way of dealing with anxiety. Is art your therapy?
For sure, it was in my dark times when I felt extremely anxious. Art gave me an escape. I was humbled that my mind was able to calm itself with focus and creativity. I felt a sense of purpose, something to show for all those dark thoughts I had.
What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?
It would definitely be to not worry about failure if you never reach your expectations because they are just abstract thoughts in your mind. Reality is always different from that. Living in the present and building from there is the best way to approach it. When I was younger, I was obsessed with success and I didn’t realise that the key to unlock this was right in front of me this whole time, and I just failed to notice it. I realised it’s about what I leave behind and what I create that is worthy of remembrance more than just being successful now.
And last but not least, what plans and hopes do you hold for the future?
At the moment, it is about really improving my craft but also to holding my first solo exhibition in London. The next stage is to build some of these pieces into installations so the viewers can experience them more physically. I’m still learning, so I study every day like it’s my first day creating art. I’m hungry to learn more.
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