Sculpting with Paint: Daliah Ammar on her Approach to Figures, Vulnerability, and Oil Paint

Daliah Ammar
Daliah Ammar in her element

If you’re anything like me, during your angst-y adolescent years there was a poster of a teen heartthrob tacked to your bedroom wall. Through the paper their eyes looked straight into the camera and, therefore, straight at you.  If you found this fascinating, like I did, then you spent more time than either of us care to admit moving from one corner of your room to the next, carefully watching those eyes to see if they followed you.

I found myself playing this familiar game with a collection of figurative paintings by Chicago based artist Daliah Ammar.  Straight-forward, complex, and awash with subtle nuance, Ammar’s portfolio is a tour of human emotion. She captures facial expressions and personal quirks so expertly you have to remind yourself that her paintings are just that: paintings, not photographs. (They’re not really looking at you. But they are. But they aren’t. But they are.)

“I always drew figures,” says the Philadelphia native. “I love their shape and form.”

Daliah Ammar
On Your Own, Daliah Ammar

Ammar began painting in high school using acrylic, but eventually switched to oils after mentor and fellow artist Ryan Schultz convinced her to experiment with what many artists consider a far more difficult medium. “I love to use oils now,” she says, “It’s like sculpting with paint.”

Sculpture is a fitting comparison. On Your Own, a 16 x 20 oil on panel, is aesthetically striking, emotionally three-dimensional. It depicts a woman shrinking away from piercing light, as though wishing to fall into the shadows behind her. In Wait, a finely-tuned use of light and color allow Ammar’s subject to pull in the spectator, even though we only see the nape of her neck.

Daliah Ammar
Wait, Daliah Ammar

I tell Ammar how much I love this particular piece. “I relate to it because I pull that exact same spot of hair all the time!”

“Me too,” she says.  “…I’m always pulling my hair. It’s a nervous habit.”  The painting is an evocative portrayal of human behavior, oozing with vulnerability.

Vulnerability and apprehension are omnipresent in Ammar’s pieces.  “I don’t try to be dark,” she says. “I work from photographs for proportion, but everything else comes from the imagination.”  Ammar says it’s often the model’s most candid, natural expressions that capture her and later emerge from her canvas.

The past few years have seen Ammar showcasing her work in both solo and group exhibitions, but it won’t be until next spring that she’ll exhibit again at Freak Out! hosted by the Zhou B. Art Center in Bridgeport starting April 15th.

Featured image: Stay, Daliah Ammar

All photographs: Daliah Ammar    

To see more of Ammar’s work, visit her website: