Charming strokes

Iraqi calligrapher Hassan Massoudy’s work moves with the times and his techniques are influenced by the Western art, having lived in Paris for 42 years

By Olivia Olarte

Published: Sat 18 Feb 2012, 10:06 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 1:53 AM

Poetic words and phrases, in curves and strokes and in colourful themes, promise to charm the senses of spectators at Ghaf Gallery where Arabic calligrapher Hassan Massoudy’s work will be on display.

A special feature of the Abu Dhabi Festival next month, the Gestures of Light exhibition will highlight Massoudy’s signature calligraphic work that blends tradition with modernity.

For the festival, the master craftsman has worked tirelessly to showcase his smooth artistic strokes on canvas, 44 of which will be hung at the Gallery and a few will be displayed at the Emirates Palace.

“Yes, I created something special for the festival. I’ve been working on this since the idea for the festival (came). I haven’t gone on vacation at all and I didn’t take my summer holiday. I’ve been working for the first time on quite a few canvasses. A lot of my work I do on paper and I transferred this onto the canvas specifically for this exhibition,” Massoudy said.

This is the first time that the Iraqi artist-calligrapher will be exhibiting his work in the UAE and he is very happy about it.

“It is the most natural art form that could be represented in an art festival in an Arab country. What’s interesting in the UAE is that there is an interest in calligraphy. There is a renaissance in calligraphy that’s happening here and it’s remarkable,” he said.

Massoudy’s interest in calligraphy started as a child in his hometown in Baghdad. He has been inspired by his uncle who was a calligrapher.

“I observed him and when I was seven I actually got my hand into it. I started practicing on a professional level in 1961,” he related.

Massoudy moved to France in 1969 and went to study at Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris where he dabbled in figurative painting. To pay for his studies, he worked with Arabic magazines doing headlines in calligraphy.

He has worked for 50 years perfecting his craft, he said, which he did so by working and interacting with others.

For his inspiration, Massoudy said it is “certainly being in contact with other people, reading and specially poetry.”

A traditional calligrapher at heart but with the stroke of contemporary art, Massoudy refused to be branded as a “modern artist”. He simply said his work moves with the times and his techniques are moulded by the Western art form, having lived in Paris for the past 42 years.

“Every year, I see my work changing and evolving. This evolution also manifests in the actual artwork that I do. I started out with smaller size canvases or paper, which got progressively larger till I found myself on the floor with a big sheet of paper,” he chuckled.

Having created his own tools and prepares his own ink, Massoudy has invented the modern calligraphy technique of large strokes by using a large brush similar to the wooden reed.

“We should do like the Japanese do to reserve this art form, in that the old masters maintain this art form — from teacher to the younger generation — and the younger generation, of course, is going to add their touch to it.”

The Gestures of Light exhibition will run from March 19 to April 15 at Ghaf Gallery. There will also be a guided tour and book signing with Hassan Massoudy.

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