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Hassan Massoudy Profile Work Biography  



Hassan Massoudy

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Hassan MASSOUDY was born in 1944 in Najef, South of Iraq. He grew up amid the scalding heat of the desert, in a traditional Iraqi society characterised by strong religious beliefs, a high sense of solidarity and a keenness for festive gatherings. As a youngster, in this town where all images were prohibited, he fulfilled his passion for art by making drawings and calligraphies while investing all his energy to get paper and pigments. In 1961 he left for Baghdad and started working as an apprentice for various calligraphers. He visited exhibitions of modern art which fascinated him and from then on, started to dream of studying art. The unfolding political events and ensuing dictatorship prevented him to do so. He eventually left Iraq for France in 1969, freed from the oppressing regime but heartbroken. He got to the "Ecole des Beaux-Arts" of Paris where he first worked on figurative painting. But he did not stop calligraphy altogether; to pay for his studies, he was doing headlines in calligraphy for Arabic magazines. Over the years, calligraphy progressively got into his figurative painting and eventually took its place. In 1972, he created the show "Arabesque" with the actor Guy Jacquet joined a few years later by the musician Fawzy Al Aiedy. Arabesque was a public performance combining music and poetry together with calligraphies being performed and projected on a large screen. They did many performances across France and Europe over a period of thirteen years. Over the years, it brought more spontaneity in his gesture and a more instantaneous way for him to express himself. This experience marked a definite turn in Hassan's work.

The drawing of his calligraphy became swifter and his gesture richer. Traditionally Arabic calligraphy is done with black ink. To better express himself, he broke from the tradition and introduced other colours particularly on his work on large size paper. While creating new pieces, he put together on his own, another show focusing on improvisations called "Calligraphie d'ombre et de lumiere" or "calligraphy of light and shade" (see details for public performance in exhibitions and events). In that new show, calligraphies are created in front of the very eyes of the spectator; black letters contrasting with light. Phrases, words and letters are projected on the screen. With calm and control, each letter takes shape flowing freely in the bright light. Then the movement accelerates, the word charged with energy eventually finds its perfect balance. The aesthetic, geometry and rhythms of the calligraphy are unveiled. The compositions are born. The dynamics of the gesture gives birth to poetry.

Creations from Hassan Massoudy are a subtle mix of present and past, oriental and occidental art, tradition and modernity. He perpetuates tradition while braking from it. Over the years he has purified and simplified the lines of his drawing. The words and phrases he draws come from poets and writers from all over the world or sometimes simply from popular wisdom. All his work is strongly inspired by a humanistic interest. The emotion that one may feel looking at his calligraphies comes from the movement of the lines, their lightness, their transparency, the balance between black, white, emptiness and fullness, the concrete and the abstract. From his training as a calligrapher in Iraq, Hassan Massoudy has kept the noble spirit of the craftsman who creates or invents his own tools and prepares his own inks.


So how does a poem become calligraphy? How does the word become a sign? The value of beauty in classic calligraphers, to transpose a poem, was the perfection of style evolved according to rules and codes, known and respected by all. What the calligrapher could add was more life to the line he drew. Today, I feel that the process has changed: I focus my attention on poetic images. Which word stands out, should be magnified? I count the straight letters then the curves so as to be able to create a rhythm by composing them. I dream about those letters. I imagine the word in different styles of calligraphy. I sketch a few lines, transforming the letters, I move them around, adjust them. At the same time, the image of the poet is floating in my mind. Hazy at first. Certain images reveal themselves sooner than others, sometimes the very first day, sometimes after long months. This slowness means I haven't yet pierced the mystery of the image. So I have to persevere.

Working with water-based paints and calligraphy both demand a flat working surface. Through the continual to and fro' movements, to the point where you are united with the matter are one, you feel yourself becoming calligraphy. When I try to reflect the image of the poet in letters, or a form that dwells in me or even in an unexpected form, I enrich myself with a new line, won from the white expanse of paper. I am looking for, for my calligraphy, vast and unlimited space. The white in the background is also an integral part of that form, calligraphy also evokes space by its absence. It must be discreet and allow the eye to see what is invisible. The downstrokes and the upstrokes are the essence of calligraphy, a movement, an angle that defines the order of organisation in space. Those downstrokes and upstrokes express strength and fragility at the same time.

Proportions are extremely important and are calculated to a hair's breadth. This precision is intuitively perceived by the eye and the taste of the person viewing the calligraphy. Each form - through its pictorial content, its density, its height - lets us feel the pressure of space and the struggle with gravity. It is aesthetic writing, legible to the educated eye. How many times have I felt moved by a curved tree? Then my eyes move on to a second, thinner, more vertical; whose flow of sap nourishes the highest branches. Going into my workshop, I try to find the attitude of the tree. My letter must be as vigorous as the branch. Calligraphy is an art that puts down the essence of things and not just the visible. All the difficulty lies in the dialogue with the invisible. The sketch is only an indication, the dreamed-of form is never fully realised. The result is partly achieved by chance, in spite of all the preparations for a good start. If the binding agent in the ink lacks the necessary quality or the instrument is badly sharpened, it's enough to make the whole thing flop. But the opposite is also possible. After a tiring day's work, a moment of relaxation comes when nonchalant and disobedient gestures take over the form. What amazement, what surprises! The work is freer. The gestures move through space without encumber, soar up without falling. They are broad without being heavy, fine without breaks, with fine proportions. The next day, I get ready to carry on what I was doing the day before. I'm sure I've struck gold. Alas, it's back to square one, I can't get back to the impulsion of the day before. Beauty comes and goes as it pleases.

"What can be admired in Hassan Massoudy is the masterful use he makes of colours in his compositions. He has opalescent washes, flows of emerald, monochromes of beiges enriched with deep wood tones and sandalwood fragrances. This is a new era, which is then open to calligraphy. Indeed, lovers of exoticism and antique may be disappointed. Hassan Massoudy is not the living fossil of the old Arabic calligraphy. He is an artist of our time. His art belongs to that very end of the twentieth century, despite the ancestral roots that he immerses in the tradition of the Orient." Michel TOURNIER


Hassan Massoudy