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 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.
photo © Djamel Farès
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
Massoudy Calligraphie d'Ombre et de Lumière
he is involved in the design of the stage set for the ballet
"Selim" with the dancer Kader Belarbi from the Opera de Paris
and the singer Houria Aichi on a choreography from Kalemenis.
Belarbi and Houria Aïchi, ballet Selim
In 2005 he met the dancer and choreographer Carolyn Carlson, and the musician Kudsi Erguner. Together with three other dancers and three other musicians, they created the show "Metaphore", a harmony of music, dance and calligraphy.
Metaphore, choreography Carolyn Carson
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. (translation:
© Hassan Massoudy
is no favourable wind for he who knows not where he is heading. Seneca
ما من ريح مؤاتية لمن لايعرف أين يذهب ـ سنك
Massoudy is a true modern artist in vital communication,
with the outside world : he does books publishing (in English, German
and Italian, in French), exhibitions,
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
abstract from Calligraphies
d'amour Hassan Massoudy, Albin Michel publisher,
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.
line, as a dynamic force, and in its adequate relation with
the meaning of words, must reflect two things: on the one
hand strength and rigour, on the other abandon and grace.
The line's aspect must suggest a direction: a pushing or
pulling gesture, quick or slow, heavy or light, calm or
bursting forth. If the line is full of life, if it reflects
emotion, then beauty is not far away. But beauty remains
unknown and doubt is present. To imitate the aesthetic values
of the old masters is only copying. The codes and techniques
must be changed. They evolve with their times. To renew
calligraphy demands a painful bringing forth, the permanent
taking of risks. One has to detach oneself from all preconceived
notions, absorb daily life. But one must also draw resource
from manuscripts or broken fragments of monuments.
my calamus and make the broad instruments. I select my papers
and prepare my colours on the same day they are to be used,
mixing and fixing the pigments. The writing instrument,
the paper and the colour, must all live in harmony, but
this cohabitation is rarely harmonious right from the first
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.
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
have to persevere, to be attentive, reread the poetic phrase,
look again at the images, imagine others. Begin again slowly,
very slowly. Instead of looking at the letters, observe
the light that moves around the calligraphic gestures. Go
on, again and again, struggle with the matter, with this
instrument-ink-paper trio, and the Word.
search for the right form is like seeking a point of balance
where everything meets - weight rising without falling,
dynamic movement that doesn't break the form, light passing
through colour, space adjusting itself behind the forms,
purifying without impoverishing, achieving abstraction without
loss of image - the meaning of words, the desire of the
calligrapher. Finally, it is perfecting the self with each
calligraphy, becoming more adept through mastery of the
materials. The geometric construction of form should be
the exact point of balance is not reached, if it is a failure,
then you discover your own limits, your humanity and the
fragility of the human condition. Calligraphy can become
an indicator of the absence of centre, of imbalance. This
experience then evolves into knowledge of the self and perhaps
even improvement if you pick yourself up right away and
direction, but how do you choose? Slow down to better master
the rapidity or speed up to better gather the fruits of
impulsion? One mustn't lose the essential. If the ancient
techniques are a hurdle, you have to set them aside and
invent others, or take inspiration from the other arts,
listen to the rhythm of music or observe the movement in
dance. The word of the body is like a bird in space, but
how can one float freely without falling? You need lots
of stamina to overcome gravity and find the physical sensations
of space. My calligraphy must reflect its belonging to the
world, which now means an era of speed. The speed of the
rocket that allowed man to overcome the law of gravity and
gave him the possibility to walk on the moon.
I think my gesture is just right the interior conflict ceases,
even if that sensation only lasts a few minutes. It is a
moment of joy when the alphabet is no longer an instrument
of logic but an attitude of writing, a pure sensation that
can easily come into contact with the poet, who has probably
been through the same process. This calligraphy reflects
my vision of the world, it has become the desire that the
world should be thus, with a new harmony and new freedom.
material contradictions are the reflection of contradictions
in life. In reality, the point of balance doesn't exist: The world is merely a harmony of tensions, according
to Heraclitus. All this experience is only an evolution
and there is no evolution without failure. Calligraphy is
like all the other arts, the expression of happiness and
suffering go side by side. Do and undo, and grow through
each experience. Faced with a tragic impulsion, calligraphy
imposes a restraint an control that allows you to deal with
problems. One learns to master the self for a moment. When
the word is lightness and soars up, the eye follows the
upward direction of the movement. Intuitively, I see calligraphy
on another scale than that imposed by the limits of paper.
It gains in spatiality. The gestures of the calligrapher
become an open space, welcoming the words of the poet and
the imagination of the onlooker.
text : Making Words Dance: A Calligrapher's
originally in The UNESCO Courier, December, 1990
Black calligraphy to intensify the white
Coloured calligraphy to create warmth
Bright calligraphy to dream
Curved calligraphy for tenderness and grace
Joyful calligraphy for life
Pure calligraphy for beauty and love
Free calligraphy for elevation
Grave calligraphy for dignity
Purified calligraphy for vigilance and ethics
Straight and vigorous calligraphy to build a barrage against ignorance
Dynamic calligraphy to oppose immobility
Spatial calligraphy to escape into emptiness
Defined calligraphy to dream about the infinite…
Hassan Massoudy 2005
Hassan Massoudy is a pure soul who cannot be bound by rational strings no matter how delicate or transparent; a boundless spirit who only soars in a world of subtle words, borrowing elusive verse and enticing the heart towards a distant play of meanings, sounds, voices, light and shadow. Only there and then does Massoudy find himself, in a creative milieu that fuses the restrictive rules of calligraphy with the free will of imagination; thus the classical master calligrapher provokes the contemporary painter to conceive works of art which defy classicism and modernity alike.
One of the foremost contemporary Arab artists, Massoudy has succeeded in conquering his ego or nafs, as it is known in the Sufi tradition. With his large vertical strokes and sparse horizontal lines, he alternates between the spiritual and temporal, the perpetual and ephemeral, painting and writing (or is it writing and painting?) as if in a trance, without the least care for the material outcome of his creativity; in this lies his brilliance.
||Gestures of Light, the art of Hassan Massoudy
- Published by Abu Dhabi Festival, 2012 english/arabic
- Produced by October Gallery
- 278 pages, 90 calligraphies.
||The Calligrapher's Garden
- Calligraphy by Hassan Massoudy
- Introduction by Venetia Porter, British Museum
- Published by Saqi, London, 2010 and 2012
- 128 pages, 57 calligraphies.
- Sufi poetry of Ibn Arabi
- Calligraphy by Hassan Massoudy
- Published by Shambhala, 2002.
- 64 pages, 24 calligraphies, English/Arabic
Hassan Massoudy brings new life to this text through his unique
calligraphic style. On background colors that evoke the desert landscapes
of which Ibn Arabi writes, Massoudy's brush strokes give visual
expression to harmonious dance of the Lover and the Beloved.