Massoudy    Calligraphe
Hassan Massoudy calligrapher




- Sundaram Tagore Gallery, New York,
- Gama Gallery, Istanbul,
- Singulart (online sales)
- October Gallery, London,
Hassan Massoudy exhibits in his studio "open day"

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.

Arabesque, photo © Djamel Farès

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.

Hassan Massoudy Calligraphie d'Ombre et de Lumière

In 1995, 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.

Kader 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

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. (translation: Philippe Nitzer)

Calligraphy © Hassan Massoudy

There is no favourable wind for he who knows not where he is heading. Seneca

ما من ريح مؤاتية لمن لايعرف أين يذهب ـ سنك

Hassan 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, speeches

"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

abstract from Calligraphies d'amour Hassan Massoudy, Albin Michel publisher, Paris 2004

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.

The 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.

I pare 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 gesture.

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.

You 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.

This 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 very simple.

If 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 start again.

A new 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.

When 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.

The 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.

another text : by Hassan Massoudy Printed 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.
Wijdan Al-Hashemi


Books in English :

calligraphies of love
The Calligraphies of LoveGestures of Light
Calligraphy by Hassan Massoudy
Introduction by Saeb Egner
Published by Saqi, London, 2017
Gestures of Light
Gestures of Light, the art of Hassan MassoudyGestures of Light
Published by Abu Dhabi Festival, 2012 english/arabic
Produced by October Gallery
278 pages, 90 calligraphies.
Calligrapher's Garden
The Calligrapher's GardenGestures of Light
Calligraphy by Hassan Massoudy
Introduction by Venetia Porter, British Museum
Published by Saqi, London, 2010 and 2012
128 pages, 57 calligraphies. english/arabic

Perfect Harmony

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.

instagram calligraphy on Instagram

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