Ayyam gallery Dubai is pleased to present an exhibition of works by the late Moustapha Fathi (1942-2009). To be held March 8 – April 17, this solo show in memoriam will highlight one of Syria’s pioneers of contemporary art and will be accompanied by a catalog spanning two decades of the artist’s work.
Born in Deraa, Fathi received a Diploma in Engraving from the Faculty of Fine Arts in Damascus in 1966 and a Diploma in Engraving and Lithography from the Ecole Superieure des Beaux Arts in Paris in 1978. Throughout his career he exhibited regularly at home and abroad, most notably in a number of important French institutions, including the Picasso Museum in Antibes, which acquired one of his works.
Between 1966 and 1987, he taught at the Faculty of Fine Arts, a position that solidified his participation in the Damascus art scene. A significant figure as both an academic and practicing artist, Fathi was part of a generation that worked not only amidst Syria’s heyday in modernism but also during its emergence into new frontiers. As such, his work possesses elements of modernist approaches blended with recent experiments in art, a combination that pioneered the country’s contemporary painting.
This is most evident in his interest in traditional Syrian folk art, which he pursued with extensive research in the late 1980s. The impact of this study is evident in the abstract canvases for which he is best known. Inspired by woodblock printing techniques and seals made by local artisans, Fathi fashioned a unique style of art that distinguished him among his Syrian colleagues. Yet by reviving a local tradition and infusing it with contemporary modes of representation, he was part of a ground-breaking school of Arab art that sought to further visual culture while tapping into notions of memory and time through explorations of the past.
The artist once confirmed, “I derive my inspiration from shapes. Shape has taken a long journey until it took its final configuration. Tools are a form of human thought. They are the trace of the human being. They are human being themselves. I like a tool and it always captures my attention, not because it is a scene, but because it is a living thought. Paintings, on the other hand, are an accumulation of the images and shapes of tools and stones in my head.”
With hundreds of woodblocks that he carved himself, Fathi created intricate mixed media canvases that employed elements of abstract expressionism, Islamic art and ancient hieroglyphics There are traces of the early work of abstract expressionist painters Jackson Pollack and Lee Krasner, in which inanimate objects are layered at random as a means of creating depth and space, yet the fashioning of an image with a centralized composition and a background of a solid color field harks back to the tapestries of Bedouin societies. His palette frequently employed shades of black, brown, white and grey—earth tones that evoke Syria’s varied landscape and a return to the use of everyday materials as tools of creative expression. In essence, Fathi’s work has its roots in Syria but its vision lies in international art.