Faiq Hassan is often referred to as the father of Iraqi modern art. During his artistic career he took on many roles within the burgeoning Iraqi art scene, including educator and founder. In the crucial decades of the 1940s and 50s, Hassan was devoted to the creation of an art form that would express the growing feelings of national pride amongst Iraqi citizens. He was also interested in developing his own technical skill and that of his students. In later decades, Hassan would remain a leading artist in Iraq and his artistic legacy continues to be a powerful influence.
Born in Baghdad in 1914, Hassan remembers his childhood as a series of art experiments, as he would master one media and move on to the next. A typical experiment involved mud from the Tigris River sculpted in the shape of horses and people. He did not consider himself bright in the traditional sense as he neglected his schoolwork. His talent for art-making, however, developed with ease and he was encouraged by his teachers. One teacher in particular, the artist Muhammad Khidir, became Hassan's mentor and artistic example. He considered Khidir a master of color subtleties, whose work would later point the way for Hassan's own investigations into color theory.
Hassan's artistic aptitude was awarded in 1933 when he became the second recipient of a government-funded scholarship to study art in Europe. He travelled to France and enrolled at the Ècole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. In Paris, Hassan had a fairly traditional education in the arts. He participated in art history and studio classes while completing art projects based on copying master works. Hassan was also introduced to important figures of European modernism. He was especially impressed with artists like Matisse and Delacroix, paying specific attention to their use of color. Like many art students, Hassan spent his years in Paris synthesizing aspects of his education and life experiences into a workable artistic practice. Thus, these were days of exploration and a growing awareness of the international art scene.
Hassan returned to Baghdad after receiving his degree in 1938. Soon after, he accepted a position at the Institute of Fine Art in Baghdad as the director of the Department of Painting and Sculpture. During his tenure at the institute, which continued until 1962, Hassan introduced courses based on Western painting techniques, as well as classes for the study of Islamic and Arab folk arts, like pottery and metalwork. He also went to great lengths to develop the efficacy of the department by training future teachers and procuring basic art supplies and gypsum models. In conjunction with his job as an administrator, Hassan was an involved teacher. He taught courses on color theory, perspective, anatomy, and design, as well as classes in art history. He encouraged his students to search their local surroundings for inspiration while honing their technical skills. Hassan took student development as a personal responsibility and made it his duty to oversee the first generation of artists to graduate from the institute. Over the next decade, the institute became the center of artistic activity and Hassan's reputation as a leading figure in Iraqi art education was firmly established.
Coupled with his work as an educator, Hassan participated in numerous art groups that brought artists together in collective interaction and exhibition, including the Society of the Friends of Art. In 1950, Hassan founded the group Ar-ruwwād, or the Pioneers, that began under the name Société Primitive. The group started as a loose association of artists that went on trips to the outskirts of Baghdad to explore life outside of the cosmopolitan city center. The Pioneers did not publish a group manifesto, but there was a shared desire amongst the participants to shed the confines of the artist studio and paint directly from the surrounding environment. The group exhibited in a private home until the National Museum of Modern Art in Baghdad was established in 1962. In 1967, Faiq Hassan formed another art group known as Az-Zawiya, or the Angle. Formed as a reaction to the Arab-Israeli June War, the group had a powerful message informed by the political and nationalistic aims which art making could advance. Ultimately, this collective was short-lived, only exhibiting once. However, the group was made up of influential artists, like Ismail Fattah, Mohammed Ghani Hikmet, and Kadhim Hayder.
Hassan's own artistic practice was marked by technical skill and variation. Throughout his career he experimented with various art styles and has been labeled a primitivist, an impressionist, and a cubist. These distinctions are up for debate, but what is certain is that Hassan had an expert acuteness for artistic techniques that was acknowledged by his students and colleagues. Specifically, Hassan was a master of color. He took great pride in his chemical knowledge of each pigment and in experimenting with their compositions. He even remarked that a good painter was one who possessed a complex understanding of color technology. Color to Hassan was not a symbol in and of itself but was the connective tissue that drew the composition together.
Despite Hassan's technical prowess, he asserted that technique was not the ultimate aim of his artistic production. To him technique was merely a means of expression. The real essence of Hassan's work was his ability to capture the spirit of everyday Iraqi life. Indeed, his subject matter was taken from the environs of Iraq. Villagers, workers, horsemen, and landscapes dominate his oeuvre and are depicted with an emotive delicateness, no matter the style. Hassan's most famous works of Arab Horsemen were executed with fervently rough brushstrokes creating a dynamic and, oftentimes, romantic rendering of their subjects. A majority of Hassan's earlier works, however, were abstract and linear. During his career, Hassan also showed a penchant for realism with his portraits of Kurdish men and Arab Bedouins. Through these works Hassan's demonstrates the range of his artistic ability, as well as his dedication to recording a sense of "Iraqiness" that was consistent with the nationalist sentiments of his time.
Due to his incredible talent as a painter and his dedication to education, Hassan is remembered today as "the master" or "the teacher." Certainly he played a major role in the development of Iraqi modern art and his importance cannot be overstated.
|1985||Faiq Hassan and Jewad Selim Memorial Exhibition, Baghdad, Iraq|
|1971||Solo-Exhibition, Baghdad, Iraq|
|1967||Exhibition of the Az-Zawiya (The Angle) group, Baghdad, Iraq|
|1967||Solo-Exhibition, Baghdad, Iraq|
|1966|| Exhibition in Washington DC, United States of America|
|1964||Contemporary Iraqi Art Group Exhibition, Beirut, Lebanon|
|1962||Solo-Exhibition, Baghdad, Iraq|
|1957||The Baghdad Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture, Al-Mansur Club, Baghdad, Iraq|
|1952||Avicenna Exhibition, Baghdad, Iraq|
|1950 - 1967||Exhibitions of the Pioneers|
|1946||Exhibition of the Society of Iraqi Plastic Arts, Baghdad, Iraq |
|1943 ||Exhibition of the Friends of Art Society, Baghdad, Iraq|
|1943||Permanent Collection of Paintings and Drawings made in Iraq, Directorate General of Antiquities, Baghdad, Iraq|
Awards and Honors
|1964||The Golden Prize at the Gulbenkian Foundation in Iraq|
Nationalism, color, abstraction, realism, impressionism, cubism, primitivism, ar-Ruwwād, The Pioneers, art education, Az-Zawiya, Institute of Fine Art in Baghdad, Ècole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Société Primitive, Baghdad, National Museum of Modern Art in Baghdad.
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- Post Revolution Mural, 1958
Tiran Square, Baghdad, Iraq
- The Tent, 1956
Oil on wood, 60 x 90 cm
Courtesy of the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Art, Amman
- Horseman, n.d
Oil on canvas, dimensions unknown
Modern Art Iraq Archive, MAIA (artiraq.org)
- Title unknown, 1942
Oil on paper mounted on canvas, 26.3 x 24.3 cm
Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha
- Title unknown, n.d
Gouache, pencil and charcoal on paper, 38 x 30 cm
Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha