Celebrated for his outstanding sculptures, Ismail Fattah, being as proficient a painter as a sculptor, has long been regarded as one of Iraq’s leading Modern artists, along with his renowned instructor, Jawad Selim. Born in Iraq, he studied at the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad and then went to Rome to pursue his studies in sculpture and ceramics at the Accademia di Belle Arti. Upon his return to Iraq in 1965 he became an active member within the art scene, becoming president of the Society of Iraqi Artists for Abstract Art as well as a founding member of the key group that instigated a new wave in modern Iraqi art; the Baghdad Modern Art Group. Holding a solo exhibition and the National Museum of Modern Art of both sculptures and paintings that conveyed a concern for the experience of humankind in its wider global context and the relationship of the human body and the void, his new style contributed considerably in a new approach to art within the Baghdad scene. He later co-founded the well-known New Vision Group with close friend Dia Al-Azzawi, uniting fellow artists ideologically and culturally as opposed to stylistically.
In the present work, Fattah represents a face, as the title of the piece suggests, a recurring theme in the artist’s creative painting journey. Inspired by Assyrian, Sumerian and Mesopotamian iconography, the artist’s main objective is to express his Iraqi themes in a manner related to the present. Like many of his period, he worked on reconciling his country’s traditions with modern techniques, resulting in a very unique style. Executed in 1988, this illustration could be construed as a commemoration of the fallen soldiers of the detrimental 1979-1988 Iran-Iraq War that had long ravished and pillaged the soul and spirit of the Iraqi people. The striking red expressive lines across the composition references the blood shed by these Iraqi honourable fighters and civilians alike. While the aggressive colour palette adopted adds a melancholic side to the dejected facial expression of the character, the bold brushstrokes show how the artist always portrays his faces with a certain strength as a reflection of his own resilient soul. This style also highlights a sense of underlying hope in an unsteady social and political context. The close-up frame chosen by the artist accentuates the societal constraints of the figure whose freedom is limited as a consequence of the unsteady situation.
Face exhibits a contrast between figuration and abstraction, often observed in Fattah’s art works. While the figure's silhouette is clearly visible, artist's colour palette implies a sense of departure away from representational qualities, unleashing the viewer’s imagination. Primarily following this strategy in his sculptures, the artist often adopted a similar practice in his paintings. As such, the use of the two-dimensionality afforded to his paintings release a spiritual tension that Fattah could not effectively portray his ideas through three-dimensional compositions. Full of exuberant passion and simultaneous melancholy, Face is a captivating and powerful example of the artist’s ability to transcend various notions of media to instil a sense of pride, sadness and hope within one composition.