Fateh Moudarres (Syrian, 1922-1999)
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Fateh Moudarres (Syrian, 1922-1999)


Fateh Moudarres (Syrian, 1922-1999)
signed in Arabic, signed ‘Moudarres’ (lower right)
oil on canvas
49 ¼ x 88 ½ in. (125 x 225cm.)
(2)Painted circa early 1980s
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner.
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Lot Essay

Undeniably one of the most intriguing and captivating life journeys in both Syrian Modern history and Levantine art movements, acclaimed artist Fateh Moudarres' distinctive signature continues to dazzle, charm and inspire all those who come across his works. Throughout his long and prolific life and career Fateh Moudarres managed to create a school of artistic thinking and expression in himself. The richness and diversity of his experience not only in fine arts, but in poetry and writing as well, remain an inspiration to the generation of Syrian and Arab artists of today, particularly in the multiple and meticulous means of expressions he adopted to present his thoughts and ideologies. Few subjects define his oeuvre; his personal life tragedies, Modern Arab politics and ideologies and ancient Civilisations. A main witness of the development of the Modern Arab age, Moudarres' was clear in his choices and his positions, siding with the oppressed and the poor, expressing himself, indirectly, through his painting. With a developed aesthetic that was rooted in the region, despite his exposure to Western and international schools of art such as in Italy and France where he studied, Moudarres continued to use the heritage of his native homeland to create a distinct style that is quintessentially his.
Moudarres' father was brutally killed when the artist was less than two years old. Although it happened while he was still rather young, this event left a deep impact on him and whenever his childhood was recalled, Moudarres used to consider the killing as a turning point in life. This had an important impact on his formation and perspective on life, explaining certain aspects through his painted compositions. Forced to relocate to Aleppo from the rural village of Harita, where he had felt safe with the refuge of his mother's care, Moudarres would in turn hold very dear the memories of his native surroundings and incorporate them into his works. As a result, many of his paintings shift back and forth between themes of martyrdom, crucifixion and departure, which Fateh expressed in most of what he produced. Later when he was to marry, tragedy would also strike when his two children passed away leaving him profoundly devastated.
The figurative representations in Moudarres' oeuvre come from two straits of his unconscious; combining his childhood memories with those of his homeland. Fateh's childhood had a strong impact on his life and art, influencing him more than it did others, as if it had always been with him in many forms. Although time and his travelling experience shaped, refined and at times changed him, childhood was his main theme from beginning to end, disappearing at times only to reappear again stronger.
Besides childhood and death, the artist was influenced by the turbulent events in the region; the French occupation, the Palestinian question, the Lebanese Civil War and the downfall of Pan Arabism and Arab Nationalism. As a witness to the unravelling of these events, Moudarres would take the opportunity to use his visual expression on canvas to imply his political expression through metaphor. In intricate depictions of rich tapestry-like compositions of captivating faces as if fragments of mosaics, Moudarres would re-appropriate mythological subjects harking back to the archaeological traditions of the Canaanites, Aramaic and Assyrians that are present in Palmyra, Mari, Ibla, Maaloula and Saidnaya, into political satire which thus became elements of his staggering success.
Christie's is proud to present a seminal work by the artist from the 1980s that shows the artist's mastery and craft in shaping what has become an art history rich with deep rooted symbolism. One of the few rare works by the artist of this size and scale, it exemplifies the artist's ability to delve into thousands of years of civilisation to rewrite a new chapter of history whilst creating a modern visual language. Much like the world record for the artist at auction, Untitled from 1967, which achieved $374,500 at Christie's Dubai in October 2010 and Untitled from 1980, which achieved $315,750 at Christie's Dubai in October 2013, a sea of faces fill the expansive canvas in a dense and powerful multi-layered composition. Although confined within the boundaries of his canvas, as if huddled in unity, the figures he uses employ a sort of psychological tension through their solitude, rendering them simultaneously mysterious, monstrous, ambiguous, naïve and expressive, oblivious yet knowledgeable, profane yet mythical. Using thick black lines that are reminiscent of Mamlouk Damascene architecture, Moudarres creates an amalgamation of faces in a totemic fashion - yet another reference to Assyrian architecture; some hinted at faintly in the background, others prominently coming to the fore of the composition. Despite their strong presence, upon closer view, one realises that although their eyes may in some cases remain open, their mouths remain closed. Emerging with apparent fear, their silence speaks of their inability to express themselves, a metaphor for the inability for Syrians and Arabs to express their own personal political and social opinions, which Moudarres was not shy to criticise. Each of the figures' square faces hard back to the archaeological traditions of the region's history. By employing the use of historical visual codes into a modern context, the artist is clearly highlighting the repetition and inevitability of history, violence and political upheaval.
Within Untitled's magical multi-layered composition the relation between line, colour, movement and light is tightly-knitted. A heavy and overpowering palette of red fills the canvas with an intensity that is akin to the passion of the artist, the brutality of the current events of the 1980s while brashly speaking of a quiet violence that can be challenging. Moudarres would recurrently use the colour red throughout many of his works, it was a colour he adored and glorified for its intensity. It would also reference the deep rich red and ochre soil of his beloved hometown, which with the browns and beiges he would incorporate, hint at the mountains that provided him with solace and serenity. Shining bright with an intensity that is often reserved for the intense heat of the sun, in the present work, Moudarres uses his signature colour palette for his depiction of peasants from the village to exemplify the notion that the masses were the solid foundations on which a city could be built. These peasants are essentially the land itself, the foundations for the better future filled with hope that implies a sense of renewal that comes as if they emerge from the ashes.
Although his works are underlyingly dark in their nature, they also hold within them a sense of beauty and goodness that radiates a fundamental sense of optimism. A closer look at the composition reveals elements that hint to the hope of a better future; touches of white and pink scattered throughout help to extinguish and satiate his use of fiery reds. In the centre of the crowd a bright and luminous stroke of green as an olive branch stem emerges out of the canvas in the hands of the smiling figure. Meant to signify peace and the hope for a new life, it is clear that Moudarres' intention is to inspire his viewers to come together and unite against the tragic events that had already plagued Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Palestine for peace. His depiction of the hand, almost three dimensional in quality, immediately stands out in stark contrast to the faded figures in the background, implying that peace conquers all.
Fateh Moudarres intended to have an exhibition of his works before 1982 and so between 1975 and 1982, he painted a group of large works that were limited in number. These spoke of the tragedies that had afflicted the region and varied between horizontal and vertical orientations that are reminiscent of ancient cave and wall paintings. However as events unravelled in Lebanon during the Civil War, unrest in Syria led to the assassination of a highly intellectual group of Alawites. In retaliation, the massacre of Hama took place in 1982 and waves of shock rippled through the country as a result. Following this unrest, the authorities stopped all exhibitions of art in Syria until 1991 when galleries began to open up again. As a result many of these large works by the artist remained hidden in his studio or in private hands and became difficult to trace. To this end, the top three world records for the artist's work at auction are of a similar size, yet none are as full in composition or as vibrant as the present work in a horizontal format. A rare jewel from the artist's oeuvre, Untitled is thus the ultimate collector's piece.

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