'So the surface of a canvas with its infinite possibilities expressing the 'ego' can easily accommodate the positive force of the letters of the alphabet and absorb them into the realm of the painting. Consequently, the use of the letters of the alphabet as an art form is nothing more than a version of the contemplative vision'.
(The artist quoted in Sartec/Ministry of Information of the Iraqi Republic (eds.), Iraq Contemporary Art Vol.1 Painting, Milan 1977, p. 118).
A practicing theorist, teacher and historian, the acclaimed Iraqi Modernist Shaker Hassan Al Said has contributed what has come to form a body of doctrine with considerable influence on the direction of the Iraqi art movement through an exceptional amount of reflections and writings. Christie's is honoured to be offering four works in this auction by one of Iraq's most significant and prolific artists from the Private Collection of Maath Alousi. Presenting a comprehensive assortment of works from the artist's early period up until his later well-known Wall compositions, these groupings reflect the deep thinking that cements Al Said as unrivalled in his synthesis of Islam, Modernity and a regional Arab identity.
A co-founder of the influential Baghdad Modern Art Group with renowned Iraqi artist Jewad Selim in 1951, it was Al Said's establishment of the One Dimension Group in 1971, which truly allowed the artist to stand out. The artist thus explored the visualisation and philosophy of Arabic script in Modern art under the influence of Sufism. The present lot is a seminal work that provides a beautiful example of the artist's search for freedom in the simplest form of individual letters. In this sense Al Said's focus is turned away from the highly stylised and rule laden calligraphy of Arab tradition, exemplifying the notion of the spiritual in art through abstraction.
In this work, Al Said conjures up the image of an old derelict wall; it appears ancient and worn but anchors itself in the modern context through graffiti and abstract splashes of paint. Random letters and numbers are roughly incorporated into a series of geometric bursts of colour. The artist attempts to explore the dimensions of space and time that become apparent when he connects the two-dimensional panel with non-dimensional space through the slashes, cuts and cracks in his 'wall'. Transcending the pictorial surface, its existence is only represented through dimensions: space is transformed to dimension and then dimension to non-dimension.
As such, even scribbles on an old derelict wall - hints of graffiti that serve as a note to time and al azal (eternity) - became a means of instigating a state of mind akin to an intense trance, much in the same way as the intense meditative state that was of deep religious importance to the Sufis. In this sense, the notion of One Dimension was a referral to the one dimension that could connect Man with God.
Painted in 1984, the present lot is particularly poignant within the context of Iraq's history, especially within the midst of the horrifying Iran-Iraq war. Al Said was notoriously affected by the deteriorating situation in Iraq that continued even into the 2000s. As a result, this became an underlying theme in his work, which he termed 'the experience of environmental truth in art'. Expressive in its colour palette, texture and sense of depth, this work captures the essence of Al Said's artistic magnificence.