A notable figure in the Iraqi art scene since the mid-1960s, Salim Al Dabbagh is referred to as the master painter of Black. The artist articulates abstraction in shape and colour, painting the emptiness with highly contrasted black and white spaces. Trained as one of the first graphic printmakers in Iraq, he utilises natural elements deeply embedded within his Iraqi culture.
The present work is an interesting composition resonating with the complexities of those artists such as Shaker Hassan Al Said. Connected to Iraq, amidst the intensity of political conflicts in the late 1950s, he trained under modern masters such as Faeq Hassan and Jewad Selim, and in 1965 he formed the art group ‘Al Mujaddidin’ (The Innovators), noted for their eagerness to experiment with different media. Well verse in European styles and trends, Dabbagh introduced these practices within his works, and his black and white abstract works are a testament to his ability to articulate Western and Eastern approaches.
Al Dabbagh’s unique artistic vision sought like other artists during the 1960s to rebel against the classical painting methods and instead explore the spatial dimensions through an attention to textured surfaces. The present work adheres to Dabbagh’s exploration into mass and space. As the artist states, ‘I used space as an analogue to the mass. I’m now going through a difficult phase, as I’m trying to find a way out of. The more space grows in my paintings, the emptier I feel’ (the artist in interview with Saad Hadi, Elpah, 2003). Large rectangular structures appear in the present composition, and despite their large size and overwhelming presence, their lighter shades on the delicately painted facades also make them feel translucent and empty, introducing a delicate interplay between a vacuum and volume.
Furthermore, these delicately painted forms and textures on the surface derive from the transparent textiles used in Bedouin tents woven from goat hair and adorned in rugs. Remembering this, the artist states ‘I was surrounded by quantum of blackness..even my night dreams are seen in black and white’ (Artist in conversation with May Muzafar).