Talking about myself, life, and memories in great detail, is not my favorite thing to do, so I hope a few pages will shed light on these parts of my life.
In the beautiful Mediterranean, city of Latakia, amongst the aroma of old civilizations, the land where the first alphabet was born, I saw the light of life. It carried to me the inspiration for colors and forms, the sun, the moon, the trees, and the waves. I remember the harsh and angry face of my teacher that made me push towards success. After the end of the school year I would have proved to my colleagues that I could pass amongst the honor students.
Further on during secondary school, I thought that this period of my life would enable me to practice my beloved hobby towards colors and forms when a cruel incident broke my dreams. It was our new sturdy school principal who was staring at us in silence. He called me down and when I got close, he slapped me with both hands on my cheeks for no reason whatsoever. That very moment he converted my confidence and hopefulness to sorrow. I was shocked and immediately looked for an explanation, then I was told by an elder student that the principal used to do this with every new class to impose his will and to pass the indirect message to all students that rules at this school couldn’t be ignored or as he said, “broken.” However the funny part of all of this is that I was the victim of his policy.
This sad initiation for me at the middle school and to my good luck did not affect my fantasy with art. It did not influence my determination to practice art and enjoy the world of colors and forms.
Thereafter, at that period of middle school I started to practice painting and finished many paintings; among those was a charcoal portrait for Mozart done in 1949. I showed this portrait to my teacher, Mr. Kheieddin Al Ayyobi, who was impressed with it and consequently, he accompanied me to the Musical Club, which at that time was a club for the elite intellectual people of Latakia. However, I do remember that the club members were impressed with my portrait and they decided to mount this painting at the main repletion hall of the club, and so I was admitted as an honorary member, despite my young age.
Years later, the Musical Club members through their regular cultural activities, have organized many individual and group art exhibitions for Latakia artists. I had the chance to be one of those who exhibited their work at the Musical Club. These exhibitions sometimes included competitions led by a jury committee consisting of the most famous artists from Syria and Lebanon; among them were Alfred Bakhash, Mustapha Faroukh, Mahmoud Ajjana and Fathi Mohamed.
However, I participated once for those painting exhibitions with my famous painting “Mozart”, which entitled me to win the first prize and to be granted by the exhibition committee, the silver cup of the competition. I failed in the middle school exam, which caused me to be transferred from my public school to another private school called “Holy Land” or “Terra Santa.” This school, at the time, had a famous principal’s name: Father Stephan Salem. He was known for his fine art interest. At the new school I had a new task beside my study which was teaching art and drawing for students of the intermediate and secondary school. I remember teaching made me happy because I was enacting the role of a teacher just by wearing a suit and a tie. I was lucky that I won the love and the respect of the students. I remember I had to punish a student one time so I asked him to open his hand so I could hit him with my teaching stick as teachers did. I was surprised with his fast response. He looked at me with guilt and said, “Hit me as you wish, and if another teacher were to do so I wouldn’t allow them to.” I decided to forgive him after he said these words.
In addition to my task as a teacher, I performed many activities that were related to fine art. I had art exhibitions for our talented students like George Aashi and Jamil Al Turuk; I personally participated at these exhibitions with some of my collection of paintings to “Father Stephan Salem” and “The Pope”, the city governor and some other paintings. During my secondary education at this school I practiced painting and did many portraits in oil. One of my great achievements in portraits in 1954 was the painting for Sheikh Aref Al Soufi, one of the famous people in Latakia, and this I copied from a small black and white photo. Then and at the same year I painted Sheikh Aref’s wife and many other paintings of mutual nature. At this stage I had built a good friendship with famous artists like Ibrahim Hazeemeh, George Jannora, and Ramzi Kayyelo. Furthermore, I had built a strong and everlasting friendship with famous cinema actors, Marwan Haddad, Bahij Osta, Samir Osta, Burhan Helal, Noafal Asshi, and passed Khaled Horiyeh, Adham Odaymeh, and Khalid Shureki.
During 1959 and after getting my General Education Secondary Certificate I had been granted a scholarship to study art and other scientific studies. I can remember some of the students who accompanied me to Cairo, in painting and sculptures were Ziad Al Romi, Nazir Naba’a, Adham Qutrash, and Wadie Rahmeh. In music were Ziad Ajjan and Widad Jandali, and in drama were Assad Fedha, Ali Auqla Ersan, and Khuder Al Shaar. When we arrived at Cairo I rented an apartment at a district called Al Ajoza and my roommates at that time were the famous Syrian actors, Mr. Asad Fedah and . Khuder Al Shaar. At this apartment and at that time, we spent one of the most beautiful periods of my life in Egypt. The only thing that disturbed us that the cultural attaché of our embassy in Cairo had asked all the students of The Fine Arts to be enrolled at the Institute of Art Education instead of the enrollment at The College of Fine Arts, because he thought that we were supposed, upon our return to Syria, to teach at preparatory and secondary schools. He just drove us crazy. We had refused this in a telegram sent to Syria and we asked him to accept our demand in joining The College of Fine Arts. Consequently, the late Mahmoud Jalal, the first inspector of Fine Arts in Syria, supported our appeal and we were admitted to The College of Fine Arts.
We started our education with pleasure at the College of Fine Arts in Cairo, and I clearly remember my Syrian classmate at my same level of the department in painting, Nasha Al Zuobi. In the higher level were Ghazi Al Khaldi, Laila Nuseir, and Mumtaz Bahra. While at the Department of Sculpturing, I remember Adnan Anjileh and the department of Interior Design, Maad Orfali and Yehya Al Azem and at a later time I remember that Elias El Zayyat had transferred from Bulgaria and joined us in Cairo.
During the summer holiday of my first year, I returned to Latakia and did another painting exhibition from home work I had made before my admission to college. This exhibition included some nature views from the famous town of Kasab, showing silent nature and portraits. At this stage of my work I could describe it as an inspiration from the work of the famous French painter, Paul Cezanne.
During my second year in Cairo, I rented a new apartment and my roommates were Maad Orfali and Farouq Buqaily, who was famous for his funny tricks. Once we decided to play a trick on our friend Ziad Al Roumi. We decided to bring him a ferocious, huge dog that belonged to one of our friends. Ziad knew that we were planning for this trick and he managed to get out of this trap and I was the one who fell into it instead. The huge ferocious dog ran after me and while I was trying to escape I hit a pole near the street and injured my nose. That was definitely not funny. I remember a well known saying; “Whoever digs a hole for his friends will fall in it.” ends will fall in it.”
However, during this year we learned and practiced painting with oil and I had painted an old woman as a portrait and this painting had been graded with a 95 out of 100. I remember how I received the compliments of my teachers and particularly the famous artist in Egypt, Izzedin Hammodeh. I considered Hammodeh’s giving any importance to my career as a great compliment as it was very rare that Hammodeh gave any compliments and particularly to students. We soon became friends and I usually met with him and Yousef Francis, who was a dean in Painting Faculty, at Ghazi Al Khalid’s house to discuss art.
New Year’s night of that year, we had a get together and celebrated the evening at a party. However in the third year I got along well with Ghazi Al Khaldi who was known for his sweet character, funny personality and faithfulness. We became roommates, and rented an apartment at Al Zamalek where we spent lovely times. As for my academic and artistic production during the third year, the object of our paintings became multiple subjects, particularly nudity and portraits in oil on canvas.
In my fourth year of study, Ghazi Al Khaldi had completed his studies in Cairo and returned to Syria. I remained at the same apartment again with Assad Fedha and Khuder Al Sha’ar as my roommates. My new roommates and I used to go out and attend shows. It was a good experience for me to learn more about the theatre production career, particularly theatre management and directory. This experience enabled me upon my return to Latakia to become a director for the famous drama of the French dramatist “Moliere” called (The Nephew The Uncle), which was performed by the Dramatic Team of the Latakian Cultural Center. Many journalists have written about this work and how I juggled the tasks of being a drama director, fashion designer, make-up artist, and decorator. During my fourth year at the College of Fine Arts at Cairo, I started to change my academic style to try new subjects, new techniques, and new model. This line remained through all the fourth year.
My fifth and final year in College I lived alone in Al Ajouza district. I returned to paint with my original style. I presented my graduation project entitled “Construction Workers” as I was inspired with my house neighborhood which had (at that time) intensive construction movement. Those activities of construction drew my attention as it had many processes, appliances, drilling equipment, wooden constructions, the way of mixing the cement and the shape of the workers at their relaxing times.
During my work with my graduation project I remember many funny memories with my colleagues. One of those memories was at Mr. Husni Al Banani’s farm, when he invited all the graduates to celebrate. Mr. Husni Al Banani served us delicious food and he gave each of us a duck drumstick. It was so tasty that I turned toward my friend Sabri Mansour, and I snatched his drumstick and ate it at once. He couldn’t rescue it from me so the only thing that he could do was to scream at me, while I just laughed as everybody else did.
My life in Egypt gave me a great chance to visit the famous antiquities of Egypt. I visited Port Said, Alexandria, Ain Al Suhne, Luxor, and Aswan. Those visits’s accumulated many beautiful memories, and those memories were registered with either photographs or drawings.
In 1964 I graduated and returned to Latakia, upon my return I was assigned to be a teacher at Jol Jammal Secondary School for boys, and the secondary school for girls, besides teaching the Girls and Boys Training Teaching school. I can clearly remember the faces of my students, and one of those girls was shy, she drew my attention because she would turn red every time I talked to her. I loved her and I still love her because she became my beloved wife.
After several art exhibitions in Latakia, I had another exhibition at the Arab Cultural Center in Damascus where I exhibited most of my college work. It left a positive impression with all the visitors, but unfortunately I lost most of this work when a flood destroyed it in the basement of my studio.
Soon I was hired to be a director for The Figurative Arts Center in Latakia. At this center many of my colleagues were teaching and cooperating with me, such as Lelia Nusair, Ahmed Darwish, and Zakariya Shuraiki. We all worked together in a friendly environment where our students were giving most of the national Syrian awards in the yearly fine art competitions. my return from Egypt most of my art was towards abstraction and sculpturing until 1970, when I was granted a scholarship for postgraduate studies in France with Izzedin Shammut and Ghassan Sibaee, particularly to the National School of Fine Art in Paris. I traveled to France to proceed with my studying and left my wife in Syria, and my two daughters Rana and Rama. I planned to get the house ready and then they would join me in France. There the cultural attaché at the Syrian Embassy instructed Izzedin and me to leave for Montpelier and join the language school at Southern France, while Ghassan Sibaee remained in Paris.
At Montpelier I rented a flat and prepared it to meet my wife and daughters. It could not happen because at that time my father in-law had passed away. After completing the French Language course in Montpelier I returned to Paris, where I started looking for an apartment that could house a family with two small daughters, which was a difficult task in Paris. Finally, I found an apartment and rented it and immediately took flight back to Syria to bring my family. Then I returned to Paris with my family, when I entered the apartment I found that most of the furniture had been taken by the flat owner, who proclaimed that I had not told her that I had a family with two daughters, despite the fact that I had told her before. We had to live in a hotel for a while.
During our stay at the hotel I met a Tunisian man while I was shopping, (he was the store owner). He helped me find an old apartment that was for sale. I bought the apartment and with the help of my wife I renovated it to match our minimum demands.
My academic experience in Paris was an experimental period where I was affected by the modern schools and my works became more near to cubism, surrealism, impressionism and sometimes abstract art. Furthermore, I have studied sculpturing.
1974 I finished my h igher education and got two high diplomas of the National School of Art in both painting and sculpting. Afterwards I returned to Damascus and was assigned as faculty member at The College of Fine Arts at the University of Damascus, which caused me to come over and settle at the capital city, at this time my wife delivered our first baby boy and named him Izzedin as my recently dead father was named.
At the college of Fine Arts in Damascus I taught two majors, painting and sculpting, but during the academic year (19801981/) I started to teach painting only, thus during that academic year I was assigned as college secretary for scientific affairs. The same year I was promoted to become assistant teacher, and my second son was born whom I called Alaa.
In 1982 I was assigned as Dean for The College of Fine Arts. I remained in this position for more than 11 years. In 1992 my beloved mother passed away and I painted for her a beautiful portrait. I was assigned as head for the department of Figurative Arts between 1992 and 2002.
In the year 2002, I was delegated to the United States of America in a scientific research mission that being hosted at the University of Nebraska in Omaha where I met so many American artists and exhibited with them. I did many exhibitions and lectures about Syrian Modern Figurative Arts.
I can conclude my main artistic periods since my return from France as follows:
Public Bath paintings: This period lasted long which was an inspiration and effects from the traditional bath houses in the Mediterranean region, confirming that many developments and processes happened during this period. There was some development with the backgrounds, human figures, and influences of Pharaohs Art of Old Egypt. Those paintings contained many perspective elements of the bath houses like the columns, arches, and floors ornamented with squares. After the Baths period, I started to change the background of the shots, as I left the rear perspectives with color schemes to become interwoven with human figures in a way that serves the construction.
In 2001, I painted two females in a manner that reminds me of my early periods. After my research mission in the USA I started to proceed with that type of subjects and worked on the development of this style.
However, the main features of my drawings, I can summarize as follows:
Harmony in colors and the hue of the sole color.
The distribution of lights is very vital and important in any of my work, where I choose light sources in a way that enhances my work.
Color contrasts (the dark and the light). The important care of the construction concept is essential for the painting.
This is all clear in my works in the individual and group exhibitions that I had participated in and out of my country. My sculpture work was small before my departure to Egypt. During my stay in Egypt, I carved a face with an old Egyptian style. Then I carved many types of wooden pipes with sheep and a snake’s head. Upon my return from Egypt, I carved a face for an African girl and others.
In France, in addition to my postgraduate studies in painting and figurative art, I studied sculpting and obtained a higher degree. However, my main work that I carved in France was a circle of dancing females.
Upon my return from France I participated in many competitions. One among those competitions was the statue of President Hafez Al Assad at The University of Damascus standing and laying his hand on some books, wearing the university uniform. Behind him there is wall and on it, a sculpture which represents the university life. Another one was for President Al Assad at Teshreen University of Latakia. The position at Latakia of the president presented him carrying in his right hand the legislation decree for establishing this university. Behind him there is a wall and on it a sculpture which also represents the university life.
Furthermore, in Latakia I added another presidential statue at the main square of Sheikh Daher. The sculpture was of the president while he was hailing his people and for the statue background, I carved a memorial wall that represents ordinary life of Latakia. I have repeated the copy of the same statue at Qerdaha the birth city of President Al Assad, and in addition to this, I have worked on the memorial logo of Al Baath Party which is representing the logo of the party on each wing of the pigeon as part of the memorial.
I’ve carved much more work of a farmer girl who was carrying a water jug and another statue for a girl‘s face which denotes the new modern style in my work. I erected several statues with my colleague Dr. Fouad Dahdouh. That work was varied, but the most famous two of them are a giant statue for late president Hafez Al Assad with a 13 meter height made of polyester that was erected at Al Baath University in Homs, and the other was a bronze statue of a horseman that represents the late famous son of president Al Assad Lt. Basel Al Assad riding his horse, Al Aghar. I have also done some other half body statues for them, in Tartous.
Finally I would like to confirm that during this short biography, I have only quoted the most important parts of my career that show a sincere and honest scope of my life