Dr. Mahmoud Shahin

in Experiences of the Artist Khaled Al Maz

Certainly, Syrian modern painting achieved a considerable attendance locally and internationally, thanks to an excellently skilled group of its leaders. Syrian plastic art is important for a lot of reasons. The most important reason is that painting was the oldest form in the Syrian plastic art movement, which makes it available to the human experience that early on worked in this field. This status reflected positively on the young generations of Syrian plastic artists. Especially for those who gathered around the earliest leaders of academic painters – since most of the scholarships were in the painting field – and were trained by them or those who were admitted to the Faculty of Fine Art in Damascus University which was established in 1960. This faculty received the most artistic experts to educate there.

The artist Khaled Al Maz was one of the distinguished experts on whose work the Syrian modern painting movement was built. Furthermore, his painting was and still is at the forefront of the school. He is a painter of first rank. The romance of the subject and the romance of his tool are integrated in his painting. He has been an artistic character having special components, distinguished features, and uniqueness with which nobody can compete.

These advantages gathered in the experience of the artist Khaled Al Maz were done to proceed to the first ranks of the modern Syrian painting experience. This is logical and justified when we know the way that Khaled began his art adventure. His real talent pushed him to that, the talent which soon was embodied in reality since several paintings indicate it.

Similar to all active artistic experiences, this experience and several changes which led it quietly and sedately to the visual richness that it has today, displays the progression of his work. It is possible to list those changes in the five stages that follow:

1 – The stage of pre-academic study
It was this stage that preceded his travel to Cairo for his first academic study in the field of painting. The Artist Al Maz displayed a group of oil paintings during his preparatory and secondary study. In those paintings, he dealt with faces and nature, works of art that reflect the real talent that he had when he was in the prime of his youth.

One of the works of this stage was a face from Latakia, in which he dealt with the face of his friend’s grandmother. In this painting, he depended on calm, graduated and harmonious vision, strong drawing, and expressing simplicity especially in the usage of color that showed magnificent harmony, and used good analysis with everything located in its right place. He used dark colors in the woman’s clothes in the background in order to bring out the face. His dealing in a light graduated color and perfect analysis of its features put a deep expressive and impulsive element in it.

The work shows the early tendency of the artist to use quiet harmonious colors, his great ability of analysis, his depending on degrees that are capable of including deep expression and correct understanding of the painting properties. This characteristic continued with him and was revealed in most of his paintings in which he dealt with the same subject.

Another work of that stage was from Kasab, in which he dealt with a side of this beautiful Syrian city, which is close to his birthplace (Latakia), in a simplified realistic style. The light colors, deliberate shortening of elements and the harmony of color and drawing were dominant; in addition to the romantic vision in magic and realism.

In those two early works of art, the Artist Al Maz, depended on color spotting performed by a perceptive paintbrush, an analysis with the eye which shows a deep reaction with the subject. These are the basic steps in painting.

2 – The first Stage of the academic study (Egypt 19591964-)
In this stage, the Artist Khaled Al Maz tended to draw people and recognize the anatomic structure of the human body in an attempt of abstraction and summarization in a way that serves the subject of the painting. Two basic tendencies of his artistic experience appeared:

The first was his interest and confirmation in face expression and hand movement. He gave great importance to face and limbs in drawing and he observed to distinguish them in color from other parts of the body. He employed light colors in clothes and background in order to emphasize the mass of face and hands. This tendency continued with him until it has been a basic tone of his artistic style. This tendency was typically found in his painting (Egyptian Model) which he performed during his study in Egypt and his painting (The Bride) which he performed after his coming back from Egypt, then his paintings (The Artist’s Daughter) and (The Artist’s Mother) and others.

The second is represented in his graduation project in Fine Arts College 1964; which is distinguished by (Building Workers). We find his insistence to handle faces and limbs, his concentration on strong and deep-rooted structure of the human body, deliberate analysis of its elements and spaces, emphasizing the showing of the miserable symbols in it – especially the workers faces and the working tools; in order to bring out the artistry in the background and dark colors for people in an attempt to emphasize expression and to deepen it in the painting, He paid great attention to studying the stance of people during work and movement; whether as a mass – strong and active, or as symbols that embroidered the workers clothes by grafting them in the background.

In spite of the control of the academic spirit to these works of art, a clear unease was founded in the work of his graduation project and other work that preceded the project that indicated the desire of the artist Al Maz to confirm features of distinguished artistic character which is related to him only. In following stages he could draw those features.

3 – Stage of post first academic study
This stage is considered an honest continuity of the last stage with some release from the academic restrictions and a tendency toward romance in the subject of handling. This stage identified with the absence of the subject (work and workers). On the other hand, embodied forms and a tendency in dealing with testing and updating were found. In some paintings, he dealt with people and faces (his mother, wife, and children) with realism, summarization and alertness; or sedate academic realism. In this he kept all basic elements of his previous tendency in lightening the face and limbs, along with his interest in their movement and drawing, consequently darkening the background to show and emphasize the face and limbs. Except for that work, most of his paintings in this stage held a clear modernized tendency, during which the Artist Khaled Al Maz was subject to more than one tendency and had more than one stylistic desire, fluctuating between keeping the embodied form, and adoption of the abstract form. This was based on the mode that the Syrian plastic art movement passed in the middle of the sixties and beginning of the seventies. This was colored with an intense trend toward abstract art. It obsessed most of our artists through the influence of the Italian artist (Largina) who was a visiting professor in the department of painting – Fine Art College in Damascus. He was enthusiastic of the tendency and transferred it to the professors and students of the college.

In spite of the Artist Khaled Al Maz not being one of the teaching staff in the college at that time, the status of tending towards the abstract art and adoption of the European modernity which came to us with Largina and by a lot of European exhibitions which visited us at that time (especially those which were brought by the Ornina exhibition owned by Mahmoud Daahdoush) affected our Syrian artist inside and outside the college and changed into a current that emphasized its existence on our plastic art yard strongly.

This hesitation and confusion of artist Khaled Al Maz between the Egyptian and the Syrian experiences didn’t last long, since he mixed the two tendencies without open declaration of his attitude. Thus, his paintings performed during this stage held an artistic research hesitating and oscillating between abstract and personification in addition to a tendency to literalism in some of his work, but he didn’t continue it.

In other words, the work included all artistic tendencies which possessed his generation and contemporary artists. Therefore, we find a group of mutual advisors between him and them; especially between him and the late Syrian artist (Mahmoud Hammad) who shared the method of structure building and color handling with him. A special note that the artist Hammad adopted the abstract literal mode, while the artist Al Maz adopted the cubic abstraction mode inlaid with the human shape that he entered in the solid geometric form or summarized and modified it in a strong stability, deliberated movement, balanced geometric form in mass and space.

The remarkable note in the work of this stage is that he didn’t give up the transparent, progressive, harmonious colors; or the strong drawing which appeared and emphasized more with the sold geometric form and the realistic mode modified and admixed with an abstract cubic spirit. In a number of works in this stage, he presented an attractive structural form, deliberated as per mass and space; where they got very close to sculpting. We find great interest in the outer line of the structure being separated from the background clearly. This structure often consisted of men and women in position of grace and silent discussion so viewing the beauty of the naked woman body in a modified mode which has continued with him up to this date.

4 – Stage of France (19701974-)
This is the second academic stage which the artist spent in the higher national school of fine arts in Paris.

In spite of the work performed during this time, we can find the direction artist Khaled Al Maz experienced during this stage.

In this work he gathered the modified female shape, which has been adhesive to his experience since the stage in Egypt and which holds the spirit of the old Egyptian art, and inclusion of the modern European tendencies – especially cubism. Thus while the artist lived in Europe, he mixed the characteristics of his basic experience and the characteristic of the modern European art. This is normal for an artist who has lived among the Europeans and studied in their academy and who has a clear readiness for research and trial.

In fact, artist Khaled Al Maz entered the structure of European art and was clearly and greatly influenced by it, but without completely giving up his Eastern experience and its characteristics, which was soon recovered worked upon with his coming back home from France in the next stage.

5 – The stage after France (1974 and up to this day)
This stage which has continued up to this date, is considered the most important, fertile, and mature stage of Khaled, since it forms a deep summarization for all fields that his artistic experience moved through since its beginning. Furthermore, it represents the technical and expressive experiences that integrated and matured the character of the artist Al Maz. It represents the important results that the last stages bring in, after having been specified and developed and its special features being defined.

The artist began this stage of his artistic career while he pursued his role as a dean of the fine arts college in Damascus university in the beginning of the eighties and thereafter. He dealt with the known painting subjects of nature, silent nature, faces, natural female body, and semi-naked body. The paintings in which he dealt with the last subject are the most prominent and important of his production. This subject continued with him up to this day.

In these works of art, the basic structure is built on a group of slim naked and semi-naked female bodies, summarized as per anatomic structure, floating in a sea of calm blueness with white foggy embroidery brocaded with weak signs of a copper color for hands, breasts, and other areas of the female body.

This world that the artist Al Maz dealt with in the paintings of this stage is greatly similar to a misty dream where warm and fresh cold have a dialogue but without clamor and fury, while displaying a lot of comfortable harmony and utmost smoothness. It is a primordial dream open to the four sides of the painting; a dream which soars to the rains wetness, beauty and color thinness in spite of its simplicity and little degrees in the eye and feeling of the spectator.

In the beginning, he presented his naked and semi-naked female body’s elements and symbols taken from the woman’s bathing room with an adaptation in the process of distribution and clear modification in the rations of the body. Furthermore, he diversified in the postures of the woman showing the sensual beauties of the naked female body mixed with a romantic trend which takes its way to color in the consequential work.

After the work of (Bath Women), in which the blue color and its derivatives dominated… and the interest of the artist came out in the elements surrounding the naked female body such as: flagstone, curtains, bows, and clothes and his deliberated and perfect simplifying of the women’s body… the artist moved to new work. In the new work, he entered a warm rosy color in the cold worlds of blue. The new color distributed in the female body to define areas of it. Then he successfully coupled the hot and the cold colors within the basic subject of his work (the natural woman’s body) and included inlayed work by introducing a baby into them.

As so, a new process occurred to the painting of Khaled. After the drawing was presented strongly in the painting besides the color, the drawing retreated on behalf of color in the new work. The color performed its task in confirmation and defining the structure of things and elements with the artist’s background similar to geometric divisions relating with bodies in a visual controversial and semantic relation. The notable thing is that the color in his work had been changed into smooth thin mumbles distributed to bodies, backgrounds, and other elements. We find the artist depends on two colors to achieve his painting (blue + yellow) or (blue + brown and its derivatives). We find him in other work – especially the new or the ones that are the most up to date – making a carnival of heat, cold, and calm, clamorous colors, but keeping the feature which accompanied the production of this stage and which is represented in a romantic trend dominating the subject and the tools as well.

The expressionist mode in which the artist Khaled escalated in his last two pieces changing them into an extra-harmonic symphony of hot and cold colors which he distributes in a great experience here and there in parts of the painting with the sensitivity of a poet that is affected greatly with beauty (especially the beauty of the female body) on which has built all his experiences and has spent a long period of time adoring it in its niche. Furthermore, he seems to remain a long time in these sweet and beautiful fields; as the evidence of the high sensuous impulsion mumbles that are distributed in the body and relief of the woman’s body which the artist Al Maz changed into juggles of flowers, revealing its blazing passions forever, renewed forever, and lasting forever. Otherwise, how we interpret this tendency is that he didn’t get tired of the subject of the natural female body in his artistic experience. This is how we explain this beauty, warmth, and romance revealed in his dealing with this subject which was multiplied as formula and style and retained the same sentiment, fascination, and activity blazing with feelings!


Dr. Mahmoud Shahin
Professor in Fine Art College – Damascus University