"I would love to take Arabic calligraphy to a more international platform as an art" – Wissam Shawkat
The talented artist speaks to Buro 24/7 Middle East
Buro 24/7 was honoured to present Wissam Shawkat to the city's culture enthusiasts, designers, artists and influencers, at the Sole DXB event at D3 this past weekend. The self-taught artist – who is very much "on the rise"; capturing the admiration of international brands such as Hermès, who recently collaborated with the Iraqi artist on a bespoke bottle for its L'Eau des Merveilles fragrance – created a bespoke live artwork at the lifestyle fair.
After two-days of meticulous work Mr. Shawkat finally completed his black-and-red live art piece, in his very-own style of incredible calligraphy now referred to as 'Al Wissam style'. As he added the final strokes to his impressive oversized painting, Buro 24/7 Middle East took the time to sit with the celebrated creative and ask him a few questions on his latest artpiece and future goals...
Wissam Shawkat paints the finishing touches to Love for the Sole at Sole DXB in partnership with Buro 24/7
What was your inspiration behind Love for the Sole?
Well the piece is basically just the word "love" repeated many times in my signature 'Al Wissam' style. People who are familiar with my work can see the link between this piece and my other pieces. There is also a connection in the heart shapes that are formed out of the calligraphy – the style is more of a free form, but still infused with my signature style.
What about the colours?
I love working with black, so I thought let me leave this black with a little bit of red – keep it simple and elegant.
Have you ever worked on an art piece of this large size?
No actually, usually I work on a much smaller scale, my studio is limited in terms of size, this is my first time for this size of canvas.
"...this is my first time for this size of canvas."
From this new experience of working on a bigger scale, do you prefer it and want to work more with this size scale in the future?
I really like working on this big scale, actually. For me this is really calligraphic piece and its on a canvas so I really enjoyed working on this project with Buro 24/7.
If you could collaborate with any artist in the world, who would it be?
I would love to collaborate with Rostarr (Romon Kimin Yang) from New York.
If you could have any other job, other than an artist, what would it be?
I would be an architect, even though I'm a civil engineer, by the way [laughs]. I left that career though. It was kind of one of the only things I could study back in Iraq, and in my city there was no architecture school, however I still do love civil engineering. I always loved drawings and working with calligraphy though, ever since I was a little boy, so I think the fact that I'm doing something that I love as my day-to-day job is truly a blessing.
Where do you see yourself and your artwork in five years time?
I would love to do more international projects, I have done a couple, like an exhibition in New York and another project inside a Berlin metro station, but I want to take it further. I would love to take Arabic calligraphy to a more international platform as an art, it needs to be pushed more.
"I would love to take Arabic calligraphy to a more international platform as an art, it needs to be pushed more."
Why calligraphy? What is it about the art form that you are so passionate about?
It is from the first moment that my eyes fall on my art teacher when I was 10 while he was writing some Arabic letters in calligraphy using the chalk on the blackboard – something moved inside me and told me this is what I want to do for the rest of my life, it was a birth of a passion; an obsession I call it.
For me calligraphy has a constant please, it sums up all the art forms, it's the art of drawing lines, connecting points, balance the forms. It has the presence of feelings, the sense of rhythm, harmony and contrast. It is a visual form of thought.
The German contemporary master calligrapher Herman Zapf said it best: "Calligraphy is the most intimate, personal, spontaneous form of expression."
Would you consider using another art medium? Photography or portraiture for example?
I am open to any art mediums, however, I always believe calligraphy as an art has the ability to stand alone – as an art.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
Honestly, just listening to my own inner voice.
What is your dream project?
A big calligrafitti wall or artpiece in New York City!
What advice would you give to budding artists?
In recent years, the artist has the luxury and access to various learning channels from websites, images spreading all over the Internet, and videos. In my time, when I was at the same stage building my career as an artist, none of these were available – especially when I as in Iraq. I think that budding artists should take their art more seriously, and I am talking directly to budding artists in the Arab world, because I see lot of copying and hijacking of ideas and mixing them in way trying to do something new, and I am not talking here about artists who influence each other. I think it is better to work on your own style and path, although this will be a long journey, but this is how I believe real artists should work. In terms of calligraphy, then most of calligraphers today who like the idea of modern or contemporary calligraphy, they think its just easy, open the Internet, look at cool images and copy someone else who is well known – and bam – a new artist is born! Trashing someone else's efforts of many years of evolving and studying. New calligraphers need to study traditional scripts, learn the forms, learn the history, look on great examples of calligraphy, study others work, practice then do something new, you have to go through it to get to it.
Wissam Shawkat kindly gifted the artwork to Buro 24/7 – who plan to auction it for charity in the coming months. To find out more about Wissam's world, follow him on Instagram here.