I am a calligrapher turned conceptually motivated artist. How does someone self-trained in the most rigid, rule-based medium break out into abstraction? Now more than 30 years into my calligraphy practice, I dutifully studied traditional scripts, compositions, and forms until at last I felt qualified to judge which principles could be overridden and unbound, and which were to remain.
Before calligraphy was canonized as a form it was once considered revolutionary and experimental. My practice is an effort to take it back to that disorienting place that teeters on the edge of what is known and what is unfamiliar.
I am drawn to the graphic value of the Arabic letters well beyond their literal meanings. For instance, the sharp tail of a 'ha' can be cut off from the curved body of the letter and serialized with pen or brush at unrecognizable angles.
Although it may have initially come to me by meditating upon a letter, the ultimate shape is a monumental form that is not exclusively anchored in the Arab world. I am moved as much by old Turkish masters as I am by the Bauhaus, Geometric Abstraction, Futurism, Cubism, and Cecil Touchon's collages.
Beginning with this new body of work, I have chosen to refer to my style and approach as Calligraform. This refers to the emphasis on the forms of the letters, their inner and outer spaces and graphic quality, investigated in tandem with the precise shapes of calligraphic characters.
Wissam Shawkat was born in Basra, Iraq in 1974. At the age of 10 he expressed an interest in Arabic calligraphy and has since become a conceptually motivated master. Shawkat is living and working in Dubai as an artist, designer and Arabic typographer.