As part of the artists' new collection, Shawkat has chosen to refer to his style as ‘Calligraform’, an approach which focuses not only on the precise forms of the letters, but also the abstract shapes generated by examining the geometric spaces inside and outside of their structures. He visualises certain Arabic letters or words well beyond their literal meanings. Each different piece has been conceived from a past of dutifully studying traditional scripts, compositions, and forms. It was not until he felt qualified to judge which principles could be overridden and which was to remain, that he truly flourished as a calligrapher.
Born in 1974 in Iraq, he was first introduced to Arabic calligraphy at the age of 10 by his primary school teacher. For Wissam, it was the form of four letters from the Arabic alphabet written across a school blackboard, which set him on a journey that has shaped his life and career. Shawkat is largely self-taught in the intricate medium, attaining skills through book research, visits to various masters, and museum collections throughout the region. Through his work, Shawkat has become known for a new calligraphic style, Al Wissam, which references several traditional scripts including Eastern Kufic, Jali Diwani, and Thuluth, bringing them together with modern design.
Although the designs are initially created through meditating upon a letter, the overall shape is a monumental form that is not exclusively anchored in the Arab World. Movements such as Geometric Abstraction, Futurism, Cubism, and elements of the Bauhaus era inspire the works. In essence, the work is a dialogue between Western abstract art and traditional Arabic calligraphy. As Wissam describes: “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.”
Shawkat adopts a contemporary approach to Calligraphy, making it fresh and more relevant to today’s audience. Totally against the idea of legibility, Wissam considers it to be the enemy of creativity. In a journey of discovery and in an attempt to liberate calligraphy from text, Wissam does not wish his audience to read what he has written. Instead, he hopes that people will look at the design and engage with the relationship of the composition. He believes if an artist writes something simply for people to read, it can never be denoted as art. With this ethos at the heart of his practice, Wissam has successfully collaborated with numerous international brands including, Rolex, Hermes, Hublot, Jaguar, Loro Piana, Verto, Jo Malone, and Chanel.