Khaled Takreti

KHALED TAKRETI. An inter­view by Khaled Youssef, a Syrian pho­tog­ra­pher, poet and curator.

Khaled Takreti, a leading visual artist whose Pop aes­thetic has influ­enced a sub­se­quent gen­er­a­tion of con­tem­po­rary Arab painters. A Syrian national, born in 1964 in Beirut, Lebanon. Currently residing in Paris, France.

- What is your rela­tion­ship to your studio? What does your studio rep­re­sent to you? How do you feel when you are in your studio?
- It is a daily rela­tion­ship; my studio is the place where I can really feel com­fort­able. I can take off all the masques that our society imposes to us, give freedom to my emo­tions, and inde­pen­dence to my feel­ings. My studio is really a haven for my thoughts, at any time I can find there for my ideas an end­less space.

- Do the layout, the orga­ni­za­tion and the loca­tion of your studio have an influ­ence on the cre­ation of your works? What role do that space, time and soli­tude have on your work?
- Of course, actu­ally I am much organ­ised, and my studio as well, since it reflects my way of life. I prefer to have my studio near to my living place, so not to loose energy on the way between them two, but also because I need to be close to my working place in the case there would be an idea or an emo­tion I would like to trans­late at once on the paper. Inspiration is a very spe­cial state of mind and needs to be explored inside my studio which is a small place with a lot of pos­si­bil­i­ties.

- Do you listen to music in your studio? Do you work better with some music in your ear or do you need com­plete silence when you are at your most cre­ative?
- I am unable to work without music. I prefer lis­tening to the radio, some French sta­tions play var­ious songs and melodies. I like to be sur­prised by the music my hands more har­mony in the while I am working, that gives to cre­ative pro­cess. My colours love to sing and dance on the paper.

- What are your artistic prac­tice and your working pro­cess? Do you plan?
- My working pro­cess is divided into two periods: con­scious at firsthand to find the idea and the sub­ject, and then uncon­scious and fully spon­ta­neous based on my expe­ri­ence and inspi­ra­tion.

- What your art is about?
- My art is my self mirror: struggle, hap­pi­ness, doubt and sad­ness. It is the best way to express myself and to reflect life on my emo­tions.

- What inspires you?
- My family, my friends and my cul­ture; a story I try to tell in each work I create with my heroes; we can not recog­nise them but we can feel their emo­tions.

- Being an artist is hard work. Do you have some­times doubts and strug­gles?
- Not really, may be because I did not choose art but art chose me! Nobody decides to be an artist sud­denly. More than work there is some­thing dif­fi­cult to explain, some­thing born with us which is a part of our soul.

- Do you ever regret becoming a “pro­fes­sional” artist? Where does your energy come from?
- It is not me who decide to be “pro­fes­sional”, work and time decide for that, but I prefer to see it like a pas­sion, that gives my work more pos­si­bil­i­ties and more chal­lenges.

- How much sat­is­fac­tion do you get in response of your work?
- I cannot really answer this ques­tion… let’s say I think I am on the right way, but always in the begin­ning and I still have a lot of work to do and emo­tions to show.

- Has the con­flict that is raging in Syria since a few years had an impact on the core ele­ment of your art? What has changed?
- This is a con­tin­uous pain in my heart. At first my work used to talk about human beings in gen­eral, it was very colourful. Few years ago my work took a dif­ferent path; it still talks about human beings, but they are Syrians, and they are suf­fering. This new aspect took off all the happy colours in my work.

- You are living out­side of Syria, has the place you are living in changed your art?
- Of course the area and the country where I am living today change the aspect of my work, yet not the emo­tions or the mes­sages. I am living in Paris, and that changed some details but not the soul and the heart of my work that remained Syrian.

- What are your hopes and dreams for your­self as an artist and espe­cially as a Syrian artist?
- My dream is to keep forth with my artistic work and mes­sage and keep on having inspi­ra­tion. As a Syrian artist I hope to be a good example to a new gen­er­a­tion able to forget the pain in order to draw the life and future with beau­tiful colours.

Thierry Savatier. Khaled Takreti’s Universal Mothers.

Nietzsche claimed that: « to ide­alise our states of ill­ness, that is the artist’s goal ». In that respect, the recent evo­lu­tion of Khaled Takreti’s painting is quite Nietzschean con­sid­ering its inspi­ra­tion tran­scribes one of the dis­eases of the con­tem­po­rary world. This Syrian artist born in Lebanon has been working in Paris for the past ten years, after living in Egypt, Syria and America. His highly per­sonal style par­tic­u­larly focuses on the human figure and is easily recog­nised: it blends pop-art aes­thetics (with a predilec­tion for flat sur­faces and for polyp­tych for­mats that are some­times mon­u­mental), with monochrome back­grounds and with an irony that leads him to intro­duce strange, pic­turesque and some­times even zoomor­phic char­ac­ters, when he does not stage him­self in his work with a care­fully thought-out self-mockery approach.
Whether neu­tral or acid, colour was one of the char­ac­ter­is­tics of his pre­vious paint­ings. Today, it is black that dom­i­nates, as if his palette of colours had been eroded by the attacks endured by his country of origin resulting from a poly­mor­phic con­flict the geopol­i­tics of which escape him. His Parisian exhi­bi­tion, Women and War, at the Galerie Claude Lemand (16, rue Littré, until 18th February) bears wit­ness to this change of style, show­casing around thirty works divided into two main themes.

On the ground floor, twelve female por­traits of iden­tical size (146 x 114 cm.) seem­ingly rep­re­sent the same number of Syrian cities. With their slender sil­hou­ettes, standing in the room and filling up the space, they silently stare at the viewer and stand out against a back­ground that darkens as the series unfolds: the por­traits are num­bered from 1 to 12. The chro­matic uni­for­mity is simply an illu­sion: sev­eral back­grounds and clothes hold some subtle plays on tex­ture that will only be noticed by the viewer passing by. One recog­nises the marks left by a fabric, an intri­cate embroi­dery. The faces are all dif­ferent yet serious, and express a wide range of feel­ings, sen­si­tivity, sad­ness, worry, dig­nity. The absence of pathos (the artist was careful in avoiding falling in that trap) gives an obvious power to these fig­ures that break away. Each of these women, whose diver­sity of social ori­gins can be guessed, can all claim the title of Mater Dolorosa, not in the reli­gious sense of the word but rather in its uni­versal meaning. Without doubt, the most uni­versal one is that which has been reduced to a skeleton and hence unavoid­ably stripped bare of any anthro­po­log­ical or social mark.

At the base­ment level, a beau­tiful space houses around ten India ink works on paper, two can­vases and a dip­tych that depicts the the­matic of the bundle. The painter does not dis­tance him­self from the series of the ground floor, on the con­trary he com­ple­ments it, as for Syrian women, the bundle rep­re­sents the nomad’s attribute par excel­lence. It is easy to pack and to travel with, and it accom­pa­nies escapes, migra­tions, car­ries mem­o­ries and her­alds a new depar­ture. The white fabric of these bags of for­tune is pro­duced in Hama (a city located between Homs and Aleppo) and is printed with typ­ical black motifs that are repro­duced by hand using stamps, fol­lowing a tra­di­tional method.

We would be looking in vain for a polit­ical mes­sage in these very recent works as the painter’s crit­ical stare is sig­nif­i­cant only if he frees him­self from the resis­tance fighter’s prism. The aes­thetics and stasis of these fig­ures haunt us yet the most impor­tant impact is their human tes­ti­mony that also encour­ages to look again at Khaled Takreti’s older works, that were char­ac­terised by a cer­tain humour which was a form of ‘polite­ness of despair’ for the artist, to use Chris Marker’s mas­terful def­i­ni­tion.

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Translated from French by Valérie Didier Hess.

Works in Public Collections:

Donation Claude & France Lemand 2018, Museum, Institut du monde arabe, Paris.

Copyright © Galerie Claude Lemand 2012.

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