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.
Site : www.thierrysavatier.com
Blog : savatier.blog.lemonde.fr
Translated from French by Valérie Didier Hess.
Works in Public Collections:
Donation Claude & France Lemand 2018, Museum, Institut du monde arabe, Paris.