Art for Art’s sake (profile of Syrian painter Tammam Azzam)

Avoiding literary interpretations of his works, Syrian Painter Tammam Azzam revels in exploring the visual possibilities of depicting one simple element in many different ways.

Forget about ornaments and vivid disco colors, when it comes to Tammam Azzam the different shades of black and white are his niche. Composed of mixed media, Azzam creates diverse textures that remind you of the surfaces in nature in general and that of his native Suweida with its black plateaus in particular. Although at first sight, his works strike you as abstract, Azzam insists they’re not!”An Abstract painting, by definition, is a nonrepresentational work not aiming to depict an object but composed with the focus on internal structure and form.” Azzam tells me. Gazing at his latest art work in which Azzam hung several white gauzes on three dark canvases with a straight cord at the middle, I have to admit he couldn’t be closer to the truth. “There’s nothing abstract about this work, it is simply a clothesline, no more, no less.” He says.

In fact, Azzam refuses to label his paintings as abstract or any other art form because he believes art schools don’t exist anymore. According to him, Syrian art (or any other nation’s art) doesn’t exist either. Rather, there are Syrian artists. “You can’t categorize art on a geographical basis but on account of the painting forms and techniques.” Azzam says citing as a proof several Syrian artists whose works resemble that of other Arab or International artists regardless of their different nationalities. But as the old art schools don’t exist anymore, Azzam believes that each painting has become a personal experience or project.

In his project, Azzam revels in presenting the very same item in countless different forms and it’s the laundry that he chose for his latest collection. In one of his paintings he depicts it with 6 black cords stretched against a white canvas. Drenched in black, the cords are adorned with countless clothespins dripping black spots all over the snow white background. In another depiction, Azzam set seven cords tightly at the bottom of the painting with five clothespins neatly distributed in the middle of the cords then covered the whole surface of the painting with a white crinkled fabric tightly stretched against the canvas to reveal the form of the clothesline. In other works, Azzam removed the clothesline all together after squinting the painting with a black spray so that the viewer could only see the white marks that suggest the place of the removed laundry. Indeed, in spite of the same content, each of Azzam’s works is very unique.

There’s no room for poetic connotations and hidden messages in Azzam’s works. Rather, Azzam is a strong supporter of the concept Art for art’s sake. “I don’t believe in art as a mission, who said art serves people anyway?” asks Azzam. “The objective of an art work is to amuse the eye.” Azzam however makes clear distinction between paintings as mere decorative items and an art work, with its rich visual possibilities and painting techniques which he believes shouldn’t be burdened with countless interpretations and humanitarian messages. Rather, according to Azzam an art work should speak for itself and therefore its place isn’t within the pages of a newspaper but in a museum where it can be appreciated as it is.

Although Azzam makes every effort to avoid any “literary interpretation” of his paintings, he does state that he didn’t choose the laundry out of the blue. “There are countless tales wrapped up in the laundry,” he says. “You don’t know the laundry belongs to whom or what exactly happened, all you’ve got are the traces on the clothesline.” Although Azzam admitted that by painting the traces he wants to provoke the viewer, art remains a very personal experience for him. “After all there’s some selfishness in art, I paint for myself and not to make any impressions.” He says.



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