Hammoud Chantout
Hammoud Chantout
Hammoud Chantout
Hammoud Chantout - Damascus 1987
Damascus 1987

Hammoud Chantout was born on one cold day in January, 1956 in a mud-hut with a dome (in Al-Sfera village east of Aleppo). He was the fourth child for his father Khaled, after a son and two daughters. His father was a traveling upholsterer who after discovering that village, settled in it. He also worked as a wheat miller (it was his forefathers profession - one of them, Faris was a stone cutter for water mills) and designed a hand-mill.

Hammoud’s house was just like all houses in the village. The house was later extended due to the increasing family. He recalls those days as being simple, pleasant and full of love and he remembers playing on straw bails during the harvest seasons, in wide open spaces. He recalled this memory after seeing the works of Fateh Muddares and the paintings of Hasko. Similar houses and spaces appeared in his early paintings.

The still growing family later went back to Hama and settled in a room of his grandfather’s house which was also shared by his two uncle’s families (the house no longer exists). His father continued working in upholstery, fishing on the Orontes River and going to the village occasionally. His mother Masaa (whose family was originally Christian, her father becoming a Moslem after being left by his father-who immigrated to Brazil). She worked in a carpet workshop within the same house.

The boy who got used to the open fields of the village always ran out of that crowded house to play on Orontes bank. That was when he began his tuition, moving between a few elementary schools. However, he didn’t like school and often didn’t used to go, so his mother suggested that he should quit school to help his father by working, because of their family’s hard financial situation (they were 13 people). So he helped him fishing, worked in a carpenter’s workshop, then in a mill and at last as a house painter (which he liked a little bit.) Then someone advised his father to send him back to school, so he went back and studied harder than before to improve his marks. In the 7th grade of his primary school was the moment of truth for him, because he discovered his artistic talent while practicing drawing and painting for the first time.

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Later, his elder brother studied in the Faculty of Fine Arts and the younger one studied engineering. He won some prizes for his paintings, and two of his sisters studied in Art institutions. Even his father Khaled had some hidden talent himself which appeared sometimes through his upholstery. So Hammoud had the genesis of artistic talent which was first discovered by his teacher Amin Shakfeh who asked his students to choose one of four different subjects to paint with water colors.

Hammoud drew the house, the mosque with the street and trees. The teacher chose his painting as the best, astonished that this boy was painting for the first time in his life! Later he chose ten talented students to practice oil painting and drawing after school hours. There new horizons opened for Hammoud and the real passion of art was born within him. A new world opened its arms to him and he never stopped drawing and painting at school and home during all those three years of primary school.

Al Jijieh Village – Hama
Al Jijieh Village – Hama
Artist work at the age of 15 years
80 cm * 55cm | The Artist Collection | Oil on Mazonit

Art gave his life a new meaning and rescued him from the narrow and sad world of the city (the sad tone dominated his brush for long time and he was fascinated by the color black, unlike other painters.) His teacher noticed that he practiced painting more than drawing and advised him to strengthen his lines. He then entered the Hama Arts Center where he won the prize in a school contest, which was a box of colors and a pen. The prize and encouragement of the school director had a great affect on him. He felt that he had found his life’s ambition and joined the faculty of Arts where he had to study hard to be the best like nothing else mattered. He studied and painted hard and was taught techniques by great Art teachers Ali Sabouni and Nashaat Zubi among others. He also spent time painting with fellow students in the country-side. Simultaneously, he began participating in collective exhibitions of Art Centers and annual exhibitions of outstanding Syrian artists, representing different generations. At the same time he started to expand his artistic theoretical knowledge and literary readings, of which The Arabian Nights was one of his main inspirations, which later appeared in his paintings.

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In 1975 he got first prize in the Syrian Art Centers contest and in the same year was admitted into the Faculty of Fine Arts in Damascus (facing opposition from his family, because the cost of his elder brother’s education was already too much.) So, he worked to save some money to live in Damascus in a small room which he shared with his elder brother who was in his last year at the Faculty of Art. His paintings before going to college were classified as being close to impressionist works, but he refused this classification, because he used dark colors (not bright ones) and a different thickness of color. (Although, he was impressed by the use of light and shadows by artists like Chagall, Goya, Klimt, Matisse, Turner and others.) As he had begun painting way before college, he continued there beyond the normal academic limits, also making his own artistic research. In his 2nd year he held a solo exhibition in the Arabic Cultural Center (in 1977.) In college he chose painting as his specialization, because he was possessed by it. There he met and was encouraged by some very important artists and teachers: Nazir Nabaa, Elias Zaiyat, Fateh Muddares and others. He wasn’t interested in finding his own style at that time, but he expressed himself in so many different styles.

After living with his brother, he left to live alone in a room which was to be the main subject of his excellent graduation project in 1980. This work reflected his accuracy in picking up the smallest detail of that room, (he received for it the highest grade.)

Directly after graduating he decided to go to France to continue his studies. He had only $400 and the address of a friend when he reached Paris, but he couldn’t find the friend because the address was wrong, so he went straight to Yousef Abdelki, one of the major Syrian artists of that time, who helped him with a temporary place to live. He later wandered among so many places, rooms, and friends and even slept in gardens sometimes. He sold metro tickets, drew sketches and famous paintings, and worked in house painting to get some money for a living. Also, with the help of a friend he worked in St. Julian Church painting religious icons and selling them to tourists (which led him to paint the religious subjects with his own style.) Syrian artist Ibrahim Jalal introduced him to professor Yankel in the Beaux Arts and Hammoud attended as an unofficial student from 1980-82 (during which time he was accepted as a regular student after a formal contest.) He studied the advanced artistic techniques as well as the ancient techniques like Roman and Egyptian as well as their secrets (in addition to the theoretical subjects about art and art history.) His work was highly esteemed by respectable academics both in Syria and France. His professors dealt with him as an artist, not as a student.

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Icon by the artist
Icon by the artist – St. Julian Church period
Private Collection – Paris

Hammoud continued painting icons to live after graduation and participated in some collective exhibitions. He had some offers to exhibit in some Parisian galleries and stay in France during which he established good relationships with Syrian, Arab, and French artists and friends. But he wasn’t really interested in that. He wanted to go back home to Syria, because he didn’t like the life abroad and he realized that France already had enough artists.

In 1985 he came back home and taught for two months in the Faculty of Fine Arts in Damascus, but he didn’t like teaching, so he left. He had his first exhibitions after getting back in Al-Shaab Gallery in Damascus which was very well received by art lovers and critics. He moved into a room in a nearby Damascus suburb and stayed there for four years. This period affected his painting, because he liked to paint enclosed places which hold a history of emotions (as he put it, as a kind of gratitude to the place). In addition to that, he feels that a closed composition can be controlled, unlike painting in direct open nature. He taught in Adham Ismael Art Center where he met Miss Oruba Deeb, the student who became his wife in 1990 and then became the mother of his three daughters.

The «place» has an essential role in his paintings; he painted all the rooms he lived in detail including his Parisian attic with its transparent colors (catching the few rays of light), the church he was working in, the place of Damascus suburbs tens of times and his atelier. He also started to paint a human figure with a prolonged head that had abbreviated features, (he used to come back to «auto-portrait» sometimes as a way to search for new capacities).

Since the Parisian phase, his painting started to represent some kind of personal diary, reflecting his sadness, solitude and search for beauty. These work all contained human aspects and were born out of suffering. The art of icon painting was an important and inspiring source for Hammoud, according to his own aesthetic views. He benefited from the standard compositions of this religious divine art to make endless modifications influenced by the book The Arabian Nights and the changes of his personal and artistic life. He painted new icons that are not religious as well as imaginary icons with a touch of holiness.

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After coming back from Paris, he started to use the black color with its gray scales in wide areas in his paintings along with blood-red spots, but gradually he widened his choice of colors. He put some lonely people with touches of Sufism in the empty spaces of the paintings, later with more yellow and blue colors. He later replaced them with nude women, or self-shining imaginary angelic creatures (which was a concept inspired by the icons.) He usually paints realistic places, but he plays with the additional features to make them express deep feelings.

Graduation Project – Beaux Art – Paris
Graduation Project – Beaux Art – Paris 1984

Throughout different stages, his paintings have shown fast movement from one subject to another, as well as from one technique to another. This led to a large number paintings and exhibitions since his first one in 1985 (which had a vast Variety of subjects and techniques). His paintings show that the main keys to his work are firstly aesthetic, and secondly human expression. This is not the conventional atmosphere that is usually associated with art ideology and he always tries to be as independent as possible, which puts him a few steps ahead of other painters (some of them were even affected by his views, techniques, subjects and colors). He still continues on with his deep artistic research.

Many people preferred his earlier stages and wanted him to stay there, but he was always looking for something new, renewing his subjects and himself. That renewal became a normal continuity for his work and gave him a special personality. He transformed realistic subjects into ones of imagination, full of color and light. He tended to paint on different kinds of surfaces (wood and sometimes old doors) which gave the paintings a touch of relief. (also turning applicable compositions into plastic ones.)

His recent works look elegant, reflecting high profession and we can barley notice the old fast changes from his early exhibitions. (the difference in some way explained by the spirit of enjoyment and desire of experience.) Throughout the years, the atmosphere in his work has changed from dark scenes embroidered with thin beams of light to legendary scenes full of light scattered with figures. He didn’t approach abstraction, but if the figures were isolated one can see obvious abstract construction on the surface. He maintained the figurative shapes as human introduction to make contact with viewers, but every part of them may be considered as independent painting.

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In Chantout’s paintings, the mural concept is always present, not only through techniques and materials, but also in size and subject. His human figures will be gigantic with extra abbreviation in drawing and color detail which forms mixed layers echoing colors. His recent paintings tend to be cosmopolitan, with no specific environment, even if some local factors appear in their general outlines. They’re open towards humanity and considered as products of an international art, outside of any classification. On the other hand, they have emerged from ancient traditions and spread their roots into different civilizations (so one can clacify a specific background of a painting ie. renascence era, another like a roman mural, or an oriental icon). They are trans-cultural works, going beyond time and place. Based on these points, one can say that modernism is not a conflict for Chantout, but it’s a tool and a means which should be employed in art and life (he maintained some classical values which are presented in a way of modernism.)

Hammoud is a totally unique case in Syria plastic art and is an example of absolute sincerity towards art. He devotes all his spiritual power towards it, all of the time. Exhausting for most people, but for one who made hard choices in a hostile environment like him, it is a salvation. (which is the destiny of those who have talent). Hammoud as a man, cannot be separated from him as an artist.

Mazraet Nasri Room – Damascus
Mazraet Nasri Room – Damascus 1988
Fine Arts Faculty – Damascus
Fine Arts Faculty – Damascus 1977
With his instructor Fateh Al Mudares
With Fateh Al Mudares
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Chantout cannot be identified, but as an artist. He was never involved in any political party or cultural society. After he devoted himself to painting, he never practiced any other career like teaching, writing, interior design or anything else. In his early years, he had many jobs far away from art just to collect money to enable him to study and practice art. He was a patient adventurer and he knew how important solitude was for an artist to be devoted to his art (to the extent that solitude became his second nature, only practicing painting and painting only.)

His paintings received an exceptional welcome by audiences, critics, great artists and teachers, for his unique and special colors, poetic subjects and their possibility for literary interpretation. All this and more made the art dealers and collectors interested in organizing his exhibitions and buying his paintings (which was surprising for him and made him a new phenomenon in the Syrian plastic art society.) This rising-up happened when there was an opening of several big private galleries, sponsoring many artists in the eighties. After that he art market started to decline, effected the general economic situation, but Hammoud was never affected. On the contrary, he made more exhibitions and sold more paintings inside and outside Syria during that time. He has always been seen as the best representative of Syrian art.

Artist’s Atelier in Mezzeh
Artist’s Atelier in Mezzeh 2007
Yankel Atelier – Beaux Art – Paris
Yankel Atelier – Beaux Art – Paris 1984
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