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Majid Alyousef is an award-winning art and design veteran with decades of experience in creative design, typography and Arabic calligraphy. His work has been featured in various galleries and institutions around the globe.
Majid explores various approaches to modern and abstract presentations of calligraphy in addition to his interest and mastery of classical forms and styles. As such, he co-founded Calligraforms, a radical new movement that re-imagines calligraphy, offering abstract perspectives that draw upon the language of aesthetics, beauty, form, and balance.
Since early childhood Majid has been especially drawn towards the arts and creative expression. His interest began with illustration, product design, and calligraphy.
He applied himself to traditional methods master calligraphers set; and with an eye towards innovation, Alyousef began carving his own path of unique creativity, becoming one of the most notable names in the modern calligraphy world. He developed a unique, contemporary visual style that pushes the boundaries and transformed Arabic letters into a pure abstract language that can communicate with everyone even those who don’t speak Arabic.
Art collectors across the globe have acquired Majid’s work; and he has participated in several exhibitions around the world. He has also taught calligraphy and typography in various art institutions, universities and colleges. He continues to offer his services to internationally reputable branding and advertising agencies, working on award-winning projects for design houses and corporate clients.
Alyousef, who is both Saudi and Iraqi, was born and grew up in Basra where there was no formal calligraphy instruction available to him. At the precocious age of eight he expressed interest in committing himself to the medium and using books and the guidance of several old masters, built up his skill entirely due to his own disciplined study. His family relocated to Saudi Arabia; and then he moved to Dubai in 2002.
Majid pursued a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from Iraq and a Master’s degree in Interactive Design and Game Development from the Savannah College of Art and Design in the USA.
Following a successful career serving as Design Director to a number of leading firms, Alyousef left the corporate world in 2011 in order to dedicate himself to a full-time studio practice supplemented by Arabic typography and freelance design work.
Majid Alyousef’s artistic career is a prolific one. Some of the projects he worked on including the wall art installation for the Room of the Emirates at the UN building in Geneva, The Horse Museum in Saudi Arabia, The Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, and the Year of Zayed limited edition luxury wristwatch.
He participated in exhibitions including the Sharjah Islamic Arts Festival 2011 and Sharjah Calligraphy Biennial 2012 and 2014, during which he exhibited a triptych artwork that presented his distinctive style in its early stage. The Noor Dubai Foundation Christie’s auctions in both 2014 and 2015, Kuwait Islamic Arts Festival 2016, Madina Calligraphy Exhibition 2018, Misk Art 2018 in Saudi Arabia, and a number of exhibitions curated by Tashkeel, the Dubai Centre of Arabic Calligraphy and other private galleries.
His work is featured in several collections including His Highness the Ruler of Dubai, H.H The Ruler of Sharjah, the Saudi Royal Family, and the Hashemite Royal Family.
ماجد اليوسف خطاط ومصمم متمرس يتميز بإسلوب خاص في الخط العربي يمزج بين الاتقان في الخط الكلاسيكي والراديكالية في التجريد والحداثة.
درس الفنون والتصميم في العراق وانكلترا وحصل على الماجستير في الفنون الرقمية من الولايات المتحدة الامريكية. وعمل في عدة وكالات عالمية للتصميم والاعلان والخدمات الاعلامية و حصلت اعماله على العديد من الجوائز المتخصصة في مجال الاعلام والتصميم. يعتبر حاليا من اهم الاسماء التي تقدم الخط الاصيل بصيغة حديثة متقنة ومتطورة تمثل بداية لنقلة نوعية مهمة في الفن التجريدي المستوحى من الخط العربي.
اظهر ماجد اليوسف اهتماما خاصا بالفنون في عمر مبكر و بدأ يمارس الرسم وتصميم المجسمات الفنية و الخط العربي الذي اصبح فيما بعد اهم هواياته و بتشجيع واهتمام من والديه ومعلميه الذين ساعدو كثيرا في توفير المصادر اللازمة لتطوير مهاراته. بدأ دراسة الخط معتمدا على نفسه متتبعا امشاق وكتابات الاساتذة الكبار من الخطاطين مما ساهم في بناء قاعدة قوية للارتقاء بالمستوى الفني والمهاري لاحقا.
رغم الشغف الشديد بالخط العربي الكلاسيكي ، لكنه يمزج بين الجماليات التجريدية الخطية مع المدارس الفنية الحديثة خصوصا التكعيبية التحليلية والمستقبلية ، كوَّن من خلالها اسلوبا خاصا ومميزا مختلفا تماما عن الصورة التقليدية جعلت الخط العربي بجمالياته الكلاسيكية اداة تواصل بصري وفني حتى مع الجمهور الذي لا يتكلم اللغة العربية مما جعله فنا عالميا لا تحده الهوية او الجغرافيا.
عرضت اعماله في انحاء عديدة من العالم مثل لندن وجنيف ونيويورك واسطنبول وغيرها بالاضافة لمشاركات عديدة في المنطقة العربية.
Majid Alyousef is a contemporary artist whose unconventional practice forges a relationship between calligraphy and abstraction. His eyes are drawn to the visual qualities of the Arabic alphabet in their hundreds of possible combinations—the way a tail trails off into the undefined future, the hills and valleys of certain letters’ slopes, or the sharpness of vowels arranged like a collection of knife blades over a particular word. He explains, “I often take parts from multiple letters and make them converge at a central point. In this process the classical shape of the letter will be broken and a new form of a letter or a word will emerge. It’s the same letters you regularly see but from a different dimension.”
Working in the mornings when the natural light is at its crispest, Alyousef, who is a full-time artist and typographer, sits at a desk in the corner of his Dubai apartment, bent over a notebook. His tools are neatly laid out on a nearby bookshelf: a charging laptop, inks, paints, reeds, pens, linen, and a special shiny paper that has been treated with egg whites by a specialist in Turkey. Both his fine art practice and Arabic typography commissions require the intense concentration of a watchmaker, and are accompanied by perfect silence. Alyousef finds the pleasing reprise of the letters as his pen touches paper to be a kind of music in itself: “Our brains look for repetitions and harmony, and there is also a meditative quality to both creating and viewing patterns.”
Although he was first known for bringing classical Arabic poetry and quotes to life in traditional calligraphy compositions, from a distance some of Alyousef’s most recent works might not even be recognizable as calligraphy. His practice is constantly questioning the boundaries between European and Islamic art and further pushing the ongoing debate about whether Arabic calligraphy should be understood as a decorative craft or a fine art medium.
As an eight-year old boy growing up in Iraq, Alyousef made the unusual decision to study calligraphy. He was more interested in sharpening reed pens with a knife and copying the Arabic alphabet over and over again in a stack of lined notebooks than he was in kicking a football in the streets. His town of Basra did not have a formal calligraphy school, so Alyousef began to research calligraphy through library books on his own, supplemented by occasional visits to Iraqi calligraphers’ studios. He quickly decided to focus on reaching mastery in thuluth, which is an intricate and demanding form of calligraphy that was documented around the 11th century and can be identified stylistically by the way that one third of each letter angles in rounded cursive. There are very few living calligraphers who are adept in thuluth script and even fewer who are entirely self-taught.
Alyousef’s father is Saudi and in the turmoil of The Gulf War, the family relocated to in various places in Iraq then moved to Amman in the mid nineties where with a lack of institutions focused on Islamic art, Alyousef chose to pursue his study in Fine Arts in Iraq, later worked in the field of graphic design in Jordan and Dubai then he went on to receive a Master’s degree in Interactive Design and Game Development from the Savannah College of Art and Design; a manifestation of his interest in traditional arts, science and technology.
It was during this time that Alyousef was widely introduced to European art and was deeply influenced by the Renaissance era. He recalls, “The grand masters of that time, Da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo were my first access points to Western work. I identify with the notion of the artist as intellectual that they represent.”
Alyousef continued his practice in calligraphy as well and began to study the style, thought processes, and compositions of the calligraphy masters of the Ottoman-era like Raqim, Sami Effendi, Mustafa Halim and Mohammed Amin. However, while traditional calligraphy training would demand that he copy and re-copy works, Alyousef instead applied life drawing techniques he had acquired in art school: “Usually I look at the letter as a figure and try to see the proportions, while in traditional calligraphy one would train by copying a master’s letters over and over again until your hand is strong enough.”
These experiments ultimately led to a lasting passion for Abstraction, with particular interests in Futurism, Bauhaus, and Cubism. Al Yousef’s ‘Dialogue with Mondrian’ was shown in 2011 at a Tashkeel gallery in Dubai. Then a few other interpretations of that experiment were exhibited at the first calligraffiti exhibition in the Middle East at Dubai’s Street Art Gallery in 2014. The work outlines the Bauhaus ascetic Piet Mondrian’s primary colour palette with crisp black calligraphy, in effect demonstrating that contemporary calligraphy and Bauhaus are defined by similar structures and both intended to lead the viewer into reflection on principles of balance, and harmony.quotes
“I see a relationship between Arabic calligraphy—after its development over more than 1000 years in shaping and forming the letters—with Abstraction, which also uses uncomplicated shapes to convey messages. On a very basic level, the letters are just shapes which happen to correspond to sounds and build linguistic concepts.”
“My compositions communicate with you in unconventional ways. They are not about the unfairness of politics or sadness of war and don’t use trendy themes or terms that overflow the art literature.”
“My work draws you into your own logic-making faculties. My forms invite you into a formless expanse of possibilities and transmutations. Calligraphic quality is premised on the aesthetics of the form. My letters are not meant to be functional, not designed for reading; but ambiguous, agendered and democratic. It is intentional to make you un-see certain patterns.”
“I believe that the splendor of motion and emotion lies in their deconstruction: dispersive lines; bleeding ink; and the negative and subverted treatment of the bordered and the borderless, the repetitive and the mimetic within the fluid. You find yourself reading negative spaces, letters that are not there — imagining sense with the help of lack and emptiness.”
“There is always a method behind the madness”
My work addresses the intersection between language and Abstraction.
I have been practicing and experimenting with the craft of Arabic calligraphy for more than 30 years. Although I am a calligrapher, I consider myself to be a contemporary visual artist first because I am marrying the demanding classical scripts with explorative abstract art. While I retain certain stalwart “rules” of calligraphy to emphasize its form and aesthetic values, my compositions also often incorporate modern elements inspired by the philosophies behind Cubism and Futurism, and certain architectural qualities of the Bauhaus school.
On a very basic level, the letters are just shapes that happen to correspond to decipherable sounds, while Abstraction also engages with uncomplicated forms that are intended to convey messages to viewers. I don’t believe that only those who read and write in Arabic can appreciate my work. The principles of harmony, balance, and meditative repetition at play in the letters fulfill an intuitive human need for rhythm in art, which transcends mediums and contexts.
I deeply identify with the Renaissance notion of the artist as intellectual and although I am also a designer in another arena of my life, each of my fine art pieces contains a densely encoded intention, which is equally rooted in methodical precision and expansive thought.