Yaqoob Yousif Qassem

Out of sync with the beat of his generation, a tortured spirit that tells of itself, of existence, of nothingness.
Yaqoob Qassem was a man of mystery, in his life, his art and his untimely death. This mystery has come to characterize him as an artist and a human being. The little we know of him tells a story of tenderness and strength, a testament to the transience of human existence. He was a man of apocalyptic visions, vivid imagination, exoticism, and astounding fantasy. His unique style was difficult to describe or characterize. Although his work was completed in the 1970s, it strikes the eye as very contemporary in its expressive content and captivating revelation.

His inner world was filled with existential questions that bridge the gap between life and death and resurrection, just has his symbols were rooted in time and space. He was able to sow doubt and suspicion in every corner of his paintings … in ever y shape and play of light and play of shadow.

Perhaps his most famous work is his series, “The Last Supper,” in which Yaqoob Qassem borrowed some theological themes plucked from Christian religious art and rendered in such a contemporary manner that it resembles neither Renaissance art nor any later schools; rather, it seems new to our eyes as if we are seeing it for the first time, fraught as it is with spirituality and morbidity, the pain of farewell and the flash of tears.

Was it that the artist sensed a departure, and so he chose to depict in “The Last Supper” the moment of separation? The moment in which the collective is scattered to its individual destinies and the room is emptied of everything except for a funerary table that pierces the perspective from the foreground to the back. Scattered atop the table are twelve aged loaves of bread. The teacher has left, as have the apostles, leaving only the wounds apparent on the flesh of the savior. With the emptiness of the space, the only thing that speaks are the jagged shadows and the vast stone shapes, rectangular and cubic, the protrusions that dominate the emptiness of the space.

In the canvas “Untitled,” hope emanates from robe thrown over the gray coffin and the empty sacred plate, suggesting the moment of resurrection from the grave. Yaqoob Qassem works from a place of deep
intuition, tapping into the influence of what cannot be seen, only felt, in the awed silence of a cave devoid of both man and divine messenger. Just a hint of an imprint, of light, of a piece of his garment, is enough to wake his spirit and preser ve it in the heart.

Humans take center stage in the painting, “Women on their Way Inside.” Here, the mystery and ambiguity deepens: All we can discern are three female figures at different distances, like marble monuments covered in layers of ash and light and shadows. Night is descending and the light scarce, but the closest woman seems to be, from the folds of her clothes, poised on the threshold of a dark room, perhaps in the moment just after discovering that the stone blocking the entrance to the tomb has been moved, and a soul has ascended to heaven.

Yaqoob Qassem transports us to desolate places, suspended in time between past and present, between terrestrial and celestial, between the sacred and the mundane. To a time where stone is heavy, towering and pale, but also luminous and enigmatic. He takes us to a place we have never seen before, to gray chambers where the pale light alone reveals an illuminating sanctity, then sweeps us away once more to the brink of the abyss, where man in his meager body gasps his last breath, the arc of the horizon still bending toward his receding vision as his eyes recount the moment the artist himself departed this life after a struggling with an illness.

There are many elements of Yaqoob Qassem’s work that elevate him to the level of genius. He is the master of the austere palette of muted earth tones and heavenly grays. There is his use of light and shadow, proportion and relief, the importance of dimensions that draw the eye ever deeper and the relationship between mass and its surrounding space. The artist left his unique mark on all his paintings, digging into layers of color, raking lines into the flat plane with sharp nails, leaving powerful scratches in an act of unforgettable defiance … he dug to find his tortured, lost self and bury it in his works, until it became his second signature.

Exhibitions by Yaqoob Yousif Qassem