Considered one of the founding pioneers of Arab abstraction and modern Syrian art, Mahmoud Hammad explored a number of themes, subjects and techniques throughout his career, depicting Arabic letterforms, figures and landscapes.
Born in Damascus, Mahmoud Hammad (1923–1988) was only 16 years old when he went to Italy for the first time and discovered the Western canon of art. Inspired by this trip and the nationalism movement in Syria, he began creating works around the Syrian landscape, exhibiting regionally while teaching in schools. After a highly acclaimed exhibition, he received a scholarship to return to Italy to study at the Accademia di belle arti in Rome, subsequently graduating in 1957. Returning to Damascus in 1960, he contributed to the founding of the Faculty of Fine Arts at Damascus University and taught there, even after his appointment to the position as Dean (1970–1980).
A printmaker, sculptor and painter, during his early years, Hammad focused on landscapes and portraiture that referenced both realism and impressionism. However, he is ultimately known for his later works, which depict abstract compositions that reveal a balance between form and colour. From 1964 until his death, Hammad created a modernist-style series in which the Arab script was the main element. By arranging the letters throughout the work, he added a rhythm to his paintings, which, at times, dissolved into complete abstraction.
Both in his lifetime and posthumously, Hammad received numerous awards, including the merit of Knight Commander of the Republic of Italy in 1975; the Syrian Highest Medal of Merit in Arts and Literature in 1979 as well as the National Syrian Garter in 1989. His work can be found in the collections of the British Museum; Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha; Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah; Dalloul Art Foundation, Beirut and the Jalanbo Art Foundation.