Artist Scholar Thinker
Geometric Art
Iraqi Women & Culture
Oil on Canvas
Mixed Media

This section features a collection of accolades by individuals who knew Issam El-Said and had the opportunity to work with him.  We continue to seek such persons.  Please contact us if you are such an individual and would like to pay your tribute in this way.

I wanted you to know how immensely grateful I am to you for having bequeathed your late son's wonderful collection of books to the library of my Institute of Architecture.  They are a marvellous addition to the Institute, and I cannot tell you how grateful I am to you for your kindness and generosity.  I hope that, in a small way, the presence of your son's library in my Institute will help commemorate something of his life and work.

The beauty, generosity of spirit and warm nobility of Issam El Said, in the sensibility of his works and in presence for those who had the privilege of knowing him, were also attributes Issam exemplified as a student and teacher. Amongst the wealth I learnt from Issam was a certain fascination to understanding words, the letters of their making sounding depths to keys for new and ancient meaning . Amongst these was the Arabic word Mukhathrim, coming from the name for the poets who lived the transition from Pagan Arab tribalism to Islamic pan-cultural universalism.  Mukhathrim has now come to signify the times and intellectual, cultural individuals creating links between traditions and the new in transitional civilisations such as our own age. Issam was certainly Mukhathrim who through his works enriched heritage and the future with pure visions of the new and with effortless humanity. In the works presented here I see this talent and gift.  Between the human constructs remembered, forgotten and invented weighting the lever of change at one end and natures full spectrum on the other is that point Issam was so inspired with. The decisive pivot, proportionate seed, generative law and fulcrum from where to read the line's pattern and rotation, its balance, values and aberrations. At every meeting with Issam whatever the occasion at heart lingered the mystery and knowledge of proportion.  For whilst pure applied proportion in perfect symmetry is all so easily an unsettling extreme, it is the imperfection accepted in honest humility, perk of character that makes us smile in recognition and love. Here in subtlety Issam the mathematician, scientist and scholar transcended even architecture reaching that apparently easy yet so difficult distinction, artist. The "Geometry of the spirit rendered by physical means" as he would often quote and that he found in calligraphy and geometric pattern defines one end of the prolific spectrum of his art, the works here express in their matter the colours of a spirit freed of geometry in precious humanity. 

Issam said:
God is a circle with its centre everywhere
I said:
Then as the centre moves,
it touches you,
It touches me,
it touches the smallest of creatures,
It touches the Pleiades
But some,
I thought later,
Are drawn into the centre for always, forever

At that phase of his life before his death, Issam seemed to be on the verge of finding the answer to a great riddle that he had never stopped looking for throughout his artistic life. Issam was a scientist, architect, artist, inventor and a scholar. Paradoxically enough he was able to reconcile science and art not by moving away from religion, but through belief and in that, he was drawing on the great Islamic tradition of enlightenment, which regarded science and knowledge as spiritual and thus enhancing the glory of God. Issam set out to prove that there was no contradiction between religion and science and his means for doing so was through art. In other words, Issam was able to reconcile science and art through sacred geometry. He began to experiment fervently and excitedly, even obsessively with geometric prototypes, concepts and principles and thus was admitted to the endless, perpetual and continual world of geometric pattern.  In his Passionate perusal of the history and heritage of Islamic geometric patterns, he was courting eternity. Visually the immortality of God could be represented by the endless repetition of interlocked, intertwined patterns, and His existence in the presence in geometry of the principles and the laws of creation. Thus for Issam, sacred geometry becomes the metaphor of the presence of God in all things and in all designs. In his own words words: God is a circle with its centre everywhere. Issam was true to his art, to his science and to his knowledge. He loved his art which became his song for praising the creation and the universe.  And Issam, perhaps above all earthly things, loved Iraq despite the tragic fate of his family and the violence that was visited upon them, because his Iraq was not the Iraq of the politicians and politics, war, murder and destruction but the eternal Iraq, as old as the very beginnings of man, history and civilization on this earth. Issam's soul was Iraqi and of Iraq.

Fly now and be free
From the golden bars
O immigrating bird of twilight
Whom absence divided you
Your eyes dwelled in by homeland
towards your own window
Don't  be taken by your pride. 
in the gardens of childhood,
Don't depart
let the palm trees wonder how you came
How you touched the earth,
even though walking on palm leaves

Painting for Issam was embodied, initially, in an emotive explosion of colour.  This remained a main characteristic of his works in oil on canvas.  However, for his etching, it was a different matter.  This aspect of his artwork complemented his architectural training and his analytical study of the concepts of Islamic art and its decorative elements. With this, Issam adapted his folkloric subjects creating a synthesis between science and art, whereby his bold colourful expression transformed into a soft dialogue of well balanced line patterns.  From the beauty and sacredness of geometry and Arabic Calligraphy, Issam found a rich source of inspiration for his subject matter.  Ultimately, his artistic expression stemmed from his extensive knowledge of the arts of both East and West.            

Issam was an inspired and highly perceptive man who has contributed enormously to the analysis and understanding of Islamic art.  His memory will certainly live on here at The Prince of Wales's Institute of Architecture, providing an essential link between the Art and Architecture of East and West.

When our so precious and gifted Issam El-Said opened his first exhibition in London at the Woodstock Gallery (1963), I wrote the preface for the invitations and I remember writing: 'Issam is a source of creativity and we will hear much more of him in the future'.  I was right.  He wrote a very interesting book on the geometric basis of Islamic art and he continued his research in this field for his projected doctoral thesis.  Always working, creating, inventing....  May his soul rest in peace.  We all pray for him.  He was a wonderful personality.  He showered us with his charm, his kindness and great humanity, God bless him.*

The sun froze
in burning waters
colours melted
spirals swept
trees plumed
life had no shadows
voice had no echo...
the triangle had no sides*

We are blessed with the gift of the lives of certain people, the seekers after truth.  One such was Issam El-Said who though still young, died suddenly on 26 December 1988.  He was buried on New Year's Eve.  His early years were marred by great tragedy, but his life remained one of generous outpouring.  He made gifts of his time and his knowledge and to talk with him about his work was was to be inspired and invigorated by the clarity and profoundity of his insight...A richly creative person whose inspiration was profoundly spiritual, the simple rituals of Islam brought him rest.  Ideas expressed in his art and writing welled up like a fountain from the conviction that all traditional arts, including those of the Islamic world, are based on laws of proportion: laws which affirm that beauty is not a matter of taste; it is objectively true and it expresses a spiritual reality.  As an artist he strove for perfection and refused to sell work that dissatisfied him, preferring to give it away even when he was sorely in need of money.  For Issam the balance of nature was a mirror of the path of redemption God has decreed for us.  A path in which th balance has been set in accord with our human needs.*

His death is a tragic loss.  Issam was outstanding as a designer and graphic artist.  His major interest was the geometric principles of Islamic art and architecture.  His gifts as an architect were equally matched in three-dimensional form with this ability as a decorative designer.  Had it not been for his unusual thoroughness, he would have finished his dissertation by now.  But he repeatedly scrutinised it page by page to make sure he got it right...His exceptional gifts as designer and graphic artist were well known and he had contributed many works of art in many important buildings in the Middle East...All who worked with him in the School of Architecture mourn the loss of a friend and colleague.*

The untimely death of Iraqi artist, Issam Sabah Nuri El-Said, in London at the tender age of 49 has deprived the Arab and Islamic art world of one of its brilliant icons.*

Some knew him as a dreamer, others as a builder, artist and architect, poet and geometrician, philosopher and empiricist, the mixer of bold colours and selemental shapes; Issam El Said was all of the these to many people.  Te me he was simply Uncle Issam...While sifting through some of his papers, after his death, I came across a few handwritten poems, jotted in pendcil on odd scraps of paper.  I was surprised to find poetry among the bank statements, not least of all because I never knew that the artist wrote verse.  Perhaps that ought to have been obvious from the calligraphical orientation of many of his works.  In any event, the poems were short, penetrating and lucid.  they were about love; they described, gloried in, and were obviously written for and with, love...It is my feeling that love is the motive force within us all.  This view, I feel, is close to that of my uncle's...The most valuable lesson my uncle taught me was the lesson of love.  This is one that can be taught any number of ways, [practised in any field, at any time, by anybody...My uncle, the deft magician, astonishing and impressing his nephew with his hard earned facilities and techniques.  the master of illusion who was quite happy to break that illusion and teach the lesson of perspctive.  the listening ear that preceeded the musical discourse, rich in tolerance, cultural interchange and fertility.  The upset teacher who nevertheless controlled his anger and taought his lesson in the only way that was left open to him when the unwilling student had dismissed the alternatives.  Thnally, the builder of love, between members of a family who, humanly flawed and geoprahically divided...The quiet, gentle sould who was happy to take any position on the stage as long as the company's performance was as good as it could be, rendered with love.

Further tributes to Issam El-Said continue to be gathered and will be uploaded as soon as they are available.

Munira al-kazi: Kuwaiti graphic artist; colleague and friend  

Miles Danby:  Professor of Architecture at Newcastle-upon-Tyne University: Supervisor for El-Said's PhD

Princess Fakhr El Nisa Zeid El Hussain: Artist; mentor

Sabah El-Said: Writer; nephew

May Muzaffer: Writer, poet and art critic.

Rashad Selim:  Iraqi artist (iNCiA); worked with El-Said 1983-5.

Khairat al-Salih: Syrian painter and ceramist; worked with Issam El Said

Professor Keith Critchlow: Director of Research; The Prince of Wales's Institute of Architecture

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