“Colors are like music … there are many tones. I’m like a composer who writes a piece of music. There is harmony and contrast. When I see an empty space, I put something to cover that emptiness.”
~ Farooq Hassan
Farooq Hassan could easily paint his life story as a tragedy.
Over the course of 50 years, he had built a standing as a national and internationally renowned Iraqi artist whose work had hung in galleries in London, Amman, Basrah and Baghdad. In addition, he had designed over 80 stamps for the Iraqi post office and he owned a huge, five-bedroom home. “It was my gallery,” remembers Hassan.
Then his life changed. In 2003, when hostile forces looted and stripped Baghdad’s National Art Museum, Hassan lost 10 of his large paintings on display there. Against a soundtrack of bombs and gunfire, life in Iraq was uncertain. Whenever he left home, recalls Hassan, “I [would] always say to my wife, ‘Goodbye. Maybe I will return alive. Maybe I will not.’ ”
The danger especially threatened his daughter, who reported for the Washington Post. She wanted the family to leave Iraq. “At the beginning my father and mother, they are not convinced about coming [to the United States],” says Dalia Altameemi. “Because ‘we have our fame, we have our house, we have our history, and now we will lose everything.’ ”
In 2010, at age 71, Hassan and his wife, Haifa did follow their daughter to the United States. And they did lose everything. Today they have made a new life for themselves in a modest, two-bedroom apartment in Beaverton. “It’s small, but my wife’s heart is very big,” says Hassan.
Hassan wasted no time mourning his losses. He took up his paint and brushes, and turned his tiny kitchen into a studio. Each canvas completely covers the dining table.
“If the painting have tongue to say something,” says Hassan’s wife, Haifa, laughing, “it will tell you that it has the smell of the onion and the tomato because it’s almost in the same space as the kitchen and it’s full of the fragrance of these things.”
Now a complete unknown in his new country, Hassan needed to rebuild his reputation as an artist. He began by taking his work to the Geezer Gallery in Portland, Oregon which is dedicated to showcasing accomplished local elder artists.
The curators there immediately recognized his talent. “He was magnificent,” says Stephen Graham of the Geezer Gallery. “His layout, his form, his design, the color. He’s into that master’s quality. When I saw it I said, ‘What an honor to be able to meet with this man.’ ”