The Art of Interaction

Ceramic works – the co-operation of Qassim Alsaedy and Brigitte Reuter
Peggie Breitbarth (article KERAMIEK – Magazine, Dec. 2011 )

It is not uncommon for two artist of different disciplines to work together. Especially in the ceramic arts there are many cases of such co-operation. Usually the ceramist is responsible for the form and the painter for the decoration. But the co-operation of Qassim Alsaedy and Brigitte Reuter is something very special. They have been working together now for ten years and have created a common oeuvre.

Qassim Alsaedy is born in Baghdad (1949). From 1969 – 1973 he studied at the Academy of Art in Baghdad. There was, however, no place for young artists in the regime of that time and Qassim finally was imprisoned. After being released he went to Lebanon. Due to the civil war he couldn’t stay and he went to Iraqi Kurdistan and joined the resistance movement. Later he got a visa for Libya where he worked as a teacher at the Academy of Tripoli. But there also he was not safe. In 1994 he came to the Netherlands where he soon could exhibit his paintings.

Brigitte Reuter, born in Germany, came to the Netherlands in 1981, following her heart. From 1983 -1986 she studied ceramics at the Technical College Gouda and soon got acquainted with Gert de Rijk, a well-known ceramist in Utrecht. Thanks to him she acquired an extensive knowledge of salt- and other glazes (1985 – 1987).
In 1989 she opened her own studio annex gallery in Utrecht . She makes pottery and meditative objects (‘a place for a stone’). She specializes in salt glazes and Raku. When Brigitte saw the paintings of Qassim in a gallery she immediately wanted to do ‘something’ with this artist, for example an exhibition of his paintings in her gallery.
For the ceramic manifestation in 2002 in Utrecht, the participants were asked to work together with an artist of another discipline. She didn’t hesitate to invite Qassim. Thus he entered the world of ceramics and immediately became enthusiastic about it. "I felt like Columbus; as if I had discovered a new continent”.
Later on he realized his enormous affinity with clay, an affinity based on his homeland and his childhood. ”Our house was built from clay and my first drawings I made in the dust”. Here lays the base for his decorations of the ceramic forms and objects. He draws in the clay, prints motives, and also makes small alterations to the form of the object.
The term ‘decoration’ has to be understood only in technical terms; drawings are a means of communication for Qassim; his work makes you think of clay tablets, drawings and messages on walls (for him personally also on the walls of his cell) and of pavement stones carrying marks of footprints and carriages. Those who have visited archeological sites should be able to recall this feeling. What on first sight seems just a heap of stones, carries numerous marks of the life of ages ago. Clay, as matter or as a product, always carries signs of a past.

How does a co-operation like this actually work? Brigitte makes the form. Qassim works on it from all sides. Brigitte then uses engobes, oxides, pigments, glazes and salt. The result of all this is seen as soon as the piece comes out of the kiln. One gets the impression that they work independently from each other , but this is not true. There is action and reaction: interaction. Sometimes when Brigitte starts working there is nothing but a title. They may choose the colour of the clay, dimensions, atmosphere, details perhaps , but then Qassim has to leave it to Brigitte, he cannot guide her hands.
While Qassim is completely free in his drawings, Brigitte, when she gets the piece back, has to read Qassim’s dreams and thoughts and has to react. For every piece she has to choose the glazes, to work out accents , to brighten up some details. Up to a certain point she knows how the different glazes work together and what their colour will be after firing. She very often uses many colours and you can imagine that the process needs super concentrated work. It remains an exciting moment for Brigitte when the kiln is opened, to see how the colours have come to life. For Qassim it remains a small miracle. ‘But’, he says ‘I have never been disappointed’. Brigitte adds that Qassim sees the kiln as the third partner in the process.

Their oeuvre consists of series ’castles’, ‘towers’, 'temples’, ‘gateways’, ‘ancient games’, ’ceramic fields (pavement stones)’, ’steles’, ‘wall stones’, en recently ‘walls’. A connecting theme you could imagine is urbanization as the origin of our culture. The forms refer in the first place to ancient cultures between the Euphrates and the Tigris, but you could easily continue from there to our city jungle of today. These age-old types of human passion for building often have symbolic meanings. The tower connects heaven and earth; the wall protects or divides; the gateway gives the passer-by the choice to enter or to turn back. With his drawings and marks Qassim evokes ages of inhabitation, use and, above all, human presence. His style of drawing reminds in a way of Paul Klee (1879 – 1940). With simple, sometimes childlike pictures, scribbles, character- and cipher-like drawings he brings the life of the past very near to us and we, the spectators, realize that we are part of something as abstracts as ‘mankind’.

Qassim, who has been through a lot in his life and who certainly does not close his eyes for the evil in the world, shall always state that only love can be the winner. In his paintings he refers regularly to the fight between good and evil, using nails and even bullets. In the ceramic work he follows much more his dream of a world in harmony. He permits himself a fairy tale, something poetic, light, something to dream about and to enjoy. Thanks to the long lasting co-operation with Brigitte Reuter we, the spectators, can share in it.

Their work can regularly be seen in the Netherlands. A very special presentation of the duo was ‘Who said no?’, an installation of ceramics and paintings in Museum Flehite in Amersfoort in 2006. In 2010 they participated in ‘Terracotta’, an exhibition in the Rijksmuseum voor Oudheden in Leiden . A year earlier they installed a passion-path in the Egyptian Taffeh-temple of this museum. In 2011 they made a wall installation consisting of ceramic pieces, paintings and mixed media in gallery Diversity & Art in Amsterdam in the exhibition ’Shortly after the war’. Earlier (2005) they were guests of the Art Society in Bahrain. Qassim is now planning an exhibition in het Museum of Art in Baghdad . From November 25, 2012 until February 24, 2013 their work can to be seen in Museum Gouda.
(translation: Brigitte Reuter)

A film about Qassim and the exhibition in Museum Gouda.