Taha also teaches this subject in Jordanian schools. He has
lectured about the subject in different parts of the world.
He has tried his hand at silk screen printing, marbling and
all media pertaining to calligraphy, but prefers to work directly
in ink with a reed pen of his own making, in the original
Arab way. He works clay in many ways: The coil method and
wheel throwing for his jars, amphorae, plates and sculpture
in the round. He uses the slab method for his murals including
low and sunken relief.
As for glazes, he has devised
his own formulae to create special effects and develop different
colors and shades reminiscent of those used in Samarra and
Fostat (prosperous centers of ceramics in Islamic history).
He often renders smooth color-glazed areas in low relief standing
against a rough background. He sometimes introduces a painterly
finish that is quite alien to Islamic ceramics. This finish
gives the work a more contemporary feel, averting the commercial
effect of ceramic glazed tiles.
As for the use of calligraphy
in these works, there is mainly no literal meaning to the
calligraphy he uses. "It is rather the letter itself (or the
combination of letters) that is the subject matter. It exists
as an abstract form, as a decorative whole." The letter becomes
a unit or number of intertwining units placed within the bound
of architectural motifs like monumental arches.
The ways in which he applies
calligraphy to his ceramic forms is interesting. He uses various
methods and techniques: making impressions in the surface
to produce a sunken relief, or delineating the edges of his
letters with etching and filling them in with paint as he
does on his monumental flattened flasks. He often build up
surfaces to create calligraphy in relief, or simply lets the
letters appear in a lower layer of paint that is left apparent
in an overlay (a second coat of colored glaze).
Mahmoud does not make preliminary
sketches and follow them literally as other artists do. His
composition develops as he works. Although his style is easily
recognizable, Taha is in constant search for new elements.
In the 70s Taha started working on murals where he tackled
national themes as well as world issues such as anti-racism
in South Africa. Soon, Islamic architectural motifs, both
Umayyad and Abbasid, found their way into his work. One could
recognize in his work decorative motifs pertaining to other
Islamic applied arts such as woodwork, metals, plaster stucco,
textile weaving and embroidery motifs including geometric
intertwining forms or floral and foliate motifs.
Taha plays around with textures;
he moves from the smooth and flat to the mottled, from the
scarred to the emaciated. A pronounced development can be
seen in his 'globes' where texture goes out of bounds in its
raggedness. These globes that carried, in his early phase,
human figures representing the destruction and burning of
Beirut, and all the pain and torture that went with it, now
seem to foam out as if with magma recreating earth forms,
natural growths, crevices, tortuous formations. According
to Taha, this is due to the use of different clays where one
has a higher shrinkage potential than the other. The globes
that bear two finishes, a vitrified glaze at the bottom and
a matte glaze on top, seem to be most appealing.
Calligraphy appearing on patches,
is laid over the turbulent top of the globe, even over the
most raucous surfaces coming in as an element of surprise.
The use of the "Tughra", the insignia of the Ottoman Sultan
or an even finer "Naskhi" mass to such areas is enigmatic,
one seeks to understand. All of these formations are rendered
in dark earth colors. In his pottery, he tries to marry calligraphy
to different forms, which he adopts from other media and other
generations. Taha creates other ceramic sculptures this time
in disk form. He uses coils of natural clay, vitrified but
not colored, to decorate the gently textured color-glazed
clay of the disk. Calligraphy in the center of this circular
mass is impressed resulting in a sunken relief. Squished slabs
of clay fill in a patch in the disk.
Mahmoud Taha reproduces a
"Safavid" glass from in clay. He exaggerates its dimensions
creating a giant circular flask which he decorates with calligraphic
motifs turning it into an almost contemporary novelty. The
circular form is rendered with a smooth texture and matte
glazing, a gentle combination of two colors brown and blue,
and great finesse in the calligraphy reminiscent of Japanese
pottery. A counterpoint movement is created in this otherwise
stable form when the circular handle swerves backwards pulling
the round composition with it to produce a continuous circular
movement. Mahmoud Taha creates large plates that he covers
in neutral shades incorporating calligraphy, an ever present
curvilinear motif, and other geometric motifs. The murals
of Taha are almost invariably divided into individual sections
filled to the brim with a variety of motifs. They are put
together to create one fastidious rectangle.
In his major mural Taha introduces
the declaration of "Omar Ibn Al Khattab" when he arrived to
Jerusalem, coming from Mekkah. "Omar" was a just man; he vouched
to the Bishop of Jerusalem that he and his army would offer
them peace and not hurt the people of Jerusalem, their churches,
crosses, or possessions. "Omar entered alone on his camel"
explains Taha" Omar and his servant took turns riding the
camel When he arrived to Jerusalem, the servant was riding
the camel and Omar was leading it. The Bishop of Jerusalem
realized that this was a very special man with a special mission.
"This love of the lyrics is apparent in his mural that represents
Jerusalem. The great walls with their crenels appear intermittently.
The Dome of the Rock stands majestically with its golden dome
pulling the whole composition upwards as if to heaven. On
the lower edge of the mural one can recognize the church of
the Holy Sepulcher. The color scheme is analogous, the dominant
color being green, the color of Islam. Brown, white and gold
are also introduced.
On the mottled frame of the
mural one can see a "Sura" from the Quran introduced into
the paint by fusion. "Glory to God who did take His Servant
for a journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest
Mosque whose precincts We did bless. Surat 17:1:
On the right side, one sees
the large camel of Omar resting. Behind it a whole army in
white stands at attention with their golden shields. Individual
soldiers appear partially in the doors as if not trusting
the pact; their shields are lowered.
The text of the declaration
flanks a lower area in the center where the word "Al Quds"
(The Arabic for Jerusalem) appears in relief written in intertwined
"Naskhi". It is almost lost by the introduction of alien,
irrelevant letters that are very symbolic of the state of