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by Kathleen Menéndez

Pyrography News From Around the World

Newsletter No. 13, Page One of Three

Far and Near


Page One:
Tayseer Barakat

Page Two:
Introducing Dan Allnutt and Fran Rehn
Book Review: How to Woodburn Wildlife: A Burning Class in a Book by O. W. Davis
Christian Maraschin, Decorative Artist with a Mission

Page Three:
The Tagua Craze Continues! A Gallery of Tagua Works by IAPA Members
Update on the Corroboree--It's Sporting a Plinth!

Interview on the West Bank with Tayseer Barakat

by Tayseer Barakat, 1995

Pyrography and color on wood, 190 by 100 cm

Image courtesy of the artist, scan by Samia Halaby

Born in Gaza in the Jabaliya Refugee Camp in 1959, Palestinian Tayseer Barakat has had the opportunity to exhibit his artistic talents in many countries in the world since he graduated in 1984 from the College of Fine Arts in Alexandria, Egypt.

>From the website of Samia A. Halaby on a page entitled Tayseer Barakat and History is the following excerpt written by her in 1999:

Tayseer Barakat sees the form of his art as a reaffirmation of ancient Palestinian art... Ancient Iraqi, Canaanite, Phoenician, and Egyptian art are clearly present in his work on both the intuitive and studied levels...

Moreover, he feels that it is of primary importance that the symbols in his work are social and that they are understood by his society as emanating from them and belonging to them...symbolism by its nature is intended to communicate a shared idea and thus is social not personal.

Meeting Samia Halaby

Born in Jerusalem, naturalized American Samia Halaby, a well known artist herself and professor at the Yale School of Art, has taken it upon herself to display Tayseer's work and tell his story on her website along with her own.

I was most fortunate to make the acquaintance of Samia Halaby shortly before her departure from New York. Because I know only a very little Arabic, I asked her to interview her fellow artist and friend Tayseer Barakat on my behalf. As it turned out, Tayseer's town of Ramallah on the West Bank of the Gaza Strip was her destination, and she graciously offered to do the interview in person.

Early on a Sunday morning in June, I felt transported to the other side of the world when I excitedly opened an e-mail from Samia that started, "I am now in Ramallah and have had several chances to talk with and interview Tayseer Barakat..." Following is Samia's interview using my questions "and a few extra" of her own. I was tense with excitement as I read her words and Tayseer's.

Samia wrote: "I arrived here to the West Bank on June 8th, 2001. It was a time when each person was just coming out to look at the sky, not believing that I had the courage to actually come over to visit them. They had been under fire for months and months and had been expecting a huge bombardment by air on to their homes and neighborhoods. As a result they met my coming with special kindness and regard and were thanking me for my courage in being willing to come and share the nightmare with them..."

"The streets were mostly empty... I with a U.S. passport was able to get through the closure points but with some difficulty... Wrecked homes, garbage on the streets, unending pot holes of monumental proportions, and their [Israeli] military concrete blocks all over the place..."

"Thus it was under conditions of war and fear walking through quiet streets that I arrived at The Ziryab Cafe, which Tayseer runs..."

by Tayseer Barakat

Sculpture of woodburning and color on wood blocks

Image from the Sao Paulo Biennial, 1996

Tayseer's Tools and Techniques

"I sat with Tayseer several times and on June 12th, 2001," Samia wrote, "I recorded the following: "

Samia: Tayseer, how do you do your burning technique?

Tayseer: I use a wide fire--a tank with hose and fire gun [blowtorch]. I draw my shapes on cardboard and I wet it and I put it on the wood. I apply it like a stencil, and I burn controlling the intensity of the fire and the burning in order to create variation in tonalities.

Tayseer continues: I also use another method. I print the shapes with hot brass. I cut a sheet of brass into my desired shape and I heat it and burn it. Then I place it on the wood and I press it down with a piece of metal that has an upright handle. I found this tool. It was as though made for me. It was a flat slab of steel with an upright pipe welded to one side and a knob on top of the upright pipe. It is perfect. When I press the hot brass shape, I manipulate it to create variation in the color by the degree of heating of the brass shape and the length of time pressing it.

Tayseer's Special Wood Sources

Samia asks: How about the wood, Tayseer? Where do you get it?

Tayseer: Mostly it is found wood from rubbish heaps. I dry it and clean it.

Samia comments: (I noticed that people now see how he uses old wood and have begun to collect material and bring it to him. A few nights ago, June 22nd, we had a cookout at the artists' club, and one member brought him a landmine box, which she had found in an empty lot. We all wondered at it. He plans to use it.)

Tayseer Barakat at work in his studio, 1998

Photograph courtesy of the artist
Scanned image of it courtesy of Samia Halaby

Samia asks: Do you use any other burning methods and what burning tools do you use?
Tayseer replies: I also use an electric pen, which is made especially for burning and gives a fine line and control.
He adds: I never saw these methods before and they evolved through practice.

Samia questions further: Tell me how you explore and experiment.

Tayseer replies: I do a lot of wood collage and sometimes I use some of my old drawings and collage them onto the wood after I burn it. And sometimes I insert aluminum pieces into the wood. I also use inks and washes with my wood burning.

I [also] do three-dimensional blocks burnt on all faces, and I stack them as sculpture [see above]. I do installation pieces with sand and burnt wood. I also did a chest of drawers with the burnt images inside the drawers [see below].

I use water and wood and fire. I used to draw with water-soaked shapes and areas, and then burn around them. Many unusual and surprising results come in this experimental way.

And, you know, the color of burning changes as per wood types and as per the age of the wood. I do not put a shine on the wood. My pieces are never shiny unless I find shiny pieces of wood. Occasionally, I use sandpaper to prepare and smooth the surface.

by Tayseer Barakat, 1998

Chest of drawers with colored pyrographs inside the drawers, 110 by 120 by 95 cm

Image courtesy of the artist, scan by Samia Halaby

Samia: What finish do you use?
Tayseer: I mostly use gasoline and Celler (Celler is a brand name for a heating fuel available here in Palestine) to protect wood from worms and other bugs. Celler is a heavy material (more viscous) than gasoline. I asked how one can protect wood and how one can preserve it. I asked woodworkers and read some books on building with wood in order to learn how to preserve it.

Tayseer's beginning

Samia [asking Kathleen's favorite question]: What made you use burning? How did you get started?
Tayseer's [wonderful] reply: Wood and burning are two materials of the beginning of life. It is a material close to man and thus the response to it is stronger for its closeness.

He continues: I abandoned traditionally taught methods from school days and began a search for materials. I felt that there was a connection between materials and philosophical points of view.

Untitled, Detail
by Tayseer Barakat, 1995

Pyrography and color on wood slice, 95 by 105 cm

Image courtesy of the artist

Tayseer's search for his own style

Tayseer continues: One of the influences was my current work with fellow Palestinian artists doing a boycott against imported Israeli materials. This was a tradition with us that began with the Intifadah [pronounced in-tee-FAH-dah, it refers to the Palestinian resistance. The link is to a short paper by Samia Halaby explaining the Intifadah art movement that was part of it.].

Samia explains further: (Many artists trying to struggle against the occupation during the eighties adopted materials natural to the land of Palestine, such as stone, mud, leather, etc.)

Tayseer continues: Right after my graduation in 1984, I did a lot of research for materials and I spent one year doing no art work and only searching. One day I went to a very large garbage dump...and it provided an answer.

Tayseer and Samia Conclude the Interview

by Tayseer Barakat, 1997

Pyrography and color on wood, 180 by 80 cm

Image courtesy of the artist, scan by Samia Halaby

Samia: Are there many Palestinian pyrographers that is, artists who use burning as a medium?
Tayseer: When I was a child in the seventies, I saw some work by Ismail Ashur who did portraits with the burning pencil [pyro pen]. He lived in Ghazze (Gaza). He used only the burning pencil.
Samia: Is this medium well known? and well accepted? taught in school or art classes?
Tayseer: No, other than Ashur, I never heard of it or saw it used at school.

Samia: Anything you would like to say to other artists who use this medium?
Tayseer's advice: The important thing is to find out how to prevent the wood from decay and from pests and to learn preservation.

Samia: Will you be showing your work in the USA or any other countries any time soon?
Tayseer says: I have a show now in Qatar. I exhibited in the Sao Paulo [Brazil] Biennial in 1996 and in Paris in 1997. All these are shows of my wood burning work. In 1999, I showed some material in Oslo [Norway] and in 1995 in Germany and a lot in the Arab World. I showed twice in New York at the United Nations in 1995 and in 2000, and both shows were of my wood burnt pieces.

Samia: Tayseer, tell us your thinking about this art form you've chosen.
Tayseer: The connection between artists and wood is one of love, and if we love it, we use it without overwhelming it.

Update and References

More of Tayseer's striking pieces are now on display in his salon in the E-Museum. Look for Tayseer's own website soon at www.art-barakat.com. Read Samia's earlier in-depth interview Tayseer Barakat and History where you can view some of Tayseer's beautiful works in ink on paper as well. From there you will want to explore more of her most interesting website Paintings from the Mind and Heart displaying her own colorful works as portals to the site.

Since their interview and this publication, Tayseer's city of Ramallah on the West Bank has been sadly thrust again and again into the news headlines.

Click here for page two

2001, all rights reserved, Kathleen M. Garvey Menéndez, all rights reserved.