Art is transformation. Art began with transforming a cave wall into an imagined world of people and animals. And art continues to transform materials into new objects, new images that can in turn engender transformation in their viewers. The last part in our four part series will discuss the ages of transformation and present time in Lebanon.
Once Calm was back in the milieu of the occidental art, the Lebanese artist having finally recovered his identity, he started to produce works fully rooted in his soil meaning that enjoyed three characteristics : one vigorous technique, an inspiration stemming from the milieu and the cultural heritage and the expression of the personality.
The capital turning point that led to this salvaging transformation was initiated by the Occident itself but in taking the Orient as a starting point. The new occidental art which ended up at a dead-end with the two world wars was trying to renew itself. It happened that the Occident had discovered the light of the Orient, the sky and the earth of the Orient and the oriental arts, mainly the arabesque and the Arabic calligraphy. The Germans who in the past had played a preponderant role in the Orientalism mainly in discovering the cultural heritage of the History of the Arabs played the same role when it came to Art.
The big name in the field of artistic orientalism is the name of Paul Klee (1879-1940) who wanted to deliver a message in exploiting in depth the possibilities of the Arabic writing. The German Paul Frank, saw as well in the isolated Arabic character its marvelous decorative form. He conferred to it an esthetic value, independent from the name which conveys the meaning. This is how he structured his abstract art. With the discovery made by the German orientalist starts a new movement of return to the sources. At the beginning, this movement followed purely and simply the abstract line of the “orientalist” art of the Occident.
But the spark would not be late to light up. Amin al-Bacha (1932-20..) for example resolutely takes this new path. The color is no longer in his work nor in the work of Klee, the one of an oriental dream or the escape outside time and action but a color in search of an intensity that ties the oriental to earth and to time. Wajih Nahla (1932-20..) as well avoids the use of the isolated letter as an abstract ornamental motif. He starts from the Arabic carrying a meaning. But there is more, with Said Aql (1926-2001) on the other hand it is the Latin character that serves as a support for all the plastic construction in the style of the large pictorial construction.
It is a long list, that of these Lebanese painters and sculptures who such as Michel Basbus (1921-1981), Khalil Zughayb (1911-1974), Marun Tomb (1921-1981), Husayn Badr al din (1939-1975), Jean Khalifa (1923-1978), Chafiq Abbud (1926-2004), Paul Guiragossian (1926-1993), Arif al – Rayyiss (born in 1926) kept on making art progress in Lebanon on the path of the original creation and the authentic renewal. It is enough to mention that among the artists of this generation, the ones such as Nazim Irani (1915-20..) in sculpture and Wahib Baytidini (1929-20.00) in painting
followed the traces of the pioneers of the national art and others such as Halim al-Haj (1915-1998) remained within the frame of the academic classicism.
Then it is the arrival of the fifth generation. Its stay in the Occident coincided with the calming down of the storm and the return of the occidental art to at least some of its traditional basis. This art evolves within the frame of the formal art and with a solid knowledge of the drawing principles at the starting point. We can even say that each artist of this generation knew from the first steps he took which path he was taking.
This was the case for Husayn Madi (1938-20..) who in his painting used to be inspired by the hieroglyphs and in his sculpture by the Mesopotamian art, and for Ibrahim Marzuq (1937-1975) who had a marked predilection for alleys, houses and traditions of the old Beirut, and as well for Musa Tiba (1939-20..) who revealed the sacred game of fecundity and death.
An important turning point is taken. The artists of the new generation do not settle anymore for receiving. From now on they give. And their gift concretizes itself in the avant- garde works which were able to penetrate the occidental field, until then very closed and that thanks to their original flavor. In parallel, the Lebanese capital became the large home of the Arab Orient and a privileged center of international class exhibitions. On the national level, exhibitions initiated by the Ministry of Education and Fine Arts were organized periodically since 1953. In 1962, the Institute of Fine Arts affiliated to the Lebanese University was established.
Finally, there is another point that deserves to be considered: the complex towards the foreigner that used to affect the usual public of exhibitions and pushed them to only buy foreign paintings that disappeared the moment the Occident turn towards the cultural heritage of the Orient and when the quality of the works created by Lebanese artists confirmed itself. At the same time, a significant change occurred with the public in the way they look at the oriental art, and the Lebanese artists received a consecration for their talents by their entry in the international encyclopedias of art2 and the major museums of the world.
It is difficult to go thru the totality of the Contemporary Lebanese artists in this brief article and we risk in naming some of them to forget others among the most worthy and to ignore those who have decided to establish themselves abroad. But some names do impose themselves : Olga Limanski (190.-1988), Diran (1903-1991), Sophie Yeramian (1915-1984), Michel Aql (1923-1997), Munir NAjm (1933-1990), Alphonse PHilippos (1937-1987), Dorothee Slahab Kadhimi (1942-1990), Georges Chahin (1951-1995), Yvette Achqar (1928-20), Martha Harawi (1944-20…), Georges Nadra, Fadia Haddad (1959-2000).
At present, let us leave these works, wherever they are, and especially the ones that decorate the walls of the biggest museums of the world, tell themselves their secret process and testify of the modest but original and creative contribution of the Lebanese artists in the history of universal contemporary art.
MOOVTOO Exclusive: This article was originally written by Abdallah Naaman in French and has been translated into English