'She is, in the broadest meaning of the word, a humanist; sensual and spiritual, erotic and sentimental, humourous and playful, fearful and daring, compassionate and detached, pragmatic and impulsive. All these qualities are found in her art.' (Helen Khal quoted, in "Pure Visual Delight in Pencil and Ink: Never Tormented always amusing" in Huguette Caland, exh. cat., Beirut Exhibition Center, 2014, p. 23).
Charming the art world with her distinctive avant-garde style and outspoken character, Huguette Caland is arguably the most influential Lebanese Contemporary feminist artist of her time. Through her elaborate yet humble works, fantasy and reality meet together to create a unique mixture of rigour and freedom, seriousness and lightheartedness that is distinctive in style. Born in 1931 in Beirut as the only daughter of the first President of the Republic of Lebanon Bechara El Khoury, Caland pursued art and literature as a means of expression. Having felt dismissed by many for being within such a political environment as the President's daughter, whilst also battling with her ever increasing weight, Caland used her art as a way of cementing her presence within the patriarchal society that dominated Lebanon in the 1960s and 1970s. During this time Beirut was an intellectual and artistic hub, relatively peaceful with a sense of democracy and freedom of expression - that instigated an open atmosphere of exchange that lead to the formation of many Arab nationalist ideals. It served to be the perfect breeding ground for Caland's distinctive world filled with a childlike awe reminiscent of the scents and textures of Beirut, love, family, war, exile and freedom.
She began painting at the age of 16 under the private tutelage of Fernando Manetti, an Italian artist who resided in Lebanon and then pursued her studies at the American University of Beirut with the likes of Aref El-Rayess, Helen Khal, Shafic Abboud, Janine Rubeiz and many others. Developing her own fiercely individual aesthetic approach, Caland began the first in what was to be three distinct periods throughout her artistic career. Known as the Bribes de Corps (translated as Body Fragments), they are inspired by Caland's sensitivity to her own body - she affectionately refers to her large body size as excess baggage - and femininity.
Christie's is honoured to present a seminal example from this series this season, exploring her favourite subject of human anatomy. Extravagant and ludic on the one hand, sensual and tender on the other, it depicts through a suggestion of line and vivid expanses of colour, a classical rending of areas of the human body, evocating an intimate feminine exploration of life and love that is strangely soothing.
Demystifying the notion of the body and sexuality becoming decorative in nature this freedom of expression was rare in the Middle East in the 1960s and 1970s. Despite her father's position, Caland capitalised on her exposure to a period of cultural vitality in Lebanon. Her mastery was to evoke the complex idea of womanhood during these decades and its symbols by creating liberating pictures. She would represent the body in subtle semi-abstracted imagery where female forms became soft landscapes seducing the viewer with modernist renderings of tangled bodies as supple landscapes without beginning or end, her body parts and curves of flesh becoming the mountains and valleys. Caland sought inspiration from the western female artists of this time such as Georgia O'Keefe and Niki de Saint Phalle, who also explored natural forms, intimacy and bright colour palettes, celebrating femininity in its exultancy but with none of the tortured darkness despite her complicated childhood. Her work, of which the present work is an outstanding example, holds a lightness and everlasting childlike awe, therein lies the power of Caland's oeuvre. In each of her compositions there is a deep-rooted sense of resilience, freedom and lust for life that radiates with charm, luminosity and rich sophistication.
Although Caland has become more well-known for her Tapestries, it is her older work, of which the present work is a strong example that has captured the attention of many and has cemented her already established title as a major figure in the Contemporary Middle Eastern art scene. A work from this period has recently been acquired by LACMA in Los Angeles.