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Currently at the Maher Attar Workshop in Gemmayzé, an ongoing retrospective exhibition until November 2nd commemorates the centenary of the Lebanese artist Jean Khalifé. Despite the nation’s prevailing instability, this long-planned exhibition has not been postponed. A substantial number of visitors, collectors, and art enthusiasts have gathered to appreciate Khalifé’s masterpieces, accompanied by his son Jim Khalifé and their family.

Six decades ago, Jean Khalifé said, “The external world is but an accessory. I internalize my paintings as if they are etched into my very skin.” This insurgent artist, who perceived painting as an amalgamation of forms and hues, had an unparalleled mastery over classical techniques.

Recognizing the constraints of prevailing theories, he crafted his own artistic approach, gradually distancing from the figurative style to emphasize his unique palette and forms, thus captivating the emotions of onlookers. Even after a century, his canvases still resonate with sentiments and induce introspective daydreams, immersing viewers into a realm of fantastic narratives. Although often criticized and misunderstood, Jean Khalifé is undeniably among the vanguards of abstract art in Lebanon.

As he ventured into abstraction in the 1950s, many resisted this innovative mode of expression. Nonetheless, unperturbed by critiques, he persevered, pioneering a path for subsequent artists, marking his oeuvre with vigorous brushstrokes, audacious compositions, and a vibrant chromatic spectrum. His creations, replete with symbolic undertones, function as metaphysical allegories, beckoning for individual interpretation. Drawing inspiration from Lebanese and Oriental cultures, he adeptly maneuvered between abstraction and figuration.
Over his illustrious career, Jean Khalifé partook in 65 exhibitions, both solo and collective, globally. Biennales spanning Lebanon, France, England, Italy, Syria, Japan, and Brazil punctuated his artistic journey. Hailing from Hadtoun, he pursued education at the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts and subsequently in Paris, before assuming the presidency of the Lebanese Artists Association and imparting his knowledge in painting.

The exhibition showcases a meticulously restored collection of Khalifé’s groundbreaking works, especially striking oil paintings and artworks on cardboard rendered in tempera, pastels, and watercolors. Situated within a traditional Lebanese dwelling in Gemmayzé, the Maher Attar Workshop provides a congenial backdrop for this display. 

Refurbished by the renowned photographer Maher Attar, the venue is augmented with mellifluous jazz tunes and a sophisticated lighting system, accentuating Khalifé’s masterpieces. Owing to Dr. Tony Karam’s diligent organization, the exhibition revivifies the artist’s concealed treasures. The inauguration, graced by the artist’s family’s presence, was a poignant affair, underscoring the solace and optimism art can bestow in tumultuous times.