One of the most influential female icons and artists from Lebanon, the audacious yet enthralling character of Huguette Caland is captured throughout her oeuvre, and evident in Untitled pictured here. Born in 1931, Caland began painting late in life, saying “there were too many other events in my life, too many other commitments to finish before I could turn to art …. I had to taste and digest all that living before I could begin with the artist in me” (Huguette Caland cited in: Helen Khal, 'Huguette Caland', The Woman Artist in Lebanon, Beirut 1987, p. 128), revealing an appetite for life and adventure that is manifest in the intrepid excitement that her work inspires. She began painting in 1964 and enrolled at the American University of Beirut in 1965 where she studied art formally alongside her friends and contemporaries Helen Khal and Afaf Zurayk. While Caland has been rather consistently concerned with eroticism and desire, this piece epitomises her ability to weave the sensual with subtlety and sophisticated humour.
Her work, often described as “unequivocally sexual, and yet … not obscene” (Aram Moshayedi, Huguette Caland, Everything Takes the Shape of a Person, 1970-78, Milan 1973, p. 16), is imbued with a wittiness that skirts the scandalous. Hinting at womanly curves and carefully drawing one’s gaze, Caland’s use of line is where her genius lies, channelling the erotic energy that would otherwise run rampant across the canvas. In an interview with Hanan al-Shaykh, Caland noted that growing up, she was “was not very free, but we had the freedom of thought for sure” (Huguette Caland cited in: Aram Moshayedi, Huguette Caland, Everything Takes the Shape of a Person, 1970-78, Milan 1973, p. 185). The only daughter of the Lebanon’s first President Bechara El Khoury, Caland grew up in a sometime harsh limelight, yet never shied away from controversy, learning to embrace humour and mystery in her fascinated pursuit of the female body. If anything, this contentious background provided fertile ground for her work, as she once stated that she “loves overcoming difficulties. I create them when there is nothing, I always find difficulties to overcome, maybe because it gives a taste to life” (Aram Moshayedi, Huguette Caland, Everything Takes the Shape of a Person, 1970-78, Milan 1973, p. 180). This was perhaps also evident in her unconventional personal relationships, taking up a lover alongside her husband, and moving to Paris in 1970 where Untitled was lovingly produced. During her time in Europe, her talent irrefutably flourished, gaining a colourful intensity and becoming more daring, brimming with a sense of unbridled feminine power that titillates and teases.
The sexual intonations and even use of strong crimson against rich emerald can be compared to the witticism and palettes used by Georgia O’Keeffe in her seminal Calla Lilies on Red (1928), whereby a magnified detail or a simple curve lustily dominates a canvas in bold unerring beauty. Comparable too is the significant portion of Caland’s work that was similarly just shy of iconoclasm. Her work however, somewhat paradoxically, took on a sculptural edge, with the genesis of this trend appearing around 1973 and gaining momentum throughout the late 1970s. Soft curves adorn the very tip of the canvases top edge, with a deep ‘v’ drawing the eyeline down to a blushing pink mound. The sensuality is clear and unafraid, yet playful abstraction adds an almost surrealist layer to her work.
Appearing at Frieze Masters in 2013, the Lombard Fried Gallery, New York in the same year and at New York’s Institute of Arab and Islamic Art in 2018, Caland’s work has only grown in repute. She currently resides in California where she continues to produce whimsical, if not mischievous and empowered pieces.
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