Tribune & The
An article from October 3 -
Lebanese artist takes inspiration from all things spiritual
Im influenced by God, the cosmos and beautiful
Joseph Matar has been waking up at three in the morning lately, and
rushing down to his studio to paint. He cant help it.
Every moment there is something new, he insists, speaking
from his house in the hills overlooking Jbeil. He waves his arms in
the air impatiently, switching from Arabic to French to Spanish to English,
trying to pin down the exact origins of this creative energy. His work
is transforming all the time, all the time, he says. Theres
just no time for stopping.
Painter, poet and self-proclaimed student of the cosmos, Joseph
Matar has been described often by critics as a creator of sacred
art. Yet sacred must not be seen as purely Christian
or purely religious, for in his canvases a space emerges where the human
and sacred combine, where the yellow stones of Lebanese houses press
up against pastoral figures, where women harvesting wheat do not seem
divorced from city scenes of the harbor in Jounieh. Matar insists that
he paints sacred art because every creature is sacred art.
And while sacred recalls all the figures in his work, it
also refers to a light that emanates from his canvases, a light Matar
insists comes not from the paint itself but from the painter.
The artist is his own creator, he says. I paint like
Born in Ghadir, Lebanon, Matar describes himself as a universal
painter who has studied not only with Lebanese masters, but in
Madrid, Paris, and Rome.
And though local landscapes pervade in his work, it would be unfair
to refer to Matar as strictly a Lebanese painter. He insists that every
country he has lived in has its own character, and that like sugar,
he absorbs everything from each place he lives. Everywhere I go,
I try to get into the soul of the people, he says. Each
country has its own character the French soul, the Spanish
soul, the Brazilian soul.
Indeed Matar, who can barely keep still while he speaks, lives and paints
in Lebanon with such energy as to leave no doubt that he approaches
foreign countries with equal hunger.
Perhaps this explains the wide appeal of his work; it has been displayed
in more than 60 personal exhibitions across the world, and his paintings
appear in private collections everywhere from Brazil to Iraq to Ghana.
And while his early influences were such masters as Michelangelo and
Goya, he now claims influences far broader in scope. Im
influenced by God, the cosmos, the spiritual, beautiful women,
he says. I am influenced by anything beautiful.
While Matars work clearly reflects an influence on light reminiscent
of Impressionism he mentions Degas as an influence he clearly
seeks to move beyond form in order to express a level of emotion in
Like Chagall before him, Matar considers himself to be both a painter
and a poet, and suggests that the emotion of poetry and the substance
of painting cannot be separated. You need feeling to write a poem
or to paint, he says. Like dance has a close relationship
to music, poetry is sometimes like a picture when you read the
poem of a poet you will see the picture in front of you.
Likewise, the emotion of poetry should be present in every painted work.
Yet Matar stresses that emotion is not enough to create either poetry
or painting, that in the end an artist requires both emotion and technique.
Rembrandt used to paint with one color but you can see how
beautiful it is. If you have 52 colors and use them all, you will not
necessarily have a good painting.
While some of the figures in his earlier work leaned toward a certain
naivete, Matars recent paintings have evolved to contain a quiet
strength and clarity without sacrificing the almost shocking light that
makes them both highly emotional, and links them so concretely to the
landscapes of the Mediterranean.
And Matar insists that his work will continue to evolve he has
an exhibition at the Municipality of Jounieh this month, and the hundreds
of paintings scattered in his studio, the sketches with poems scribbled
beside them, even the artist palettes transformed into paintings
all attest to a creative energy that shows no signs of fading.
He explains that not just his own painting, but art itself, is a process
of continuous evolution.
History began with art people painted in caves and carved
into ivory we know history through the artistic works that people
left behind. In modern days, we cannot separate art from civilization.
Asked why he continues to paint, he throws his hands in the air. That
is like asking why I am alive. For more on Joseph Matar, and other
Lebanese artists, see www.lebanonart.com
- Daily Star staff
The Blue Moon, one of Matar's pieces:
"I paint like I pray"