Huguette Caland is a Lebanese painter and designer born in Beirut in 1931. As the daughter of Bechara el-Khoury, the first president of the Lebanese Republic, she grew up feeling the pressure of living in a politically and socially engaged family, and the difficulty of finding her own identity. However, the burdens that come with the constant exposure to the public inspired Caland's first sketches; she filled the walls of her room with drawings of faces mirroring her family house packed continuously with people. Her creative tendencies were soon formally supported, as sixteen-year-old Huguette began private drawing lessons with Fernando Manetti, an Italian painter living in Beirut.

Huguette married Paul Caland at the age of 20 and had three children. Following her mother's death in 1960, she found herself caring for her elderly father in addition to her children, and found family life stifling her chances at the career in the arts she so earnestly desired. After her father's death in 1964, she felt she could finally begin to invest more of her energy in art-making, and set up a studio in the garden at her family home in Kaslik. This first studio served as a space for self-discovery, auto-examination as a physical, sexual being, and for reflecting upon her relationships. A year later, the 33-year-old mother enrolled in the American University of Beirut to study Fine Arts, where she eagerly absorbed the styles, techniques, and philosophies she explored in her classes. It was as if a whole new world had opened wide for her.

Though her father's death left Caland with more time to devote to art, the constraints of marriage and motherhood continued to weigh on her. In 1970, following her first exhibition in Beirut, Caland made a bold change: she left her husband and children and moved to Paris. Experiencing a new city allowed a halt from the identities imposed on her as a politician's daughter, a wife, and a mother. In Paris, Huguette Caland led a genuinely bohemian life.

Out of Paris stay came a series of oil paintings she called Bribes de Corps, in which Caland filled canvases with parts of her own body, abstracted to seem almost landscape-like, in colorful –and suggestive – curves of flesh. In fact, throughout the 60s and 70s, human anatomy was her favorite playground, and her own body became a primary source of inspiration. The playful eroticism of her work was radical for its time and harmonized with contemporaneous feminist efforts to reclaim nude representation from its history as an object and expression of the male gaze. Furthermore, the strength of this work was accentuated by the fact that it focused on the artist’s own body. Huguette Caland was overweight and had been for as long as she could remember. Growing up in a society that prized thinness as a hallmark of beauty, she was made to feel ashamed of her appearance, expected to do everything in her power to change it; instead, she dared to do work that celebrated it. Not only Paris received Bibes de Corps with a shock, but Beirut, too: this work was very daring for any artist working in the 1970s.

In addition to celebrating her body on canvas, Caland was known for adorning it with imaginative fashions. In 1979, the artist walked into the shop of renowned fashion designer Pierre Cardin wearing a caftan, a garment type she had worn exclusively since her father's death. Cardin was so impressed by its originality that he asked Caland to collaborate on a line of caftans, which was released to great success.

In the late 1980s, Caland's lover, Romanian sculptor Georges Apostu, as well as her dear friend Mustafa both died of heart attacks, prompting the artist's second big move. This time, Huguette took off to the United States, where she set up a home and a studio in Venice, California. Much like her childhood home, this Los Angeles-area studio was open to any friends and visitors, and Caland often hosted prominent American artists such as Chris Burden and James Hayward. The artist remained in California until 2013 when she returned to Beirut to say goodbye to her dying husband.

Caland's recent work often makes use of mixed media, as is seen in her Rossinante Under Cover series (2011). This series uses oils and ink to evoke the craftsmanship and feel of a carpet, quilt, or tapestry, making use of lines that resemble stitching and patchwork. Though they call textiles to mind above all, they are not devoid of human presence – some seem to hint at the trace of bodies underneath – and their content bears some relation to the artist's personal life. Though abstract, these mixed media works can also be seen to reflect on Caland's life experiences, as in Maison de Freige (2010), which is reminiscent of her teenage self. Here we see the diary of a girl entering womanhood, rejecting expectations of what she should be, reflecting on what mattered to her and what was forbidden. Furthermore, Caland's parents had an extensive collection of rugs, which may have inspired her, but she avowedly disliked the act of sewing. Here, she uses a medium that brings her joy to evoke the playful result of cross-stitching, an act that made the artist feel close to women weavers. These textile-inspired works were created freehand, with Caland incorporating different patterns into a spontaneous, lighthearted composition.

Throughout her career, Huguette Caland's work has been a celebration of life, sexuality, and sensuality, with the artist's good humor coming through her signature bright color palette and playful, jocular linework. From her luminous oil paintings to her busy, textural mixed-media works to her minimalist, almost cartoonish black-and-white drawings, Caland has created a world in which the human experience is exalted in all its imperfections.

The artist passed away in Beirut, on the 23rd of September 2019, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. She was 88 years old.

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