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Dalloul Art Foundation

HUSSEIN MADI, Lebanon (1938 - 2024)


Hussein Madi was born in Chebaa, a town on the southeastern tip of Lebanon, in 1938. He spent his summers following his paternal grandfather into the orchards, observing him perform with talent,...

Written by FADIA ANTAR

Hussein Madi was born in Chebaa, a town on the southeastern tip of Lebanon, in 1938. He spent his summers following his paternal grandfather into the orchards, observing him perform with talent, diligence, and mastery of his daily farming, carpentry, or blacksmith chores. From his stoic and wise grandfather, Madi learned methodology in work and persevering in any mission until its complete achievement.[1]

As early as in his elementary school years, Madi chose as a companion, the Larousse French dictionary, attracted by its one-line descriptive illustrations of birds, trees, and plants. The young boy would carry papers hidden between the Larousse pages and regularly try to draw the images of the book.[2] It was at the age of 18, in 1958, that Madi enrolled at the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts (ALBA), against the will of his parents.[3] To sustain himself and pay his tuition, he had to work as an illustrator and caricaturist at several newspapers such as Dar el Kifah and Jaridat al Yaoum.[4]

Madi’s studies at ALBA were formative in the subject of human anatomy. The students worked with a live model called Mariam, and Madi was keen to observe, understand, and sketch every function of the human body and its relations with its environment.

When Mariam used to leave the atelier after her three-hours pose, Madi and his classmates would bring a porter from the street, and for a few piastres, they would dress him in a bathing suit and have him pose to be drawn.[5]

In 1963, after a failed attempt at obtaining a scholarship to study in Rome, Madi spent nine months, illustrating books and working for a daily newspaper in Baghdad, Iraq. He earned enough money to plan a two-month trip to Rome, but his two-month plan became an extended residence of 22 years. The artist enrolled at the Academia di Belle Arti di Roma in December 1963, where after a two-month trial period, he was accepted into the school and was even allowed to skip the first year.[6]

In 1965 the Lebanese Ministry of Education granted Madi a scholarship to further his studies in Rome. He won the sculpture award and was given 70.000 Lebanese Liras at that time. He also participated at the Salon D'Automne, organized by Sursock Museum, and was granted its first prize.[7] During his stay in Rome, Madi regularly visited Beirut; a couple of months each summer, to organize exhibitions in local galleries. During the summers, from 1972 to 1987 Madi taught at the Lebanese University’s Institute of Fine Arts. These two yearly months spent in Lebanon allowed the artist to earn some money and establish connections with the Arab art world [8]. Madi’s final return to Beirut was in 1986; he was by then, a multi-talented artist mastering a wide range of mediums and techniques in painting, sculpture, mosaics, fresco, and graphic art.

From Madi's perspective, the best source of artistic knowledge begins with a deep understanding of the elements he encounters, whether it is nature, a human body, or an animal. His acute detailing treatment of his surroundings allows him to observe every element, understand its composition, how it functions, and reproduce it in reduced lines and forms. The real inspiration behind Madi’s art is the nature itself and the creatures of God; his abstraction is a personal interpretation of the living[9]. In his particular way of scrutinizing the living object, Madi dissects its spiritual component and reduces its graphic representation to one unit. He depicts the birds, for example, in one singular design, in an attempt to capture the purest form of a bird, its meaning and essence. Madi creates a sort of a template that is endlessly repeated. Each of these units follows its particular set of rules: it varies in size, position, number, and color, but the core structure remains constant[10]. By superposing an abstract form that refers to a bird, in different colors, positions, and numbers, the artist explores the interactions of colors with each other. He inspects the relationships of those forms within the space of the painting.

The artist's abstract shapes gather in lines, whether horizontal, vertical, diagonal, or even undulant ones; they invite viewers to read and decode their interrelations, movements, and relationships between colors to reach their core. They form an alphabet pure of any semantic reference, that is not an Arabic one, nor a pictorial hieroglyph, it resembles more to the cuneiform scripts, it’s a journey towards the origins of the writing[11]. Shaped out of geometrical forms, lines, sharp angles, and curves, they hint towards the principles of Islamic art[12]. Their endless repetition retraces a Sufi dynamic, a passage to reach the creator; within this multiplicity, Madi performs the unity.

The repetition and interaction between shapes energize Madi's compositions. He structures his work within order and discipline as if he was building on an invisible grid. His templates or elements organize themselves in lines and sequences even when swarming on each other. Those overlapping shapes attract each other and repel from each other, creating an impression of movement in the painting. In the absence of shading, the templates shade one another; give a hint of depth for each other without suggesting any illusion of perspective. In Madi's figurative works, whether nudes or still lives, the volumetric figure monopolizes all the space of the painting, leaving behind it a background with a reduced suggestion of perspective.

Originating from his one line drawing, Madi’s metal sculptures are necessarily a 3D, real-life materialization of his designed shapes. By transposing his sketch on a metal sheet, he cuts it from the sheet, then bends and folds to show form, and create angles.[13] Madi transfers all his subject matters into sculptures; his women, horses, birds, bulls, apples, and flowers can be in a static posture, but mostly, they appear ready to take action.[14] The way he bends and folds his metal revives the form out of the flatness of the sheet, through shade and light, and prompts the allusion to origami (the Japanese art of folding paper to create designs out of a flat sheet of paper).

In Madi’s chromatic explorations, away from lights and shades, as in his flat shapes, one can see the reference to Picasso’s art; at the same time, the reference to Matisse is made clear in his simplified figures.[15] The diligence of Madi to read through the system of nature and analyze its rules capturing the essence of things is perceived as his anchor into Islamic art.[16] Throughout a prosperous production, Hussein Madi succeeded in portraying a signature stamp. The artist passed away in January 2024.



Selected Solo Exhibitions


Hussein Madi, Recent Works, Mark Hachem Gallery, Paris, France
Unexpected Trove - The Unseen Works of Hussein Madi (Rome 1964-1970), Beirut Art Fair, Beirut, Lebanon


Hussein Madi in Amman, Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, Amman, Jordan


An Endless Sense of Creativity, Collages, Lithographs, Paintings and Sculptures, Al Markhiya Gallery, Qatar
A Boundless Life, Beirut Exhibition Center, Beirut, Lebanon


FA Central Bank, Beirut Digital District, Beirut, Lebanon


An Art To See and Touch, Aida Cherfan Fine Art, Beirut, Lebanon


Une Selections D’Oeuvres: 1960-2010, at Aida Cherfan Fine Art, Beirut, Lebanon
Marc Hachem, Paris, France


Sculptures, Aida Cherfan, Beirut, Lebanon


Paintings, Aida Cherfan, Beirut, Lebanon


Drawings, Aida Cherfan, Beirut, Lebanon


Sculptures, Aida Cherfan, Beirut, Lebanon


Paintings and Sculpture, Aida Cherfan, Beirut, Lebanon


Alice Moghabghab Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon


Platform Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon


Petra Bank Art Gallery, Amman, Jordan


Italian Cultural Center, Beirut


First Retrospective, Chamber of Commerce, Beirut, Lebanon


Galerie Samia Tutunji, Beirut, Lebanon


Galerie Samia Tutunji, Beirut, Lebanon


Galleria Esagono, Lecce, Spain


Novelli Gallery, Verona, Italy


Samia Tutunji Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon
Galerie Modulart, Beirut, Lebanon


Contact Art Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon
Trifalco Gallery, Rome, Italy


Galleria d’Arte Cavour, Milan, Italy


Soligo Gallery, Rome, Italy


Dar El-Fann Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon
Poliedro Gallery, Rome, Italy


Lebanese Association of Painters and Sculptors, Beirut, Lebanon

Selected Group Exhibitions


Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s, Grey Art Gallery, New York, US


A la Plume, au Pinceau, au Crayon: Dessins du monde Arabe, Institut du monde Arabe, Paris, France


A Century in Flux, Sharjah Art Museum, Sharjah, UAE


Beloved Bodies, Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah, UAE
The Short Century, Sharjah Museum, Sharjah, UAE


Regards Sur Beyrouth: 160 Ans d’Images 1800-1960, Sursock Museum, Beirut, Lebanon


Tajreed, Contemporary Art Platform, Kuwait


Art From Lebanon, Beirut Exhibition Center, Beirut, Lebanon


Venice Biennale, Italy


Cairo Opera, Egypt


Sharjah Museum, UAE


23rd International Biennale, São Paulo, Brazil


1st Cairo Int’l Biennale in Graphic Art Major, Cairo, Egypt
Darat El-Founoun, Amman, Jordan


Sursock Museum, Beirut, Lebanon


British Museum, London, UK


L’Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France


Kuwait Biennale, Kuwait
Print Biennale, Bradford, UK


Lebanese Association of Painters and Sculptors, Beirut, Lebanon


Sursock Museum, Beirut, Lebanon


12th International Painting Festival, Cagnes-sur-Mer France


International Print Exhibition, Lecce, Italy


Islamic Art Exhibit, London, UK


Cite de Lecce, Italy (1st prize in Sculpture)
Baghdad International Biennale, Iraq


Ueno Museum, Tokyo, Japan
Galleria del Sole, Rome, Italy
Ministry of Tourism, Rome, Italy
Galleria Cortina, Milan, Italy


Galleria La Satedra, Sulmona, Italy


Salon d’Automne, Sursock Museum, Beirut, Lebanon


Alexandria Biennale, Egypt


Salon d’Automne, Sursock Museum, Beirut, Lebanon


Alexandria Biennale, Egypt
Salon d’Automne, Sursock Museum, Beirut, Lebanon
Lebanese Association of Painters and Sculptors, Beirut, Lebanon

Awards and Honors


Awarded the Ordine della Stella Della Soliderieta Italiana, with grade of Cavaliere, Italy


First Prize for Engraving, Citta di Lecce, Italy


Salon Prize for Sculpture, Italian Cultural Centre


First Prize, Salon d’Automne, Nicolas Sursock Museum, Beirut, Lebanon


Ramzi and Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation, Beirut, Lebanon
MACAM, Aalita, Lebanon
Nicolas Sursock Museum, Beirut, Lebanon
The collection of the Ministry of Culture, Beirut, Lebanon
KA collection, Beirut, Lebanon
The collection of Ramzi Saidi, Beirut, Lebanon
The collection of Mazen Soueid, Beirut, Lebanon
Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah, UAE
Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France
The British Museum, London, UK
Chase Manhattan Bank, New York, US
Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Qatar
The Khalid Shoman Collection, Darat Al Funun, Amman, Jordan
Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, Amman, Jordan

Lebanese artist Hussein Madi dies aged 85
Maan Jalal, English, 2024

Abstract and figurative painter leaves behind body of work showcasing his unique style

Hussein Madi, the Arab world’s Picasso, dies at 86
Zéna Zalzal, English, 2024
The life and times of Hussein Madi
India Stoughton, English, 2017
Hussein Madi
Artspace Dubai
Wall Street International, English, 2015

15 Sep — 2 Nov 2015 at Artspace in Dubai, United Arab Emirates

الفنان حسین ماضي: الطبیعة معلمتي
Shaker Nouri, Arabic, 2017
حسين ماضي : الإنسان عرف اللون قبل الكلام, Arabic, 2017
حسين ماضي لاعب الأشكال
عباس بيضون, Arabic, 2022
حسين ماضي: أطلقت الألوان بدلاً من الرصاص
غسان مفاضلة, Arabic, 2017
'Lebanese Picasso' Hussein Madi dies aged 86, English, 2024

Hussein Madi, known as the Lebanese Picasso, died at the age of 86.rn



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