A lifelong artistic legacy
For the Lebanese painter Joseph El Arid, the natural beauty, impressive architecture and community spirit of his birthplace have combined to provide lasting inspiration
While artists often cite fond memories of their childhood and birthplace when asked about their inspiration, the passion shown by the Lebanese painter Joseph El Arid for his home town of Zahle and surrounding areas in terms of output must surely be hard to equal.
“I’ve painted Zahle, Baalbek and the Bekaa too many times to remember - the light, the landscapes, the buildings and the people - I never get tired of capturing the beauty of the places and the love I feel for them and the people,” he said with a smile.
El Arid explained that as a boy, he worked in agriculture, meaning he was close to the land for much of the time and able to appreciate nature’s wonders from morning to night and throughout the seasons.
“I’d wake up early and immediately, my senses were filled with everything that nature had to offer, from the way the sun lit up the fields to the smell of the soil. It never failed to amaze me,” he said.
He also discovered a love for drawing and colouring in his early years, with the result that, almost inevitably, he found himself drawn to recreating his picturesque surroundings on paper.
Over the years, the rural landscapes around his hometown have provided a wealth of subject matter for El Arid, from the majestic, expansive cedars, reaching towards the sky, to the blossom billowing on the breeze and multi-coloured tapestry of flowers extending across the plains in spring, delicately depicted and celebrated.
Zahle’s impressive architecture, so deeply rooted in its heritage, is also a firm fixture in El Arid’s art, with the town’s houses, showcasing hallmark red roofs, and famous churches, brought to life through oils of vibrant colours.
The area’s rich history has also fed his imagination, as he explained. “At times, when I’m looking across the green plains, I can envisage the Romans cultivating the land centuries ago to feed their armies, and then picture the villagers doing the same in later years,” he said. “In fact, being in touch with the people who have lived and worked here over time and who bring life to their surroundings has always been very important to my work.”
While deciding what he wanted to paint has been straightforward for El Arid, his artistic journey was far from challenge free. The disruption of the civil war in Lebanon made it impossible to continue his studies, with the result that he was self-taught for many years. “It wasn’t easy, I had to push myself,” he admitted. “I used to do my own research, buying books, mixing colours and experimenting. It was a case of persevering until I saw improvements.”
He was eventually able to build on his own achievements by travelling abroad to study, spending time at the Royal Art Society of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, and La Académie de la Grande Chaumière, Paris. These proved to be critical times in El Arid’s evolution as an artist, enabling him to hone his techniques and also expand his horizons by visiting several leading international museums and galleries.
“In Australia, I focused on sketches of the human body, still life and landscapes, while also discovering a wide range of art, including Aboriginal works, cubism, expressionism and impressionism,” he said.