Tough times, Good Times and Past Times
The artist Khaled Takreti tells Artscoops how happy childhood memories and hope for the future provided the inspiration he needed to paint during the pandemic, resulting in a local, landmark show of work brimming with nostalgia and joy
Khaled Takreti’s December show, titled #LOVE and held in Lebanon at Aida Cherfan Fine Art Gallery with Christiane Ashkar Art Consultancy, was a major milestone for several reasons. Not only did it mark the renowned artist’s first exhibition in his birthplace, Beirut, for seven years, but the paintings were also created at the height of the Covid-19 lockdowns – an incredibly challenging time for many of us, both personally and professionally, including Takreti himself.
“I’m lucky that my home includes my atelier so I was able to continue working when lockdowns were at their strictest and we couldn’t venture outside,” he acknowledged. “But I still found it difficult to create art, since I like to work in the present and paint accordingly. I’m used to thinking of my art as a documentation of what’s happening around me, so those were difficult times.”
Against that backdrop, Takreti initially took inspiration from his garden, transferring the lush greenery and colourful flowers growing there to canvas when confined to his home. It was during the second lockdown – a time that many of us found particularly stressful – that he had to dig deeper for ideas.
“The pandemic risked putting a huge block on our creativity and I knew it wasn’t healthy to stagnate, so finding a way of working was crucial,” he said. “I needed to reinvigorate my imagination and decided that one way of doing this was to draw on my reserves and revisit the past for inspiration.”
The time in question was the artist’s childhood – specifically fun-filled days out and much-loved toys, recaptured on canvas and displayed in #LOVE, which was appropriately subtitled ‘La Palette Joyeuse des Souvenirs’. Carousel rides at the funfair, candyfloss treats and clowns are brought to life in vibrant watercolours, gouache and acrylic, alongside works featuring a distinctive, life-size, play horse’s head, which Takreti explained was inspired by a favourite boyhood toy.
Alongside wistful memories, #LOVE champions another key theme, which is hope, with several of Takreti’s paintings conjuring up a feeling of post-pandemic optimism. Social gatherings, featuring people whose faces are lit up with smiles, remind us of the joy and relief we felt once able to come together again, while pizzas and birthday cakes trigger memories of the occasions we missed and, perhaps, now truly appreciate.
Takreti also incorporates reminders of those difficult days experienced during the pandemic in these paintings. Bowls and cups held up to the face, their contents overflowing as diners, perhaps, are unable to resist overindulging post Covid, resemble the masks that were an all-too familiar hallmark of the pandemic era. Other subjects have their faces covered in face masks, albeit the beauty treatment kind, complete with cucumber slices on their eyes.
Joujoux, Hiboux, Cailloux
Relaying a message of hope was important to Takreti and also helped inspire the show’s title, as he explained. “I believe that love is the strongest emotion we have and, together with positive thinking, will always help us to overcome challenges in difficult times,” he said.
He believes that the scale of the pandemic and its far-reaching effects helped audiences to connect to the topics explored in the pieces featured in #LOVE, with the favourable reactions and timeliness of the show combining to make the opening an incredibly emotional experience.
“I visit Lebanon regularly - it’s my birthplace and I still have the family home here – but professionally, my focus has been directed towards Europe in recent years,” he said. “In all honesty, I’d missed showing my work to a Lebanese audience and was delighted by the support and lovely comments I received at the launch and afterwards.”
Elsewhere, Takreti’s paintings continue to make waves in Europe and elsewhere at prestigious venues, including the Arab World Institute, Paris, which is currently displaying a large-scale painting titled, ‘Joujoux, Hiboux, Cailloux’. The artwork was completed more than 15 years ago and, in some ways, tells the story of Takreti’s arrival in the city, taking the form of a single male figure, sketched and transferred to canvas, multiple times and reinterpreted in different guises, including age, style and gait. “It felt like now was the moment to show it to the public and the feedback has been great,” Takreti said, adding, with a smile, that the title was a nod to the grammar lessons he was having at the time, which involved learning the words that took an ‘x’ rather than an ‘s’ in the plural.
His work is on permanent display at the Galerie Claude Lemand, Paris, while farther afield in Qatar, a painting featured in a 2010 exhibition for the inauguration of Mathaf, titled ‘Told/Untold/Retold’, was recently bought by the institution and will now hang in the permanent collection there. Like other pieces shown at the opening, the work, named ‘Generations 2010’, explores the passage of time – a recurring theme in Takreti’s art – through its subjects who span the generations, from a baby and teens to the elderly, and are interacting with each other while navigating their way through life on wheels. “I’m fascinated with the concept of aging, the way time ticks on and how three or four generations behave around each other, sometimes in conflict but needing to find a way to coexist,” he said.
Takreti’s upcoming projects include Art Dubai and Egyptian Art, with several of the pieces set to be featured at these events contrasting with other works completed in recent years. “I used to be known for creating art on a large scale and for some reason, felt ready to revisit this way of working some years on. I’ve also noticed that my most recent paintings are different in other ways - less decorative, perhaps, and more deeply emotive,” he noted. “This doesn’t surprise me; I’ve always said that my art belongs in the time it was created and then I move on. The creativity remains, but the work itself is always new.”
Khaled Takreti’s work can be viewed at
Aida Cherfan Fine Art Gallery and Christiane Ashkar Art Consultancy in Beirut
and Galerie Claude Lemand in Paris