Rafic Charaf (1932-2003)

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When Rafic Charaf passed away in 2003, Lebanon lost one of its most colorful and pioneering artists. Immersing himself in Lebanese expressionism, Charaf was perhaps the only one among his peers whose art reflected an autobiographical, emotional journey. Born in 1932 to a close-knit Baalbek family, Charaf was deeply inspired by the struggles of the poor among his native people. Working initially in charcoal, he was sensitive to both the human struggle and his country’s struggle, and his expressionism evolved out of the poverty he witnessed.

A versatile painter with the ability to shock, Charaf was the first artist to exhibit nudes of men, and his charcoal depictions of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990) are caustic. His paintings in the late 1960s and early 1970s saw him work only with simple flattened forms, reflecting an almost overwhelming pain. By the mid-1970s, he began to simultaneously mix Koranic calligraphy with traditional Arab talismans, charms and symbols. Later, he experimented with many different mediums – including wood, mixed-media and gold leaf – and by the early 1980s he began his series of ‘Byzantine icons.’

The Antar phase followed and is considered one of Charaf’s most important. Based on the paintings of Abu Subhi al-Tinawy – a popular artist whose folkloric drawings on glass are still mentioned in Damascene songs – Charaf was a pioneer in transforming traditional handicrafts into high art.

Charaf was a Lebanese icon and a stylistic and intellectual leader for his generation. His work is an autobiography of his life, the history of his people and his region, and is exhibited with pride throughout the world.

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