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.