A mountainous mass of strange and abstracted facial features mold together—red-painted lips, soft peachy skin, sharp nose, sharp green eyes ,and all—and rise out of the bottom of the frame. Monstrous yet lovely, this figure is enrapturing.

Love Letter to Huguette Caland

Huguette Caland, Eux, 1978. Oil on linen. 39.5 x 39.5 inches.

Huguette Khoury Caland (1931–2019) was a force to be reckoned with. One of Lebanon’s best-known artists during her lifetime, Caland is still considered a leading artist of the Arab world and beyond. I love the breadth of her practice; her cheeky kaftans covered in erotic line drawings and her bright, whimsical paintings populated with sensuous forms, depicting bodies as landscapes. 

Caland grew up with a creative spirit and a talent to express her inner world. In an interview with Ricardo Karam in 2006 she explains how, as a child, she didn’t realize she had an imagination, nor that her experience of reality was a result of her imagination and dreams. She describes where she grew up in Lebanon and remembers drawing numerous characters on the walls, each of which had different personalities, names, and voices. Caland left her comfortable life in Lebanon to pursue a life of art. Over the years she continued to paint bold and expressive portraits, veering toward abstraction. 

I admire her courageous, rebellious spirit, her stubbornness, and her drive to follow her passion. She was so unabashedly herself, never aggressive and always poised. Qualities that come through in her playful compositions and multidisciplinary practice.

Caland said that she ultimately wanted to be friends with herself. A brief look through her oeuvre proves that she did just that. It is difficult for a woman to pursue these dreams and be taken seriously, especially back then; but Huguette achieved both magnificently.