Wajih Nahlé

Prestige issue 266, September 2015

Portrait   rubric by Mireille Farès-Bouez

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Wajih Nahle photographed in front of one of his paintings in Biel. © Archives Wajih Nahlé

He is one of the big names in Lebanese art known worldwide, his paintings can be found in museums, like the Grand Palais in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tunisia. His creations radiate in notorious buildings, the Palace of Congress Riyadh, at the Dubai World Center, at airports in Jeddah, Riyadh and Bahrain, in the palaces of the Middle East as that of President Rafik Hariri in Saudi Arabia. His unique style, his prolific work, outstanding and universal earned him honors, decorations and great awards in Lebanon and abroad, to begin with that of the Biennale of Alexandria in 1970 to the famous «Abstraction Grand Prix» won at the Louvre Museum in France in 2003. A living monument of art is of course Wajih Nahle, who «dazzles» us with his colors, sculptures and the «energy» emerging from his hundred paintings exhibited at«Beirut Exhibition Center» -Biel in a sumptuous retrospective exhibition organized by Cesar Nammour for Solidere. An exhibition-event held from 23rd of july until August 31st 2015, under the title «Raid of the Furthest Horizons», which covers 60 years of work of this brilliant artist. All his periods since the figurative (mountain scenery and the sea in Ramlet el Baida) through ink and watercolor, dancing horses, bas-reliefs, calligraphy and arabesques, monochromes and sculptures, to the«energetic» acrylic on canvas in perpetual motion for a deep meditation. Motion exploding in all directions, up or down motion with strong colors, quick movement freezing our gaze in an endless spiritual questioning. «All these orchestrated movements are to God’s image, set order of all harmonies and perpetual burst of all the possibilities», says Wajih Nahle who declares himself as a creative deeply religious. Born in February 14, 1932 in Beirut-Sanayeh, he began painting very young, at the age of nine. His father, Mahmoud Nahle, liked to draw, he used to reproduce postcards in his spare time. But it is not him who transmits this passion for art, the passion of creation. «It is a gift from God, he insists. At school, I corrected the drawings of my teacher and at 20 years old, I started my career as an artist after attending the workshop of Moustapha Farroukh».

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The cover of the book related to the exhibition-event. © Archives Wajih Nahlé

What is art for Wajih Nahle? «It’s my life, the essence of my existence. I practice it fifteen hours a day. In my assets, more than ten thousand creations»! (a record!)

Do you stay at home to paint or you prefer natural escape? «It’s in my big workshop at Rabieh that I like to create, paint and breathe deeply».

His favorite painting? My painting entitled «Travel in the luminous space» that won the award of the Louvre museum. It is exposed in a palace of Dubai, acquired by a super VIP from the UAE.»

Which region would he choose if we wanted to make a statue for him? «At the entrance of my museum in Rabieh, next to my house and my workshop.»

A date that marked him? «The summer of 1964, a turning point in my life, the date of my encounter with destiny and Saudi businessman, financial expert Ghassan Ibrahim Chaker, who changed my life positively. The man had married a Lebanese woman, daughter of Hajj Hussein Oueini who was an art-loving person, friend of King Hussein of Jordan and sultan Kabouss. Seduced by my Islamic art exhibition held at the time at the gallery «France» of Abdel Aziz Street in Beirut, he fixed me an appointment at his office during which he ordered some canvas to be drawn by myself and gave me a check for five thousand dollars! Believing that he was mistaken in the amount, I got back in the elevator and I asked him again. What was my pleasant surprise to learn that the check was a «gesture preamble» to other commands. Also, Ghassan Ibrahim Chaker advised me to devote myself to my art and to stop my work as an employee at the Department of Public Works for the monthly salary of four hundred Lebanese pounds!»

A compliment he remembers that fills his heart with warmth?«The compliment made by the greatest European art critic André Parinaud: «He’s a genius, the best contemporary artist» he has said about me when visiting my exhibition in 1977 at Wally Findlay Galleries in Paris, a successful exhibition (all paintings were sold on the opening day) followed by dinner at Maxim’s».

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The dance of the horse. © Archives Wajih Nahlé

«Know yourself» said Socrates, how would Wajih Nahle describe himself? «A simple man, loving, loyal to his country, his family, his friends, who did not know grudge».

The heroes of his childhood, the person who has influenced him? «I feel free of any influence.»

His constant companion? «My wife Mounira Chehab, the mother of my five children, all artists. Painting is in our genes, it runs in our blood. Tan Gallery in Zurich organized in 2000 a major exhibition that was named «The Festival of Nahle Family».

His children?«They are all painters, living abroad and organized numerous exhibitions of their works. The eldest, Gina Bauer (born 1958) lives in Germany, Walid (1959) resides in the United States, Lina (1960) deceased, lived between Germany and France, Joumana Borderie (1963) is based in Paris, finally Marwan (1965) lives between Beirut and the City of Light.»

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Wajih Nahle and his wife Mounira surrounded by their children, sons in law, daughter in law and grandchildren. © Archives Wajih Nahlé.

His perception of happiness? «When you are a loving person, you are happy».

And suffering? «I have lived it for many years beside my daughter Lina who died of cancer in 2014».

What is love for him? «Merge into spiritual harmony».

If he was to go on a desert island, what would he take with him? «A brush and colors».