Childhood and inspiration
The artist Jamal Maalouf was born in Beirut, in 1940.
His early years were spent growing up in Msaitbeh and Mazraa, an area in the city known for its quaint houses, kind people, beautiful gardens, and its earthy hills. It had an almost village-like aura; calm and unmarred by the hustle and bustle of the city, with narrow roads and street sellers vending their wares. With the sea on one side, and nature on the other, this was the atmosphere young Jamal fell in love with, before he moved with his parents to Ashrafieh, near the National Museum, an area rather crowded with people, buildings, shops, and traffic.
Before he moved there, the artist had a childhood rife with artistic attempts of drawing and coloring the things that caught his eye: the chicken coop, the cars that were in fashion back then, plants, trees, flowers… He even tried his hand at making statues and sculptures, handling the clay-like material that he would get from sawing rocks, and the water pooled by the house he lived in. He crowned that activity by making a nativity scene in all its details, astonishing his relatives and visitors.
Recognizing a rare talent, his cousin, artist Jamal Nassif, gifted him a coloring box with all the tools necessary for drawing and expression. He was no more than eight years old at the time.
After that phase, the young artist excelled at painting, drawing, music, and singing alongside his academics.
His cousin the artist, accompanied, encouraged and nurtured him helping his natural talent grow.
It was she who advised him to pursue his study of the arts later on.
His educational path, from primary, complementary, secondary, and tertiary education was marked with works of art, which all started as attempts to express himself according to his age.
He went on walks to know silent nature, and it grew into drawing natural landscapes. His works of art were predominantly precise copies of paintings and drawings by other artists’ work.
The blossoming artist was in constant contact with his cousin, Jamal, and often spent days and months at her place during his time off, especially over the summer. Under her supervision, he completed various works of art. She would nurture him, guide him, point out his mistakes, and mentored him as best she could.
The results were beginning to show because his participation in several school art exhibitions was met with great success.
Education - Lebanon, France
He was granted admission in to the Institute of Fine Arts at the Lebanese University, joining the Department of Architecture in 1965, spending two year there, studying and exploring the various door his new world had opened. In the mornings, he worked at the Ministry of National Education, and in the afternoon, would study architecture. However, these studies require full dedication. Alas, for financial and personal reasons, he left the institute after just two years, heavy with the feeling of being cheated by circumstance. It would haunt him for years to come, and even today sometimes wonders what would have been if given the chance to finish his studies in architecture.
Jamal went back, two years later, and joined the Fine Arts department, which meant fewer sleepless nights and better university attendance. He excelled during his time there, and on graduating, was granted a scholarship to study art abroad, in Paris, France. He spent three years at the ENSAD – École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs, where he discovered a passion for theatrical art. He went on to receive a Decorator’s diploma in mural arts, and another one in scenography.
While in Paris, he worked as an unpaid assistant at the Bouillet et Vidal workshop for three years, restoring various works of art. However, one of the greatest things that city had to offer Jamal was the world of art exhibitions. He traveled to nearby European countries such as Germany, Spain, and Belgium, whose museums and exhibitions he also visited, exposing himself to their expressions by the greatest artists of the world.
Before and after his return to Lebanon, he did scenography work for multiple plays, from Mozart’s Don Juan (an opera) in Paris, to ten plays by Lebanese directors and playwrights, such as Antoine Multaqa, Antoine Ghandour, Antoine Kerbage, Marwan Najjar, Nabil Abou Mrad, Nabih Abul Hassan, and Georges Zakka.
In 1973, The artist Jamal started teaching at university level, at the Institute of Fine Arts. Over 31 years, he spent an illustrious and fulfilling teaching career, broadening his horizons from Fine Arts, to Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Theater.
In 1976, he taught at the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik - USEK, in both the Architecture and Fine Arts department, until 1989.
In 1989, he was promoted to the rank of Higher Education Professor by virtue of a decision taken by Michel Eddé, the then-Minister of Education and Higher Education. This is the highest rank for university educators, after which he was appointed as a member of the committee, trusted with the authority to study teachers’ folders and assessing their eligibility for professorship.
He stopped teaching in 2004, having reached legal retirement age, and he was awarded an honorary medal from the Lebanese University.
During his art career, Jamal produced hundreds of art paintings on several topics and mediums. His most prolific artwork were Lebanese landscapes.
Most of his works were sold in exhibitions and private sales, and only a few dozen remained, the ones he made sure were not sold.
To most prolific creative minds, hum-drum life of familiar rhythm can become quite unsettling. Which is why at this time in his life the energetic, busy artist took a hiatus, deciding it was time for a re-evaluation of the self. He painted less, and along with his decreasing production of art, so did his presence at exhibitions, meetings and reunions. After this period, a new artistic expressions of his own started to appear, mingling with his previous, intermittent sketches made both in Lebanon and abroad. He found himself leaning towards the abstract and beyond.
His life as an artist was split between teaching, producing art, holding art exhibitions in Lebanon and abroad, and serving as a member of the Lebanese Artist Association of Painters and Sculptors - LAAPS. Throughout his years, the one credo this artist has preached is “to be honest with oneself”. And it can be seen in the lifetime of work Jamal has created. Carrying a piece of him, his childhood, his experiences,
his struggles, his triumphs and manifesting themselves in the genius we know as Jamal Maalouf.