Artopia: On Khalil Gibran’s Lesser-Known Painter Identity

“When love calls you, follow it, though its ways are hard and steep. And when its wings spread, you submit to it, Though the sword hidden between its cogs may wound you. And when he speaks to you, believe in him, Even though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind ravages the garden. For just as love crowns you, it will crucify you. Even if it is for your growth, it will is also for your height…”, Lebanese writer, poet and visual artist Khalil Gibran once wrote in one of his poems.

A late photograph by Khalil Gibran. (Wikimedia)

I was sitting in the garden at Columbia University a few weeks ago, gazing at the beautiful trees I intended to paint and waiting for a muse to land on my hand for the first brushstroke. When I said the first brushstroke, don’t let the image of Vincent Van Gogh setting up his bench in the meadows of Arles with his paintings, canvases and silk brushes or Claude Monet rushing to the edge of the lake with his easel under the arm to catch the best light in the sunset comes to mind. I’m talking about a digital brush option on a digital device.

While enjoying being on a college campus in the heart of New York with my digital studio close at hand, what made that moment more precious were greetings from Colombian students who realized I was painting on a tablet and the quick artistic conversations we had. .

One of those students was Tim, a graduate student in philosophy and a true art lover. Tim, real name Meir, is a third-generation member of a Jewish family of Lebanese descent who immigrated to the United States. His family ties in Lebanon are still very strong and he is also a lover of Istanbul.

As my conversation with Meir turned into a deep conversation around our contemporary art and cultures that day, he presented me with an inspiration that I could hold on to for the rest of my life. life. This source of inspiration was none other than the painter Khalil Gibran.

A photo of Khalil Gibran's family.  (Wikimedia)

A photo of Khalil Gibran’s family. (Wikimedia)

Yes, that was exactly the writer, poet and philosopher Khalil Gibran, who touched the hearts of millions with his poems, articles and stories and whose works have been translated into dozens of languages.

Gibran is of Lebanese descent, as is Meir. He was the son of a family that immigrated to the United States in 1895. Gibran was, in my opinion, a precious pen whose life was spent in exile, in the hands of nature rather than in his birthplace , until my conversation with Meir. In fact, he was a master of the pen who used words weighed in the balance and summarized reams of writing in a few lines thanks to his metaphors. He was a philosopher who is far from the arrogance of reasoning but who generously shared his knowledge of life with humanity as important as the splitting of the atom. He was a lover who translated the feelings of millions with his words in “The Broken Wings” as “The aching mind finds rest when united with a fellow man.”

And Gibran was in reality a painter who threw himself into the arms of painting from an early age while fleeing the nausea of ​​his life in exile. Before his writing career, Gibran was discovered by photographer Fred Holland Day, known for his efforts to gain acceptance for photography as an art form, when he was only 12 or 13 years old thanks to his talent designer and his remarkable creativity.

A portrait of Charlotte Teller by Khalil Gibran.  (Wikimedia)

Untitled painting by Khalil Gibran.  (Wikimedia)

At this time, Day took a close interest in the children of poor immigrant families in Boston, including the Gibrans, and tried to support their education. On the other hand, he wants to share their stories with the world by photographing them. Little Gibran was one of the children he used as a model for his photographs.

While Meir introduced me to Gibran’s identity as a painter, thanks to photographer Day, I had the pleasure of meeting the eyes of a resentful, somewhat shy and hopeful Lebanese boy Gibran , whom Day took by the hand upon seeing the light in him and whom he probably never imagined would one day become a figure receiving a standing ovation from the world.

The author Gibran had a tone that brings winds of peace, reconciliation and love, especially in his recent writings. You can clearly feel the clarity of mind, his wise conclusions about life, and his inner calm when you read it. It is also the exact flavor of Gibran’s paintings. His focus is “people and their states”, just like in his writings.

An 1896 photo of Khalil Gibran by F. Holland Day.  (Courtesy of The Met's website)

An 1896 photo of Khalil Gibran by F. Holland Day. (Courtesy of The Met’s website)

The naivety and silence of his figurative works, mainly done in charcoal and oil paint, are almost like footsteps on his identity as an author. In fact, when asked what they want to convey with their paintings, many artists are either shy or unable to use language and say, “If I had the ability to express in words, I would be anyway a writer. Gibran, meanwhile, has entered the pages of history as an exceptional character, capable of both writing and painting. And just as he makes you think about reading his articles, his paintings also make the viewer say that he is Gibran has passed through this world.

During our conversation, I got the impression that Gibran was pursuing painting as a hobby. However, after learning that he opened his first personal exhibition in New York in 1904 and then went to Paris in 1908 to perfect his knowledge of painting, I was even more intrigued and saw that he exploited the best his artistic talent with passion. Thus, the young oriental painter studied Western painting and the history of art in Paris, surrounded by names that marked Western painting, including the famous French painter Auguste Rodin. He was even praised by Rodin for his mastery of integrating elements of local culture and style with Western technique and tradition.

Drawing by Francis Marrash by Gibran.  (Wikimedia)

Drawing by Francis Marrash by Gibran. (Wikimedia)

It didn’t surprise me at all that the painter Gibran received a reaction from his family despite all this rise and success of the painting. Especially in Eastern culture, despite a high level of education, art and art are considered a leisure hobby. However, in the United States and the West, and even in the Far East, especially in China, families have a school curriculum that aims to raise artists, and a talented child is a source of pride for families and society. Indeed, Gibran’s mother, who was afraid that he would become an artist, sent him back to a more closed environment, Lebanon. Unable to repress his passion for painting, Gibran continued his studies there and returned to Boston, where his family lived, perhaps better equipped. This is another point of inspiration in his life. No one can stop a current flowing inside us unless we allow it!

Gibran, who embarked on his artistic adventure by painting the covers of the books of poets and writers with the discovery of the artist photographer Day, achieved the mastery of painting; yet the world knows him for his passion for paper, pen and words. It’s unclear if he hit a breaking point in his transition from painting to writing in his twenties, or if he gave up the art of painting, but I want to believe he was just as mixed up both with a brush and with a pen. until the end of his life.

A self-portrait of Khalil Gibran.  (Wikimedia)

A self-portrait of Khalil Gibran. (Wikimedia)

Sitting in the garden of the University of Colombia and getting ready to paint, I looked at Gibran’s paintings for a long time after saying goodbye to Mier, a Lebanese man who inspired me with his pleasant conversation.

I wanted to embrace each of the paintings with a sense of gratitude mixed with protection as if I were pressing an orphan child to my chest, just as I felt towards Gibran’s books after reading his deep and concise articles.

I want to experience Gibran’s paintings in which he pours his loneliness, his desolation, but his overflowing love of humanity and his joy of life with brush strokes in an exhibition in Istanbul one day. And I conclude my tribute to Gibran by quoting a line from him: “Love only knows its own depth in the hour of parting.

About Bernice D. Brewer

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