Born in 1931 in Mostaghanem, Abdallah Benanteur was brought up in an Algerian family and cultural environment, specifically enthralled by writing and illuminated manuscripts, by mystic Muslim poetry, by Andalusian music and songs. In 1953, he settled down in Paris, which he transformed into his own capital of life and creativity. Abdallah Benanteur passed away on 31 December 2017, at Ivry sur Seine, France.
Impregnated by the Arab culture from his native Algeria, by the great European painting in museums across France and Europe, by the graphic arts and manuscripts from Europe, the East and the Far East, inspired by the poets from around the world, he managed to create his own personal and sublime works, producing lyrical landscapes infused with the light of his Mediterranean homeland and that of his adopted Brittany, as well as a transcendental light that transforms the memory’s landscapes in a paradise peopled by his beloved ‘chosen’ ones’.
Among the contemporary painters of the Maghreb, Abdallah Benanteur occupies a singular and exemplary place from an international point of view, through his legitimate and radical refusal of any form of academism, be it figurative, abstract, or post-modern, as well as any folkloric arrangements which would betray the authentic Arabic-Islamic tradition, which invariably ends up, notwithstanding its manner or know-how, within a reductive and normalising impoverishment of genuine popular creativity.
On the other hand, he called upon painting, to endow it with a gesture taken from calligraphic principles, and which he always maintained concise, dense, imperiously rhythmic, never tempted to let itself be enclosed or subjected to the sign. It launched forth into the movements of a metaphorical and non-symbolical writing, delving deep into the painter’s background to freight itself with meaning and manifest itself in the men’s world, its only aim being to awaken in each of us the celebration of the imaginary. Because it was in his terrible loneliness, his obstinate silence, his abrupt mysticism and his instinct for transcendence, that he was able to find his genius, his passion for the upsurge and his innate taste for the stroke and the incision, his friend Rachid Boujedra wrote about him in 1987.
(Raoul-Jean Moulin, Benanteur’s own imaginery, Monograph, volume 1)
The underlying nostalgia of lost horizons, like in those “Pays - Paysages”, painted by the great Algerian artist, is but one of the facets of his inner world. His splendid oeuvre, universal in its reach, is not only limited to the recurrent viewing of the surroundings of Mostaganem. That is the departure point for a journeying which the artist invites us to share with him. Our eye is forever flickering, marvelling, unable to distinguish the abstract from the figurative, every canvas providing, from one moment to another, a new approach: and so they are revealed to us, multiple, polymorphs, harbingers of mystery, which, like every major work of art be it dramatic, symphonic, poetic or literary, is so rich that one can decode it and interpret it in various ways. Here the tondos, shown among the large square canvases, are not an aesthete’s entertainment, but a focal point, a symbol for the eye and its iris. The palette is iridescent, diaphanous, airy, transparently vibrant, maintained through a very sure touch, masterly, poetic and virile. Flashes of light, be they sunny or stormy, take you beyond the painting’s confines. One is reminded of Turner when faced with these shimmering lights. It is quite another world, but it holds the same magical quality.” (Marc Hérissé, Prologue, Monograph, volume 1)
This genius engraver not only lives abroad, in Paris, where he settled at the age of twenty, but he also inhabits a voluntary metaphysical exile. He is absent from the world and he experiences his work (as an engraver) as a form of asceticism. He stays buried within himself, fascinated by his inner world, in a kind of cosy, muffled interiority. Because this man is metaphysically over-sensitive. Through printmaking, he can afford himself some kind of respite, he can overcome his own fears. He paints in order not to feel the cold, to bypass death and frost.
If exile made of this immense engraver a man deeply buried in the underground of being and metamorphosis, his kingdom, over which he reigns supreme, is limitless, impregnable ! Maybe that is why he wears his genius lightly. Benanteur does not vociferate. He is the only Algerian painter who has a genuine and international universality. For it was in his terrible solitude, his obstinate silence, his sudden mysticism, and his transcendental instinct that he discovered his genius, his passion for spurting forth, as well as his innate feeling for lines and incisions.” (Rachid Boudjedra, Exile and Kingdom, Monograph, volume 2)
Claude Lemand, A Master of Artist Books.
A brilliant typographer, designer and engraver, he designed and produced his books entirely by himself, as much the work on the paper itself, as the printing of all the proofs on his hand press.
Between 1961 and 1994, he created a hundred bibliophile books, on ancient and contemporary poems, from the East and the West. From 1994 onwards, Benanteur mostly created an exceptional and impressive group of over 1400 books in a single copy, based on the texts of more than 360 poets world-wide. These 1500 books revealed his exceptional qualities as a book artist : his overwhelming creativity and his absolute virtuosity in the orchestration of the various components provided each work with an original reading rhythm. No twentieth century artist, nor in any other century, nor any civilization, has proved to have so much energy and imagination in the creation of so many admirable and unique books, in such a short span of time. A truly great master!
(Claude Lemand, Benanteur, Poetry and Artist books. Monograph, volume 2)
Abdallah Benanteur’s blazing landscapes are rooted in a two-folded anchoring. The great Algerian painter, born in Mostaganem in 1931, arrived in Paris in 1953. Following the Arab-Islamic tradition, his culture fuses non-figurative art with a personal lyricism, which reflects the beauty of a lost nature that has been found again. The nostalgia of the deserts’ and the Mediterranean’s far away horizons is transposed into Brittany’s vast seascapes. With honeycombed touches of paint, he recreates the shifting beauty of the spectrum of the sun, which transform the landscape, unsettled like its imaginary world. His painting is polymorphous as it is penetrated by scansions, formal elements harmoniously put together and painted with a carefully mastered freedom. His accomplished skills as a painter bear witness of his familiarity of the great masters, which he had seen at the Louvre and in Italy.
There are no empty spaces in his vibrant paintings bursting with translucent and opaque colours, making way for the light of the sun or of the twilight to pierce through the canvas. His painting is universal and reveals itself as a broad touch with symphonic accents, that celebrate the great original forces, hinted by iridescent, marbled, aerial textures in unison with the sky, clouds, oceaand wide cosmic areas enshrouded with transparencies. Nor high, neither low, similar to Chinese painting, in his visual poems with its lyrical arborescence constantly expanding. His paintings are executed with a movement reminiscent of calligraphy cherished by a fine glazing. They are metaphorical, symbolical. They are an ode to life." (Lydia Harambourg, La Gazette Drouot, 4 October 2013).
Translated from French by Valérie Didier Hess.