Abdallah Benanteur

Claude Lemand.
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’.

Raoul-Jean Moulin.
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)

Marc Hérissé.
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)

Rachid Boudjedra.
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)

Lydia Harambourg.
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.

Copyright © Galerie Claude Lemand 2012.

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