Why famed artist Alfred Basbous is ‘sculpted in the mind of the Lebanese’

“He would always say: ‘I look to the world and I am moved by what gives me a sense of humanness. I am a person who is born every day, again and again,’” recalls Fadi Basbous, the son of Lebanon’s master sculptor, Alfred Basbous. But humanness in art has not always been the regional status quo. Alfred’s solo debut exhibition in 1958, when he was 33, positioned him at the forefront of the cultural renaissance. The 1960s was a time of inventiveness. There was jolt and electricity in the Lebanese art scene. Modernism was gaining momentum. Artists sidestepped the bourgeoisie and sought meritocratic communities. Sursock Museum, bequeathed by a local aristocrat after his passing, opened its doors for the first time in 1961. Scores of galleries set up shop. The country’s first art academy, Academie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts, was entering its third decade. Private patronage and the artists’ own initiative were the drivers of change. The surge was fierce and Alfred Basbous was a leading powerhouse. “The modernist artist believes that honesty towards life and nature make for the best art. He thinks that the role of the artist is a pioneering one. He is idealistic; he preaches, showing the right way with confidence because he has a clear vision of his values. The art is the reflection of the thought, an image of the reality, and a tangible translation of the values, therefore it imposes the thought on the material. He eventually hoped the stone would sense its own spirit,” says Fadi. Sixty years later, Alfred’s work is on view in London at Bel-Air Fine Art, which runs until Monday. Alfred Basbous: Body and Mind covers his ­preparatory drawings and sculpture, and in true dualistic spirit as the title implies, bridges the ­interconnectedness of human form and shape-­consciousness. Deriving his subjects from imagination and tapping into his own shape-consciousness for preparatory sketches, and later to-be-sculptures, Fadi insists “his [father’s] artworks reveal their secrets to the observers without confusing them in their attempts to interpret it. He depicts the consciousness through his own consciousness; therefore, the observer does not have to solve its mysteries.” In the show you have the slinky, soft-spined bronzes that command the space with fluid elegance, or the ferociously tactile and twisted torsos that echo Venus. There are the contorted acrobats that negotiate between voids and are intensely alive in these tensions. The sculpture of the three brothers is robust, worked to a harsher texture and with silhouettes that are more squared, more masculine. Of particular impact is The Phoenician Head, elongated with curious asymmetrical profiles and loaded with an archaic dignity that nods to both modernity and antiquity.