Simone Fattal

1942 | Damascus, Syria

Syrian Lebanese visual artist.

Born in Syria, Simone Fattal attended boarding school in Beirut in Lebanon for most of her childhood. She went on to study philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris, and in 1969 she moved back to Beirut where she started painting. S. Fattal’s paintings on canvas feature abstracted colourful landscapes, often sourced from sites in Lebanon, like Mount Sannine and Beirut’s waterfront. At the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975, S. Fattal continued to paint as an act of resistance. For her, it was important to continue making art during this violent time. In 1980 she and her partner, the artist and poet Etel Adnan (born in 1925), decided to leave Lebanon as the situation continued to deteriorate and security risks increased. They moved to the San Francisco Bay area, residing in Sausalito. Once there, Fattal stoped painting altogether and started Post-Apollo Press in 1982, a publishing house dedicated to poetry and literature. One of the first publications released was an English translation of E. Adnan’s Sitt Marie Rose (1978).

While S. Fattal’s renown as a publisher grew, in 1988 she started working as a sculptor after enrolling in courses at the College of Marin and the San Francisco Art Institute, in California. Her first sculpture was made from a found alabaster stone, Torso Found in Today’s Downtown Beirut (1988), the next in bronze Adam and Eve (1988), and then she transitioned to ceramics and stoneware as her primary mediums. S. Fattal’s sculptural works are often figurative, featuring people and animals, with titles that reference mundane characters to those derived from historical sources, literature and mythology. At times she also sculpts buildings, furniture, food items and other objects at varying scales. She has produced her objects in ceramic, terracotta, stoneware, porcelain and bronze. Her work Refugees by the Hearth, the Migrant Family(2005) depicts a group of standing figures in bronze and Gilgamesh (2011) is a tall slim cone sculpted from terracotta with subtle indentations to form an abstract head. Her works embody, a new type of archive, documenting moments from the histories of human civilisation in the Middle East. Her project takes a longer view of the region to construct representations of its heroes, villains and everyday people and things (historic and literary) over the course of millennia. In addition to making sculptures, S. Fattal has produced collages with images taken from books and magazines, seamlessly combining pictures of archaeological sites and relics with contemporary objects and places. She has also produced watercolours and one series of paintings on canvas made after she abandoned the medium, titled Variation en noir et blanc, l’état du ciel in 2013. This series of paintings was made in the span of one year and features abstracted shapes in black and white. This brief return to painting marks a stark contrast in aesthetic to her earlier paintings but continues her investigation into form and line and the blurring between foreground and background. This series, as with many of the artist’s works , is tied to S. Fattal’s research into Sufi poetry and the concepts of duality and unity.
In 2019 she had her first solo museum exhibition, which was a major career survey at MoMA PS1 in New York, although S. Fattal’s work has been shown in galleries internationally since the 1970s.

Ruba Katrib

Translated from French by Lucy Pons.

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