Lebanese painter Georges Bassil moved out of Lebanon in 2010 for the first time. The country that had birthed his natural artistic passions had served him well for this first 15 years of his career, but he was ready for a change. He moved nearby to Amman, Jordan. “Lebanon is not my home anymore. I had friends here in Amman and decided to give it a try. I like Jordan, it’s a decent country. The people respect each other and there is less chaos. It’s bit duller but that doesn’t bother me. I bought an apartment because it was fairly cheap here, and it’s safe.”
When comparing the countries, Bassil says, “We are more open minded in Lebanon than Jordan partially because of the geography and the sea. We are in the middle of the Arab countries, but are connected to the west and east. Plus, Lebanese travel abroad a lot.” But similarities are present when you spend time with Jordanians he says, “When you go to their houses, their hospitality is similar to Lebanon, in many ways.”
Bassil grew up in Achrafieh in Beirut. He was seven when the civil war started. “I was scared all the time; I couldn’t go out at night. When I was a teenager - if I wanted to go to the cinema or something, it was a big risk. I wasn’t supposed to go out, but I still did.” His family never considered fleeing the country, but they did retreat to a small house in the mountains when things got especially bad.
I started drawing when I was five years old. I would draw on books, on the wall, everywhere. I was happy when I saw a small white space.”
Bassil continued to experiment with painting while growing up. He went on to study interior design at university, but painting was already “in his head”. He started off with watercolors and gouache paints, but found that he liked acrylic paints best, which he has been using for most of his career.
“My first exhibition was in 1994 at a gallery in Achrafieh and I sold all of my paintings. My day job for five years had been working for a jewelry designer. I liked jewelry, including making the moldings, but I knew my passion was painting.” At that point, despite the risks, he decided to become a full-time artist.
Bassil creates his pieces organically, “I don’t think a lot when I am working. I start with a small form with different faces. I love faces. If I come across somebody that inspires me, I keep an image of them in my imagination. Or sometimes it’s a movie, theatre, or music that gives me inspiration.” But he asserts that he has no agenda with his art, “For me - the human being is the most important. I like to focus on the human figure, the emotion, the feeling. I like when somebody is walking and stops; I like to look into their eyes.”
Bassil’s figures display a range of raw emotions and have been described as existing in their own expanse, free from the world’s consequences, possibly pondering their existence. The backdrop is commonly stark black or white. Bassil’s warm tones, translucent colors, and usual avoidance to hard lines tend to create an eeriness or tranquilness, sometimes both. “It’s been about a year since I have used bright colors. I go through cycles with the way I use colors. Yesterday I bought pink, yellow, and orange paint,” he says.
Bassil’s core cities are Beirut, Amman, and Dubai. He has been showing his art in Dubai for over ten years. Now he does major exhibitions every three years in these three cities, creating around 20 paintings for each event. On occasion, he also sends paintings to galleries. “My last show in Amman was in May 2015 - I sold everything.” In the past, “I did two exhibitions in France - one in Nice and one in Monaco. The paintings were well liked, but the people here in the Middle East buy more,” he says. Bassil estimates that he has sold in the vicinity of 1,000 paintings in his 20-year career.
Despite his comfortable life in Amman, Bassil says he would move back to Lebanon in the future if circumstances change. His apartment in Achrafieh is still waiting for him. “My favorite memories of Lebanon are going to the beach, the mountains, and the nightlife with friends. We had really good nightlife in the ‘90s. I miss it. My brother lives in Byblos now, but my sister moved to Bahrain.”
“I dream for Lebanon to be like it was before. I want to feel safe when I am there. I want Lebanon to run more like a company with strong leadership, not like a country divided,” he says, “I can be a Christian, Muslim, or any religion, but I must be Lebanese first.”