Abdullah Benanteur

Abdallah Benanteur, born March 3, 1931 in Mostaganem and settled in France in 1953, is one of the “founders” of modern Algerian painting.

He began drawing and painting in 1943, attended the sculpture and then painting studios of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Oran, where he met Guermaz. In 1953, with his childhood friend Mohammed Khadda, he moved to Paris. After his first solo exhibition in 1957, he exhibited regularly in France but also in Germany and Denmark. In 1961 he made drawings for Matinale of my people by the poet Jean Sénac.

Beginning in 1962 Benanteur practices the engraving, again illustrates the poems of Senac and realizes his first books of bibliophily. He participated in the exhibition “Algerian Painters” organized in 1963 in Algiers for the “Feasts of 1 November” and prefaced by Senac1 then in 1964 to that which is presented in Paris at the Museum of Decorative Arts. In 1965 he founded the Charef collection, the name of his brother who disappeared during the Algerian War, which in the course of forty years has 1,500 works. Benanteur most often chooses the texts among the Arabic and Persian mystical poets he has read in his adolescence, contemporary Algerian writers, his wife’s poems, Monique Boucher, also a painter and, since 1994, a wide choice Of poets from all over the world. Benanteur conceives the typography of his books, himself carries out the composition and printing, to a limited number of copies, which he enriches with test trials of his engravings, drawings and gouaches. Retrospectives of his works were presented at the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris in 1970 and at the Institute of the Arab World in 2003. He is the father of the photographer Dahmane Benanteur.

Benanteur was a professor at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris and then at the School of Decorative Arts from 1971 to 1974. He is a member of the Young Contemporary Engraving Committee, the National Committee for the French Illustrated Book, The National Library and the Arsenal Library. Having worked for a long time in a printing press, he devoted himself entirely to painting from 1989 onwards, exhibiting his work every year at the Claude Lemand Gallery (prefaces by Monique Boucher, Michel-Georges Bernard, Bruno Jaubert, Raoul-Jean Moulin, Bernard Fabre And Yuri). Since 1994 he has produced a thousand books with a single copy.

“I was very young attracted by drawing. My luck may have been a whole series of long-term infantile diseases that kept me at home. At eleven, I drew a lot, flowers, still lifes with lemons, later portraits. I got to painting. I copied black and white reproductions from Rembrandt. I liked the classics of the nineteenth century, notably Monticelli, from whom there were several paintings in the museum of Oran. Afterwards, I discovered Matisse, Paul Klee, dazzled by this colorful Orient that they had painted and that I did not know. But also Franz Marc and German Expressionism, “Benanteur confided.

When he settled in Paris in 1953, it was only natural that he entered, trained in the abstract vision of the signs that dotted the potteries, carpets and chests of his childhood, in the path of non-figuration. Between gray and extinguished ochres, blue and green muffled, a light often lunar illuminates his canvases. Benanteur soon disentangles the interlacing of his arabesques, The lines of the ancestors (1957) make appear like fragments of writings disappeared. Through a thin network of ribs and cracks, their signs branch and then become entangled. The auroral tones turned to the deaf browns of the bark, the ocher of the desert sand and rocks (On the banks of the Nile, 1958, Hoggar, 1959).

“Monochrome has prevailed in my painting,” Benanteur confided, “for five years, it was ocher that reigned, with its gradients, honey and sand.” From 1960, the large touches of color thickened on his canvases, covered the fine grating that articulated them. Then his painting seems, around 1962, to settle on the edge of obscure lands that only illuminate distant marblings. After this “dark period”, it is as on the other side of the shadow that light reappears in 1970, by degrees, unreal, in the halos of mysterious Pots or flasks irradiating it in the middle of the shadow . From their inner clarity the colors resurface, intense again. Four years later, the procession of the Errantes, which appear in the collection of the Institute of the Arab World, announces the long series of Visiteuses. In a space of nowhere go from canvas to canvases of pale presences undecided, about to take shape at the edge of their disappearance.

Benanteur’s painting never ceases later, after 1976, it absorbs all the tones of dawn and sunset. In its amber flows among masses of deep blues, a polyptych of five meters in length brought back the painter in the most solar ranges in 1981. A sort of “ultra-light”, as in fusion, discolours of its incandescence the center or the upper part of its canvases. In the diptychs and polyptychs that he multiplies then Benanteur finds the shores of a Mediterranean whose beyond the memory sharpens the shards (Landscape at Medea, 1984, Pastures of Light, 1985, Return to Tipaza, 1986, Spring In the village, 1988). Aerial, brighter or darker according to the element in front of which they glide, tiny silhouettes remain, solitary or grouped, which the painter names according to his mood (Les élus, 1987, Les contemplatifs, 1988; Of clouds, The pythonisses, 1989; The poet, The couples, 1990). At the same time, oneiric visions of the universe of ancestors, the resurgence of markets and childhood festivals, dialogue with the classical works of Italian or Flemish painting, this anonymous crowd gives space an immensity dimension, Climate of Serenity (1989).

Beginning in 1991 Benanteur embarked on a series of broader imaginary journeys (Walk in Persia, East, India, Pakistan, Algeria, Djurdjura, Kashmir). From canvas to canvas stretches a Highland bounded by gorges and defiles, collars and cliffs, scree, clearings and groves. The horizons stand there in distant massifs, the color seeming to sprout porosities of the rock, scales of the soil, faults of the mountains. In the more veiled lights, these non-figurative landscapes gave way to a more diffuse presence in the late 1990s. Benanteur never represents nature in the reality of his spectacles, but by refracting the pure impulse of colors and lights, his painting never leaves him for a moment.

“Every morning, when I open the door of my studio, I hear the art say:” Here is the crack that comes to my house “. I address my appreciation to art but I have never heard him thank me. I would like to erase myself in art. To be a painter is to be the “larbi” of art, and few people accept it. It saddens me to be a child of our time because it is artistically the worst and most complacent. While being artistically small, one has the opportunity to be consecrated media greatly. It is the media that creates, disseminates and celebrates. Finally, what one knows about the person does not exist, the painter’s person is an obstacle between him and painting. It is by effacing ourselves in it that we will make it exist. In museums, before the glorious production of the past, I do not feel for a moment a painter. In the face of the glorification of modernity, on the other hand, I feel myself painter again. Every time I look at the works of the past, my faith in art as a sure and absolute value increases. (O. Hadjari, Interview with Benanteur, in “Ruptures”, No. 19, Algiers, 18 May 1993).