Sami Basbous: Lebanon's Rare Renaissance Man

In the fast-paced digital world we currently inhabit, it seems certain our creativity is stifled. You rarely see people scanning the landscape around them for inspiration, whether they’re hustling from point A to point B, or idling in the passenger seat of a car – can’t really reference public transportation in this country, can we now? – or even enjoying a coffee break beneath the shade of a tree. Everyone’s invariably yielding a smartphone and completely riveted by its contents.

How do you create if you’re utterly caught up in consuming? How will we breed the next generation of artists and creatives if our society doesn’t foster any appreciation, let alone recognition, of the beauty surrounding us?

Sami Basbous belongs to what perhaps might be an endangered breed of artists. He is a Renaissance man to the full extent that he is a multidisciplinary artist, painter, composer, lyricist, performer, poet and writer. Embodying just one of those vocations is an admirable feat, particularly in our tech-heavy culture. The fact that he lives and breathes seven unique roles should halt you in your footsteps, as it did me.

I met Sami yesterday at the opening of his art exhibition Batroun, From Sea to Mountains housed inside Villa Paradiso in the northern Lebanese coastal city, from whence he hails. His artwork, on display through Sunday, April 14, is directly inspired by the streets of Lebanon, which he admits are rather “polluted.” Alas, that is Lebanon, and from the pollution we humans produce, there is meaning and magnificence to be extracted.

Sami specifically seeks out the decaying beauty of posters and fliers plastered to city walls that have seen harsh and miserable times. Such posters form a palimpsest of sorts, layers upon layers of advertisements accumulated over the years that together form a symbolic fabric of continuity. What Sami then does is tune in to the inner hum of his intuition to reimagine these tapestries in a reverse collage process.

He starts by photographing a frame and printing it on high-quality art paper. Using oil, acrylic, ink, pastel, and charcoal, Sami then paints directly onto the photo, incorporating portraits of phantom humans he feels are telling the stories of the captured artwork. In so doing, he is conceiving his own layered fable, rich in dimension, visual depth, and meaning. Ultimately, Sami wants the onlooker to find atonement and healing in the illusory chaos, as it subsides into a soul-soothing tranquility.

Here are a few selected pieces from his art exhibition that lulled me to tap my own inner peace.

Notice the tapestry of posters with a human face superposition

Sami conceives a storyteller for each collage

How many faces can you count here?

Meeting Sami before immersing myself in his art allowed me to embrace what he’s developed. Exuding humility in his verbal and body language, Sami immediately puts you at ease. His formal education spanned numerous countries, from Lebanon to France and the United Kingdom, where he studied at the London Film School before moving to Los Angeles to work with legendary impresario Robert Blackwell.

Sami Basbous, describing his artwork to a journalist

Sami has exhibited his artwork in LA, New York, Sydney, Montreal, and Beirut. He acted in and directed plays in New York City. He served as the musical designer for MAC Cosmetics for 16 years. And he published an album of original musical compositions dubbed “Farewell Beirut, O Scarlet Tramp.” 

His global touch is unmistakable, as he easily transitions from melodic French to English to Arabic without missing a beat. And the fashion quirks he dons – purple suede shoes, red socks, large square-rimmed glasses – hardly deter you from taking him seriously. He is at once solemn and cheerful, seasoned yet youthful. You quickly warm up to him.

Not once did he wield a cell phone or steal away to check notifications and emails during the several hours we mingled and chatted collectively. It’s interesting to observe how passionately he describes and unravels his paintings, as though he were discovering them for the first time.

Go explore Sami’s exhibition in Batroun, and let it guide you to channel your own inner creativity before it is snubbed out eternally.

Expose your children early to art!

Batroun, From Sea to Mountains
Art Exhibition
April 6 - 14, 2019
Villa Paradiso, Batroun, North Lebanon

Sami Basbous on Facebook and Instagram


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