Article in “DECORATION” Magazine appeared in Dubai, May 2008
Portrait Artist MORE THAN JUST A PORTRAIT
by Fay Afghahi
Born in Beirut during the second World War, Lebanese artist reminisces about her life growing up in a place she describes as paradise. In a personal and charming manner Simone opens to DECORATION and recounts the path, bursting with experience and anecdotes that has lead her to becoming a leading portrait artist who has been commissioned by numerous VIP’s.
-Please tell us about your educational and professional background
I completed High School and the French Baccalaureate, with a major in Phiut, Lebanon.Then my parents sent me to Rome, Italy to attend the “Accademia di Belle Arti”, one of the best known art schools in the world. Rome is the perfect city for the arts because around every street corner is a museum.I had a famous artist as professor-Mario Mafai- from whom I absorbed all I could from the Italian style for Interior Design, which I wanted to do as a profession. I did work for a while in Beitut as a an Interior Designer, but slowly I realized that I was very good in painting portraits, and so decided to dedicate almost all my time to that.
-When did you become interested in Art?
I suppose I was interested in art as soon as I was born; my parents were art lovers and collectors and I was always surrounded by art, the walls in my home were full of museum quality art. In “Kindergarten” the teacher told my mother that I was very talented. At school we had art class once a week in the afternoon for one hour, I always wished it was longer, I loved to draw and to paint.
I was probably 10 or 11 years old when our art teacher came with a new proect one afternoon; she said that we were supposed to draw our free hand assuming a pause with it, and that we had one hour time to finish. Everybody in the class was whining that it was too hard. At the end of the hour nobody had done anything, so the teacher said that she will let us take our drawing to finish at home but I had hardly anything to finish but when I showed it to the teacher the next week she looked at me with a hard expression and told me that she is rejecting it because she was sure that somebody did it for me. Unfortunately I was too shy to speak up and I just kept it to myself. Many years later when I was doing my portraits, and I was doing hands so well, I wished I would remember the name of that teacher and let her know how wrong she was not to believe me.
-Please explain your type of work and style
I mostly do portraits on commission, keeping the resemblance very close to reality enhancing the good quality of the subject or fading away wrinkles and defects. The portraits I do are not only a photograph, I try to tell the story of the life of that person, with background, cloths and objects.
I do many still-lives with flowers and sometime vegetables that will give me some ideas for the composition and the colors that I like very bold.
In my beginnings in Lebanon I used to paint a lot of oriental looking lanscapes.
-Have you been inspired by any other artist? Who and why?
Yes I definitely think I was inspired first of all by “Caravaggio” the father of the “Baroque” who I learned to love in Rome, I was very much taken by the strong lights and shadows that this artist created in his paintings.
Later on, I met Tamara de Lempicka already in her 90ties and I loved her bold almost monocromatic colors, with in her paintings too, like Caravaggio, the strong contrast between light and shadow.
-Can you talk about your most prominent pieces?
A few of my larger landscapes pieces are in the Phoenicia Hotel (before it was looted), in Beirut. There is a portrait of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia in the Italian Embassy and several other portraits that I made for a collection of company executives and private clients.
United States Citizen, Simone was born in Beirut Lebanon.
French Baccalaureate, Major in Philosophy
Art School: Academia di Belle Arti, Rome, Italy
Specialization in painting and design
Took classes with Maestro Oskar D’Amico for portrait making
1999 to present, Portrait /Artist
1995 to 1999, Gallery Manager/Artist
1980 to 1995, portrait/Artist and assistance to a Maestro
1965 to 1980, exhibiting mostly landscapes, still-lives and portraits
around the world
WORKS IN PUBLIC PLACES
-“La Luz de Trecientos”, oil lantern for the Tricentennial of Albuquerque
-Cover for the Biography of the Hispanic Women Council.
-4 large size wall to wall paintings, representing Lebanese subjects,
in the Atrium ofHotel “Phoenicia” in Beirut, Lebanon.
-2 large paintings, 60”x80”, dining room of the St.George Hotel, Beirut,
-Portraits of the King and Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia in the Embassy
in Rome, Italy.
ONE MAN SHOWS
-1994, 1995, 1996, Arte Struktura International Gallery,
-1997, Del Bello Gallery, Toronto, Canada.
-1991, 1992, 1993, Helen Karsh Gallery, Denver, Colorado.
-1990, Del Bello Gallery, Toronto, Canada.
-1989, Galleria Federici, Lanciano, Italy.
-1982, GTA Gallery, Mexico City, Mexico.
-1980, Botello Gallery, Mexico City, Mexico.
-1978, Galleria Palazzo Margutta, Rome Italy.
-1976, Nuovo Sagittario Gallery, Milan, Italy.
-1976, Hotel Hermitage Gallery, Ansedonia, Italy.
-1976, Hotel Boston Gallery, Rome, Italy.
-1975, La Giara Gallery, Rome, Italy.
-1974, Deco 27 Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon.
-1973, Diarcon Gallery, Milan, Italy.
-1972, Castello di Carovigno, Selva di Fasano, Italy.
-1972, Hotel Sierra Silvana, Selva di Fasano, Italy.
-1972, Sala del Broletto, Como, Italy.
-1971, Associazione della Stampa Estera in Italia, Roma, Italy.
-1971, T/N AUSONIA, Venice, Brindisi, Beirut, Rhodes, Pyreo, Bari;
exhibition in the Mediterranean Sea.
-1970, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, Italy.
-1965, Hotel Phoenicia Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon.
CRITICS AND REVIEWS BY……..
…,”Helen Karsh said in a phone interview. “She is able to bring her still-life techniques into her portrait work in a way that makes her painting truly unique. She possesses a quiet mastery.”
.When Debbas went to college she majored in philosophy and studied art at the Academia di Belle Arti in Rome with Mafai, a master impressionist who was known for his dramatic cypress trees and paintings of the villages of Tuscany…Wesley Pulkka for the Journal of Albuquerque
I am an admirer of Simone Debbas for all times. I want to give some more evidence to her already rich resume, because I feel I was part of the evolution of this artist. I met Simone a few years ago when she painted “Oriental Landscapes”, so equal to the landscapes of my childhood… I loved her paintings and became a friend of hers.
I encouraged Simone Debbas to shift the emphasis towards the expression of her emotions. I think this artist has a rich and exceptional style. The most obvious example can be seen in the “extraterrestrial creatures’ exhibition”. She has a shattering emotional power which, in despite of my coldness, have touched my subconscious deeply.
Angelo Litrico, Rome, Italy
…Simone was able to know how to get to the inaccessible, transferring it magically in her paintings. A splendid interpretation of the “Unknown”, a mysterious discovery of superior creatures existing only inside of the collective unconscious.
Eufemio Del Buono, Rome, Italy
The subjects of Simone Debbas are mostly classical and had hundreds of versions by famous artists, it is clear that our painter has studied mythology and visited museums and was thus impressed to be pushed to poetry made so vivid in our memory and fantasy. To recreate them in a personal way, trying to bring them closer to her present day sensitiveness, she therefore removed oppressive tinsels and flimsy laces as much as possible.
Enzo Fabiani, Milan, 1976
Some of the aspects of the cities in Lebanon are more “real” than the “realistic” ones, and with these simple words (modesty apart) I touched the heart not only of the art of Simone Debbas, but of art in general, whether it is figurative or abstract.
Mario Radice, Como, 1972
Simone rebuilds the houses and the temples of her childhood in these paintings. She keeps an atmosphere of fairytale, which inspired them.
Going back to these old streets which are now certainly different from the time she walked on them, she wants to see them as they were originally, and her drawing is neat, with a clear sky, motionless as we can imagine it in verses of the Bible.
Ugo Moretti, Rome, 1970
© 2018 Patrick Alò