by Paul Bowles


           Like most young artists (he was sixteen or seventeen) Ahmed began by making line drawings in black India ink. Quickly I discovered something quite extraordinary in his method of considering his subject matter. He made next to no attempt to record the visual image of what he was drawing. Instead, he drew everything “from the inside,” trying to express what it was like to be that person or object. This was something entirely new to me. A face consisted of two upright slabs of bone beginning at the chin and going upward to an arbitrary truncation. Between them was nothing—merely open space. I called his attention to the fact that a head has a top to it. He agreed, but said it was not important, because all a person could feel was the air in the middle of his head, the air as it is breathed. “But do you think a face looks like that?” I asked him. “It is like that,” he replied; and I understood that what things “look like” from the outside was of minimal interest.


            He drew a cat which was a marvel of abstraction. It had claws, but rather than being attached to the ends of legs, they were embedded with the ears in the top of the head. When these drawings were exhibited in London, a critic used the word “haptic” to describe them. The adjective intrigued me, but I have never found a definition of it.


            Nearly a decade later, when Francis Bacon came to Tangier, he brought Ahmed his first oil paints. Up until then, the only colors at Ahmed’s disposal had been those supplied by pastels and colored inks. Oils were a very different matter and Ahmed had no concept of how to employ them. He used the colors just as they came out of the tube. That it was possible to mix them did not occur to him. Thus his first paintings used a mosaic procedure intersecting and parallel lines of spots in various colors. The effect was decorative, but it could scarcely be considered oil-painting. “I’m at the wall,” he said sadly, “but I can’t open the gate.”


            Eventually it was Francis who supplied the key, but suggesting that Ahmed sit each afternoon in his Casbah studio and watch him paint. There was to be no conversation; it was merely a matter of seeing a painter paint. From then on, things went very quickly. Ahmed’s excitement was intense. He began to develop his arcane procedures for injecting magic into his canvases. (He had always considered technique to be a secret which was to be protected at all costs. This attitude stayed with him all his life. No one must discover how he painted, or know what magic formulas he uttered during the act.) I never understood the source of this fanatical insistence upon secrecy. I think he believed that whoever discovered the processes involved in his technique would produce paintings identical to his. To Ahmed art was alchemy.


Tangier, 12/11/93


Copyright � 1993 by Paul Bowles


Ahmed Yacoubi: Biography and Art Exhibitions


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