Classicism and Exile

March 20 - May 2, 2014

The Life and Work of Marcel Salinas

The artist Marcel Salinas was born in Alexandria in 1913 of a French mother and an Italian father. He received an education befitting a member of the Alexandrian elite, traveling extensively and studying law in Aix-en-Provence. However, his real passion was painting, and early twentieth century Alexandria had a number of studios where a young person with artistic leanings could hone their talent under the guidance of expatriate European artists.

Salinas spent his early adult years between France and Egypt. He exhibited frequently at the Alexandria Atelier alongside Egyptian artists such as Mahmud Said and Muhammad Nagi. From the 1940s, Salinas developed a long-standing relationship with the French painter and theorist André Lhote. He defended Lhote’s ideas in an article in the francophone Egyptian magazine Valeurs in 1945. In it, he praised Lhote’s commitment to technique as a means for freeing personal expression, expounded on Lhote’s idea of the necessity for artists to exercise self-critique by constant reference to old masters, and reiterated Lhote’s commitment to painting as a humanizing force.

Salinas carried these elements of Lhote’s teaching with him throughout his career. Those who knew him well remember him as an astute and compelling critic, always ready to pause in front of a painting and discuss at length the visual choices made by the artist. Salinas was simply enamored with painting, old and new. To him, the same basic principles continued to hold true throughout the ages: painting was about form, color, and technique. It required hard work and hard looking.

After the 1952 Egyptian revolution, exiled in Paris and desperate for money, Salinas got a job in a lithography workshop. He rapidly became an expert in the medium. He brought to lithography the same passion and rigor that were the mark of his painting. In 1969, he began a collaboration with Pablo Picasso. Salinas created a lithographic rendition of Picasso’s series of paintings, 29 Portraits Imaginaires. Published by the Editions Cercle d’Art, they would receive the Picasso’s whole-hearted approval.

Salinas continued to paint throughout the last decades of his life, spent between Paris and New York, and between Brussels, Belgium and St Louis, Missouri. His prolific output as a painter falls mostly into three categories: landscapes, nudes, and still-lives. While he toyed at various times in his life with different stylistic paradigms, including those of cubism and fauvism, ultimately, Salinas’ commitment was to the poetry of light, color, and form as they were brought to bear on the representation of people, places, and objects.

About the Exhibit

The exhibition will provide a retrospective of the work of the painter Marcel Salinas who was born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1913 of French and Italian parents and died in Saint-Louis, Missouri in 2010. From the 1950s, Salinas lived in exile in Paris, later spending time in New York, Brussels, Belgium, and Saint-Louis, Missouri. That Salinas is now virtually unknown belies a fascinating career and a rich body of work. In the 1940s and 1950s, he was close to the circles that pioneered modern art in Egypt, working and exhibiting side by side with household names such as Mahmud Said and Muhammad Nagi. He was a student and friend of the French theorist and painter André Lhote whose writings in the Nouvelle Revue Française helped to redefine French painting in the aftermath of the Second World War. His lithographic rendition of Picasso's Portraits Imaginaires was so much to the artist likes that Salinas’s name was included alongside his own at their publication. And finally, the photographer Cartier-Bresson himself signed a book to Salinas with the words "for my guru."

The classicism of Salinas’ painting, which accounts in part for his lack of renown in a twentieth century that prized formal innovation above technical mastery, owes much to the permanent state of displacement in which he lived: in an uncertain world, the rules and practices of painting did not change. Throughout his life, he returned continually to the time-honored genres of still-life, nude, landscape and portrait, showing a rare commitment to technique and a profound understanding of light, color, and form. The exhibition, which will be the first retrospective of Salinas’s work, will draw on the extensive archive left to the trustees of his estate, including sketchbooks, letters, and other documents pertaining to his life. While the focus will be primarily on his paintings, his work as a lithographer and as a photographer will be used as points of comparison and contrast, thus bringing into relief the richness of his visual world.