Huguette Caland was a Lebanese-American artist known for her abstract paintings and sensual line drawings. Since the early 1960s, she had been making whimsical paintings, sculptures, drawings, and decorated caftans. She flouted traditional expectations of femininity by creating subtly erotic works that questioned notions of a woman’s place.
Caland was the daughter of the first president of postcolonial Lebanon. She attended art school when she was in her 30s at the American University of Beirut and graduated in 1968. She was part of the art scene associated with her friend Helen Khal, who opened Gallery One in Beirut. This gallery showed Caland’s works along with those of Etel Adnan, Simone Fattal, and other Lebanese modernists.
In 1970, at age 39 and married with three teenagers, she left her husband, children, and lover in Lebanon to move to Paris for artistic freedom. “I thought I had wings to fly, and I said goodbye to everybody.”
During her first years in Paris, Caland made delicate line drawings of intertwined body parts and sensual renderings of curvaceous forms. In 1973, came her “Bribes de Corps (Body Parts),” which were abstract drawings and paintings of the human body. These works invoked the body but never totally revealed it. Some were “Self-Portraits” done in the form of voluptuous shapes and abstractions. However, she did not receive artistic acceptance for these works because they were considered to be erotica.
In 1978, she entered the boutique of fashion designer Pierre Cardin, wearing one of her elaborately designed high-end caftans. Cardin suggested that the two of them do a collection together. She designed a line of haute couture caftans for Cardin with some showing female body party on both front and back. She also created patterned, textile-like compositions in her paintings. She began to receive recognition in Lebanon and in the Middle East.
In 1986, Caland left Paris and moved to Los Angeles to be near her children and built a spectacular home in Venice, California. In the 1990s, her work evolved into cityscapes and textile-like fields of abstract patterns. Her fixation on the beauty of a simple line in early works of sinuous line drawings continued into her later works which used the repetition of standardized linear marks in abstract works.
She has participated in the “Made in L.A.” Biennial at Los Angeles’ Hammer Museum in 2016; the 2017 Venice Biennale; and the 2019 Sharjah Biennial in the United Arab Emirates. In 2019, Tate St. Ives in Cornwall showed a selection of her drawings and erotic paintings as did the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In 2020, Caland had her first solo exhibition in the United States at the Drawing Center in New York.
Her work is in the permanent collections of the Centre Pompidou, La Bibliotheque National, London’t British Museum, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, among others.