The Happy Smock: Huguette Caland’s Structured Art and Influence on Artists

Al Jadid Staff
From top, clockwise: Huguette Caland (2010), by Souheil Michael; “Untitled” (1997); “Rossinante #6” (2011); “ Silent Letters Installation View” (1999); “Untitled Silent Letters” (1999); Huguette portrait (1995), by Gilbert Hage; “Voyage I” (2010).

Huguette Caland is best remembered for having a pen or marker in her hand. Born into a political family, she grew accustomed to trouble and welcomed disturbances. Her naturally rebellious nature took root in her art. “In the art world she was innovative, especially with meandering lines that almost blindly followed paths of least resistance, as well as those troubled lines with friction. She swam with lines as if in a pool of them,” wrote Doris Bittar in an essay honoring the artist, scheduled to appear in the forthcoming issue of Al Jadid. “Huguette’s unconscious expressions were fueled by spontaneous and random calculations. Calculation may not mesh with the idea of random. However, Huguette, as many artists do, chose randomness and spontaneity as a strategy, a calculated way of breaking free of old modes of thinking and creating. She trusted a calculated random process because it mirrored her life as both directed and exploratory.”

Caland’s public life contained its share of hardship, financial constraints, and turmoil. She also keenly sensed and acknowledged the pain of others. In the words of Svetlana Darsalia, a video artist and a former art director in Santa Monica, “Huguette Caland used to say she was born privileged, but only in a sense of having freedom to pursue her art career.”

Wherever she went, Caland carefully selected her environments. In California, she built a warm community, bringing artists and intellectuals together in her Los Angeles home, which she fashioned into an art salon. Sculptor Reem Hammad commented, “The best advice she gave our group of artists when we visited was to not waste your time with exhibitions and accolades. Instead ‘get to work on your art making.’” Her presence touched the lives of many, especially those within the community she created. According to Darsalia, “In LA, where she moved from Paris, Huguette became popular in the local artistic circles. We enjoyed her company as well as her famous hospitality. There was always a bowl of hot stew, a glass of arak, and a delightful conversation waiting for a chance visitor. I imagine Huguette is still working at her big table, in her Venice Beach studio, adding dots and dashes to her pen and ink lace drawings on the longest ever canvas.”

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“The Happy Smock: Huguette Caland’s Structured Art and Influence on Artists” by Doris Bittar is scheduled to appear in the forthcoming issue of Al Jadid, Vol. 23, No. 77, 2019.
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