If the beauty of a woman had a silent language to express all of its thoughts, emotions, struggles, triumphs and sacrifices, then Lebanese artist Kristel Bechara could well be the author. An award-winning contemporary artist who is led by the joie de vivre of life often captured in her paintings, Kristel features women in all forms of glory and grace celebrating feminism through her art in ways that go deeper than just beauty on the surface. “Our world is beautiful because it is diverse and full of contrast,” she says.
Creating her very own niche in a world where artists strive to stand out, Kristel is clearly not one to produce aesthetically pretty art without a story behind it. For the Dubai-based painter and mother of two, she absorbs much from life and its surroundings, keeping an eye out for anything that impacts her emotions only to translate it onto a canvas, replacing words and feelings with brush strokes that evoke the depths of emotion in every expression.
Kristel Bechara. Frida. 100x150cm
“Countless superwomen continue to inspire me in my life daily,” she says, mentioning names that have been credited to bringing feminist art into the spotlight and paving the way for women to express their thoughts on sensitive issues such as patriarchy, childbirth and other taboo subjects often frowned upon in the early forties right through to the seventies. “In art, Frida Kahlo, Margaret Keane, Miriam Schapiro and Judy Chicago played a big part in creating an art scene for women,” expresses the artist. “They went through tremendous struggles to be taken seriously as female artists.”
According to Kristel, these inspirational women created art that spoke without words or explanation by artistically exploring the role of women in history and culture, childbirth, identity, emotions, death, patriarchy and the rights of women. “They made art accessible to a broad audience, which doesn’t require for someone to stand between the artist and the audience to explain it. That’s very out of step with the art world,” she adds. The power of such feminist art resonates strong even today as fashion house Dior recently unveiled its SS20 Haute Couture Show with a set designed by Judy Chicago where large appliquéd and embroidered banners posed a range of questions around the evolution of the role and power of women through the ages, starting with the question: what if women ruled the world?
Kristel Bechara. Tres Joli Bigoudi. 2018. 80x120cm
As a young woman who was most influenced by her late father, a surrealist artist and sculptor, Kristel has long been fascinated with the image of women and feminism in particular, with the female form being often the centre of attention in her works. Captured through her imagination to reveal different stories, each told through a pose, gesture or an expression – her most recent collections entitled INAMORATA and ASK A WOMAN are a testament to her artistic talent.
“I must have gotten his gift and I have been encouraged to express myself and create art ever since I was a child,” she says. Expressing her desire to create art that celebrates feminism, she recalls her childhood and the impact of women on her work. “I was raised and grew up surrounded by strong women. These collections are a celebration to all women who continuously inspire our world. ASK A WOMAN portrays women from all walks of life and is inspired by a woman’s strengths, weaknesses, wit, laughter, joys and her tears. INAMORATA pays tribute to exceptional women from history and from modern times, revelling in their beauty, boldness and refusal to conform to displaced norms.”
Kristel Bechara. Lion. 2018. From the series Ask A Woman. 100x150cm
Known for her unique ability to mix artistic styles with fabric, photographic imagery with oil, acrylic and giclée printmaking mediums that merge fantasy with reality, thought with emotion and grace with grit, she takes her hobby to a new level of professionalism that celebrates the power of diversity. “My transition from an art hobbyist into a professional artist started about 12 years ago when I moved to Dubai and started experimenting with a new style that combines my fondness of artistic styles into one medium; weaving in my love of fabrics, graphic patterns and painting into a single dynamic and colourful artwork that expresses the beauty in diversity of various topics,” she explains. Using stencil-like drawings and sketching, combined with modern mixed media lines perfected in broad daylight in her studio on Sheikh Zayed Road, Kristel is not one who is limited in thought, style or expression.
“I try my hardest to highlight this aspect through my artwork and show that our differences are what make us unique and divine; we should embrace these diversities and develop and open our minds to tolerance and inclusion,” she explains. What is most evident in her two new collections is the very same thread of dialogue that begins the moment you stand face to face with her art. For example, the Ask a Woman Collection focuses on what women really think and feel about how they look and what they do. Within the series, Sophia’s Resolution (2019) showcases famed Italian film actress Sophia Loren holding a colourful donut, hinting at the big ‘O’ captured by an expression that speaks of pure pleasure, just before she devours it.
“This oeuvre represents a celebration of freedom from the disassociation of surreal beauty norms,” shares Kristel. “Everlasting beauty is happiness derived from being comfortable with yourself. Real beauty is when you are comfortable and content in your own skin.” Whichever way the viewer connects to it, the dialogue begins the moment the emotion is translated. Similarly, Tres Joli Bigoudi (2018) shows a glamorous Angelina Jolie wearing her hair up in rollers and as simple as it looks, it tells of the way women achieved voluminous hair in the sixties when they slept in can-sized rollers every night.
Kristel Bechara. Fairuz
The message behind the painting is that you can get used to anything to achieve your objective and this shows the real strength of a woman to maintain her standards of beauty through her own eyes. “My dream is to be able to inspire people into actualising their full potential, and to be happy and content,” says Kristel. “INAMORATA is a series of paintings of iconic women that have inspired me at various points in my life whilst ASK A WOMAN is a collection of empowering ideas that I strive to live by and project onto others around me starting with my kids, my art collectors and anyone who my paintings speak to. I feel both collections will be continually expanding as I will always be influenced by icons and gather powerful beliefs that inspire me to be a better person.”
Recalling her most prized piece of work from within the collection, Kristel talks about She Is King (2019) – a piece that was commissioned by Standard Chartered Bank to raise awareness on gender pay inequality. For this, she was inspired to create a painting covering only 52.4 per cent of the canvas, representing the amount female artists are paid versus men. “It has a special influence perhaps because it was the painting I did for ArtGap and is now proudly hanging in London’s Standard Chartered Bank’s HQ, in the epicentre of the world’s financial markets,” she says. Following the success of this powerful piece of work, several artists began creating their own version of incomplete work and joined the dialogue.
“In monetary value, art produced by women is priced on average 47.6 per cent less than art produced by men – so to raise awareness about the issue, we painted 47.6 per cent less where the canvas was left blank and priced our riced our paintings at the full price.” The fact that such an unspoken matter was welcomed by artists all over the world, is a testament to Kristel’s ability to translate thoughts and emotions into captivating encounters captured on canvas.
Kristel Bechara. Speak No Evil. From the series No Evil. Digital print. 80x120cm
The INAMORATA collection pays tribute to exceptional women from history and modern times with phenomenal names such as Mexican artist Frida Khalo, French screen goddess Brigitte Bardot, Audrey Hepburn, Fairouz, Madonna, Twiggy and Marilyn Monroe all prominently featuring their expressions of joy, pleasure, audacity, speaking volumes to the viewer.
“These paintings are my personal contribution to the mighty feminism movement,” says Kristel, who has her work adorning walls in Paris, Amsterdam, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taipei, Tokyo, Delhi, Texas, New York, Sydney, Zurich, Istanbul and Vancouver, to name a few. Across the Middle East, her work is displayed in luxury furniture stores and fine dining restaurants across the UAE as well as in private homes. Art from her previous collections such as Earthly Grace (2018-19) which focuses on the movements of a ballerina to Superheroes (2018-19), which focuses on villains and heroes, with and without capes – all reflect Kristel’s innate ability to transform every character, personality, emotion and expression into a refreshing escape from reality into a world where light and shadow play with fantasy and fortitude in a surreal version of life beyond the glass ceiling. atelierkristel.com
Kristel Bechara. Twiggy. 70x100cm
Images courtesy of the artist
From the Spring 2020 issue of Harper's BAZAAR Art