my many walks through a Venice, California, neighborhood,
I watched a concrete fortress emerge from an otherwise timid-looking
row of typical suburban houses. I wondered who could
be constructing this huge austere structure nearly covering
the entire extra-deep lot. It appeared rather forbidding from
the outside with its massive expanse of straight concrete
walls, except for the little smiling face of a sculpture peeking
through a narrow slice of glass running the full height of
the house the only opening in the front of the building.
I knew it must be the home and studio of an artist. Upon mentioning
the site to a friend from the neighborhood, I found out that,
indeed, it belonged to an artist named Huguette Caland from
Lebanon. My curiosity was peaked. A few weeks later, I happened
to see her along the side of her house tending some flowers,
so I said Hello and mentioned my artist friend. She was very
friendly and graciously invited me in to see the house. I
love art and architecture, and enthusiastically accepted.
driveway evolves into a walkway leading back to where the
entrance is recessed into the side of the building, giving
it privacy. There is a row of calla lilies gracing one side
of the walkway, and the sound of a small water fountain gurgling
opposite the front door evokes a tranquil mood. The antique,
tribal-looking green door made of hand-hewn, metal-punctured
planks from India softens the rough concrete surface surrounding
it. As I stepped over the threshold into the house I realized
that I was in a very special place indeed a sanctuary
of light and art, where cares and worries are left outside.
The fortress image quickly vanished upon entering
this exquisitely private place, buffered and protected from
the outside world with its great walls, which were the perfect
solution for creating a retreat and masking the noise of a
sometimes raucous neighborhood.
The tour was a visual treat of colors, textures,
surfaces, and art work displayed with an almost-sacred simplicity.
We migrated right, toward the large dining room and kitchen.
There is no formal living room, and I could see that all the
entertaining and living either took place around
one of the two large tables in each room, or outside on the
wall-enclosed patio filled with plants. A huge, sweet-smelling
belladonna tree in bloom half-covers the door to the patio,
which is next to a sauna and a stunning 75-foot lap pool where
Caland swims every day.
dining room, several folk art pieces, such as a rustic ladder
serving as a sculpture stand, perfectly contrast the sharp
lines of the building, which perform beautifully as an ideal
back drop for her contemporary art. The space is warmed further
by the humble simplicity of the polished plywood and Formica
used for her tables, counter tops, and even chairs. Huguette
told architect Neil Kaufman, I want my house to be like
a cathedral it is my institution. It shows: the
4,600-square-foot cathedral is the unique blueprint
of Huguette, and therefore striking, warm, and intimate.
Her artists touch shows in every detail of the house,
which she helped contractor Paule Michel Nahas finish over
a six-month period. The kitchen walls are filled with her
whimsical, intricately-stylized Byzantine painting,
resembling tile. Other such additions throughout the house
are equally surprising and delightful.
the large kitchen table are two walls of Huguettes framed,
evocative nude sketches from her Paris days in the early 1980s.
The counter below the longest wall is lined with a series
of organic, figurative animal sculptures in natural terra-cotta
that she created in Paris with the encouragement of Rumanian
sculptor George Apostu. She also worked in stone, wood, and
papier maché, or any material that appealed
to her. Her more recent large-scale abstract drawings and
paintings hang in the spacious dining room, as well as in
features a large evocative collage/painting which contains
portions of five kilograms of letters in French that she sent
to a friend many years ago. Says Huguette, He gave me
back all these letters before he died to save them from the
war in Lebanon. After a year of keeping them she finally
decided to make the collage, tearing off pieces that she wanted
to use. It is a striking work that is a revealing portrait
of a very important chapter for her. Huguette is totally open
and honest, and her own stories often end up in her art. In
her work, as in her life, she begins with an idea and consumes
every last drop of its being. She is passionate
about life and does nothing half way.
large towers, one at each end of the building, function as
stair wells, thereby preserving the openness of the main part
of the house by not cutting into it. One of the towers serves
as another gallery, full of works by many of Venice's top
artists such as Ed Moses, Laddie Dill, Larry Bell and
Kenny Price (and others) whom she has gotten to know since
moving to L.A. The artists have become good friends and often
drop by for conversation or a casual lunch, which can continue
on into dinner. She has created the perfect gathering place
and environment for art.
into her painting studio, which is at the front of the house,
almost took my breath away. It is a huge room (the largest
in the house) with an 18-foot ceiling, fantastic gallery walls,
and track lighting. One large work (6'x12') on unstretched
canvas has the breathing room of the entire 25-foot
wall. The other walls are hung equally spare, which creates
an ideal viewing of the work.
of her intricate Neo-Byzantine paintings on canvas
hangs above her square work tables which are constructed like
her dining room and kitchen tables, with the addition of large
casters. At the front corner of the studio entrance is a deep-chocolate
velvet chaise stacked with exquisitely embroidered pillows
done by women of the Sabra and Chatila Palestinian refugee
camps. The extraordinarily fine needle work beautifully compliments
Huguettes current paintings. There is a resonance between
the intricate, traditional tribal embroidery and
her intricately-painted Ikat embroidery.
They share the same rich colors of deep orange, brown, and
gold. Calands subtle luminous paint captures the feeling
of gold silk threads.
thin slit of a window that I had seen from the front, weeks
before, is on the front wall of the studio. The cutout sculpture
figure that had peered out at me stands guard at the window
displaying a humorous caftan both being Caland creations.
The front and back of the caftan are embroidered as a nude
woman. It was in an exhibition at the National Museum of Women
in the Arts in Washington, D.C., and with her usual aplomb,
Huguette has worn it to gallery openings.
of her earlier works of painted rocks and geometrically-painted
papier maché sculpture are displayed atop tall
matching antique tribal drawers that flank a long wooden bench
is the kind of studio that every artist dreams of. It is Huguettes
dream-come-true and the manifestation of her lifes creative
was born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1931 where her father became
the countrys first President after it gained independence
from France. While growing up, she was surrounded with Byzantine
art which had a deep influence on her work. It happens
on an unconscious level because one is suffused with it,
she says. Her interest in painting began at age 16 under the
tutelage of Italian artist Fernando Manetti. From 1964 to
1968 she studied art at the American University of Beirut.
during that time that she began the first prototypes for her
embroidered, hand-painted gowns the caftans that have
become her signature style and her uniform. Her
many painting smocks are all in canvas and each is a work
of art, painted-on at will and serving as caftan diaries
— notebooks for her thoughts or things to remember.
Some of the notations and drawings are erotic or humorous
with the tic-tac-toe grid being the favorite. With Huguettes
flair, the simplicity of the ancient caftan shape became elegant
in her hands when she used more elaborate materials such as
silk or wool, in dark, rich colors. Her unique style was not
missed by the keen eye of Pierre Cardin, who spotted her in
his salon in Paris in the 1970s soon after she moved there.
He engaged her to design a line of 102 elegant caftans. It
was an 11-month project and the only time she ever had
a job. At one of her gallery exhibitions a few years
later she wore one of the beautiful Cardins, and also displayed
one as a gallery piece which she had painted. It was titled
Premier et Denier Emploi (First and Last Job). She
said, this is haute couture, but I painted over
it! an artists prerogative, filled with
Huguette moved permanently to California in 1988 where she
presently lives and works. She is anxiously awaiting her citizenship
papers that are to arrive any day. She loves her life
Venice and thinks of it as a blessing. And, as she said in
a recent L.A. Times interview, I love every minute
of my life. I squeeze it like an orange and eat the peel,
because I dont want to miss a thing, said
with the passion of someone living her life to the fullest
and finding the beauty in it.
works have appeared in group and solo exhibits
around the world, including Beirut, Paris, Rome,
Venice (Italy), Barcelona, Baghdad, Tokyo, London,
Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. She was recently
visited by the Los Angeles County Museum Arts
Council led by curator Howard Fox. She appears
(as herself) in two photography books by Veronique
Vial: Women Before 10 a.m., and Splash.
Joanne Warfield's award-winning photography
is in several museum collections and is in a
new book titled Polaroid Manipulations
by Kathleen Carr. Joanne was featured in the
2001 issue of TheScreamOnline.
To view her work, visit her website at: