After finishing his latest theatrical role in the play "A Ardh al-Ghajar", Lebanese actor Paul Sleiman made his debut as a professional painter with an exhibition in Byblos that includes 200 paintings.
In the August 1st-15th exhibition, Sleiman will also paint in front of his audiences as swiftly as possible as part of a project to complete 30,000 paintings with 1,000 Lebanon-inspired themes by the end of 2013.
Sleiman told Al-Shorfa he will complete the paintings as he travels throughout different parts of Lebanon.
Al-Shorfa: You are known as an actor. Now you are introducing yourself as a painter. Tell us about that.
Sleiman: Acting and painting have been with me all my life, ever since I was a child. […] I have loved acting since a very young age. I would make up James Bond-themed stories I told and acted out in front of fellow students and teachers. I also befriended the paintbrush, but acting took up a large part of my time, as did studying at university. Despite all that, I painted, and my family and friends knew I was a painter.
Al-Shorfa: What prompted you to go public with your paintings?
Sleiman: Last September, I found myself in my studio and during my visits to some villages, I surrendered to painting as if the brush had set me on fire and gave me a new vitality. Thus, I decided to dedicate one whole year to painting and to produce a large number of paintings in a one-of-a-kind project.
I started in my hometown of Amchit and went through lots of towns and villages in Jubail. My plan is to cover all areas in Lebanon. Through my travels, I will be promoting a culture of art and will also provide art education through my exhibition, which began August 1st and will continue until the 15th of the month.
Al-Shorfa: What about this exhibition at Byblos?
Sleiman: It serves as the launch-pad for a project through which I would like to produce 30,000 paintings of all areas in Lebanon that revolve around 1,000 themes. These include archaeological sites, Lebanese heritage sites, castles and fortresses, tourist locations, villages and streets.
During the Jubail exhibition, I will showcase 200 paintings on town walls, with 200 themes. I will also be painting directly and speedily in front of people and also allowing people to take part in painting.
Al-Shorfa: What will you paint in front of your audience at the Byblos exhibition? What techniques will you use?
Sleiman: Themes imprinted in my mind and imagination. I will not be painting existing scenes but will resort to the multitude of ideas and pictures in my head. The importance of what I do lies in speed of painting and my performance, wealth of ideas and giving.
For example, my previous paintings of old houses, bridges, a castle and the sea from Amchit and nearby villages were already in my mind. As for the techniques I use, they vary. I use wax, coal, paper sculpting, oils and acrylic.
Al-Shorfa: How do you explain the high number of paintings you produce and how swiftly you complete them?
Sleiman: As an artist, I am listed as the fastest in the world and the second fastest portrait artist after the Lebanese artist Hanna Tannous, who paints in Montmartre, Paris. I paint a portrait in seven minutes and Hanna does it in four.
Al-Shorfa: You have discussed expanding your project to all parts of Lebanon.. Tell us about that.
Sleiman: After visiting some villages and painting in front of their residents, I will tour different parts of Lebanon to paint and to exhibit my work at clubs, societies, municipalities and institutions. I want to reach the largest number of people to educate them and allow them to own a piece of art that is inexpensive but high in value.
In addition to the educational side of my project, I want to include 1,000 themes in my paintings and will later print 30 copies of each painting, which will add up to 30,000 paintings. I hope my paintings will go on calendars, greeting cards and stamps, and be featured in magazines and pamphlets.
Al-Shorfa: How have the villagers responded to your project?
Sleiman: The response differs from one village to another, depending on the financial situation of the residents. In general, though, I have felt appreciation towards my initiative and my art and this is the important thing, though I am trying to sell my work at low prices to encourage people to buy paintings.