He is one of the fathers of contemporary Moroccan painting, inventor of a very rhythmic abstract expression. It animates this painting, soon proposed in Cannes (August 15, 2019), where all the complexity of a wounded soul can be read.
Black notches on a blue background, nervous lines sweeping the surface of the canvas, brushing a composition to musical rhythm. "Djilis", a work painted by Jilali Gharbaoui in 1961, expresses the tormented personality of an artist who can be considered as the first non figurative Moroccan painter. In 1952, a scholarship in his pocket, he arrives at the Beaux-Arts (Fine Arts) in Paris, where he discovers the latest research of his western contemporaries who had chosen the way of abstraction lyrical. Three years later, back in Morocco, where a highly codified art has been practiced for centuries, he feels the need to leave geometric traditions. His ambition ? «To make a living painting: to give a movement to the canvas, a sense of rhythm and the most important, as far as I am concerned, to find the light», as he will entrust later to a journalist of Souffles, the avant-garde cultural magazine of Rabat. From then on, Gharbaoui develops an abstract expression that is very gestural, but that attracts a rejection from the public of his country. Fortunately, in Europe, where he comes back regularly, people start to notice his work. In 1957, one of his wealthy compatriots organizes a travelling exhibition across the United States, at this occasion the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art awards him a first prize. In the years that follow, his work travels all over the world, and other encounters make him known in Mexico, Germany and Japan.
Abstraction, for Jilali Gharbaoui, is in no way a posture, quite frequently adopted at the time. It is truly a vital impulse, even a therapy in resonance with his terrible personal history. It is necessary to go back to childhood to find the origin of the violence of his expression: the artist, abandoned at the age of 2, spent it in an orphanage. Then it is the street, where the painter Marcel Vicaire notices him, and later the evening classes of the academy of arts of Fez. As he grows up, he develops anxiety attacks; he is repeatedly interned in a psychiatric hospital, twice attempt to commit suicide. But in his chaotic journey, Gharbaoui will meet two unusual personalities who will help him to give birth to his art : the poet Henri Michaux, met in Paris in the early 1950s, with the same artistic approach and the same addictions; and especially the critic Pierre Restany, sensitive to the signs drawn feverishly by the Moroccan, to their relationship with calligraphy. Thanks to the intervention of the theoretician of the new realism, he will participate in 1959 at the Salon Comparaisons. Despite the support of his friends and the recognition of an acclaimed public, the artist, still prey to his torments, ends his days in Paris in the greatest solitude. Her skin-deep painting remains, testimony of her permanent search. The quest for light is for me capital. It never deceives. It washes our eyes.»