Artist Tom Young hopes that a two-month residency at La Maison Rose in Ras Beirut can pave the way for more artistic activity in the iconic property
“I’ve been exploring the house’s context in the city, drawing inspiration from the forest of towers that surround it, and nearby landmarks such as the old lighthouse and Luna Park,” says Beirut-based UK artist Tom Young.
“These places are anchors in the city’s soul.” Young is referring to the iconic 19th century mansion often known as La Maison Rose, or The Pink House, which overlooks the lighthouse in Manara, Ras Beirut. Intrigued by the artistic history of the house, and having successfully transformed the abandoned Villa Paradiso in Gemmayzeh into an exhibition venue last year, he decided to create a body of work that has culminated in a self-curated, on-site
exhibition called At The Rose House.
Running until 31 December under the patronage of Lama Tammam Salam, the exhibition features 40 paintings that evoke the dreamlike nature of the house and the dramatic contrasts at play in Beirut.
The exhibition would not have been possible, however, without the building’s resident, Fayza El Khazen, who offered Young studio space in the mansion over the summer. While there he discovered that she was leaving in the coming months and there was a sense of urgency to capture the last days of the house in its present state.
“I first noticed the house in 2006 when I first came to Lebanon and I’d always loved the place; I’d always dreamt about it,” said Young. “Finding old buildings that were endangered, making work in them and about them, trying to capture the last days, and trying to capture the spirit, the atmosphere of these places. The sense of loss, but the sense of the spirit and the life that used to be there, and use art as a way to bring life back into these empty spaces.
“On Easter Day, we went up the street and found the back door of the building and knocked on the door. I was welcomed by Fayza El Khazen, the woman whose family have lived there for nearly 50 years. The fact that Fayza was leaving so soon really propelled me into some kind of action; that I need to go and paint there, I need to find out who is going to buy this place and what’s going to happen to it, and I’d like to play a part in a process which saves the building.
“It’s like a fairytale house and I think any child who comes here, it would really encourage them to dream and to imagine what is possible. The house is precious in this city full of these big tower blocks going up everywhere, wholesale destruction of heritage, and it needs to be protected. I hope that the place will be a beacon for artists and creative people in the city, where they can feel free to express themselves. A common ground where people of all kinds can meet each other and exchange ideas and make the city, hopefully, and the country, a better place.”
Young contacted the new owners – the Jaroudi family – to propose his idea to use the house as a venue for an exhibition. They gave him their blessing for the project and he learned about the house’s role as a social magnet for the city’s cultural tastemakers since the 1960s. El Khazin’s late brother, Sami was a famous painter and architect. Part of the exhibition will feature an installation of Sami’s paintings, honouring him and the memory of the family.
The two-month residency will see the venue used for sculptural pieces by Noor Haydar, musical and theatrical performances by Nadine Sures, film screenings, art workshops for children from SOS and Home Of Hope, and a lecture about architectural conservation by Mazen Haidar (head of Architecture and Design at Alba).
A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, The Rose Tinted issue #28, on page 21.