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Love till the last breath: Remembering artist Adli Rizkallah

Last night, at the age of 71 and following a long illness, Egyptian painter, writer and children’s books illustrator Adli Rizkallah passed away at the Salam International Hospital. Rizkallah devoted over 40 years of his career to exploring the potential of watercolor painting in work ranging from children's illustration to the avant-garde. He believed in the communicative power of the visual image and its ability to express original ideas rather than merely reflect reality. Influenced by abstract, accidental and lyric art, Rizkallah drew relationships between painting and poetry; his practice inspired several experimental poets including Abdul Munim Ramadan, Walid Munir and Amgad Rayan.

Born on 20 January, 1939 at Abnoub al-Hammam in Assiut, Rizkallah studied graphic art at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Cairo from 1956 to 1961. During  this time, he became acquainted with a number of renowned Egyptian artists and architects, including Habib Gorgy, Ragheb Ayad, and Wissa Wassef through training at the Institute of Coptic Arts in Cairo.

The 1950s and 1960s were a defining period in Rizkallah’s career. He delved into the rich cultural scene of downtown Cairo, spending hours listening to conversations between the avant-garde writers, poets, artists and intellectuals of the time. Inspired by Egyptian writer Abdel Rahman al-Gamal, he began to write and continued writing and illustrating children's books for Dar al-Helal publishing house throughout the 1960s. He exhibited sporadically at various venues and participated in important shows including the Spring Salon and Alexandria Biennale.

In 1971, Rizkallah travelled to France to pursue graduate studies, but upon his arrival he decided to experiment with painting on his own. It was in Paris that the artist had a breakthrough, producing his first watercolors, which were exhibited widely across Europe.

Rizkallah continued to produce children’s publications while furthering his own research and teaching at Strasbourg University’s Faculty of Fine Art. Ten years later, he returned to Egypt to establish a career as a painter in his homeland.

Rizkallah participated in over 50 solo and group exhibitions in Europe, Egypt and the Arab world, including the 1998 Cairo Biennale, the 1000 Paintings retrospective in Kasr al-Fenoun at the Cairo Opera House in 2000, and 2010’s Massreyat Exhibition at the Roshan Gallery in Jeddah. An acclaimed writer, he contributed numerous essays on art history to Egyptian and Arabic publications in addition to publishing his own books. Children’s literature and games remained a pressing interest for Rizkallah throughout his life. He developed innovative learning techniques to enhance children’s visual perception. 

Rizkallah received numerous awards for his artistic works as well as contributions to children’s literature. He continued to paint until his last days and was scheduled to participate this month in a group show at the Adel Thabet gallery.

In his words:

“To vanish in Art
Love till the last breath
It’s then,
That my remains will lay in peace
That Art will be soothed
That it will have an end,
This tragedy / comedy,

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