Benoit Debbane: At the Heart of Nostalgia
Benoit Debbane is an established Lebanese artist whose signature style of deconstructed pop characters and exploding comic book heroes illustrated in his precise, bold, and graphic style have become a widely recognised trademark. With the sincerity and youthful enthusiasm of one who is re-living his childhood with every new artwork, Debbane talks to Arabad about the reasons behind his focus on these highly identifiable cultural references that have become his mental library of inspiration as well as the vehicle for many commissioned projects.
How come referencing the past is a recurrent them in your work?
Referencing the past is just a facet of my work, but giving a new identity to the icons of my past to recreate that amazement we had as children is definitely a recurrent theme. it's not just a reference , it's more like a rebirth , it's all the childhood heroes in a 2.0 version.
Although your art is absolutely contemporary, it is also retro in its look and feel--yet very much like a far cry from Lebanon's war years that you seem still longing to. What's about the memory of Beirut, which you're drawn to and what's behind this nostalgia?
Nostalgia is going back to the golden years of our past when the present seems too dull and doesn't give you the joy and amazement you used to feel back then. Even though our past as a war generation was a pretty tumultuous one, the chaos was genuine, there was a war going on and the lack of safety, water, electricity was legitimate. Nowadays, we still lack all those things but it's not because of war, it's just because our government is corrupted and people are too numb to do something about it; this gives you a sense of shame and hopelessness, so to answer your question, I find my childhood more interesting than what I am witnessing now.
How do you explain that such pop references--goldorak, Bruce Lee etc.-tend to sell more?
They sell more among my generation, as it brings back that long lost feeling of amazement and joy we used to experience when life was simpler.
Your work generally strikes at the heart of memory, nostalgia and emotion. Is that intentional so people don't ever forget the past?
Of course, thank god we have a past... i would give anything just to go back to a time where children didn't need an ipad with a million apps on it to be happy... Back in the 80's, Pac man, a slingshot, and a Bruce Lee VHS tape would have made me happy for a long time.
Anything you'd like to add?
Adults are boring!