Marwan Sahmarani is a visual artist born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1970 and now based between his homeland and Spain. A painter of profound depth and complexity, Sahmarani’s personal experiences of conflict and displacement have fuelled his exploration of identity, memory and the human condition. Growing up in a country torn by civil war has left an indelible mark on his artistic sensibilities. He expresses his subconscious reflections through vivid colours and a blend of techniques, focusing on the essence of the artworks and the emotional response they produce. 

Sahmarani’s artistic identity results from a mosaic of influences, including his experiences of emigration, recent history and the art that inspires him. Although he was not encouraged to explore his artistic side by his parents, he used to pore over books on art in the family home and made drawings throughout his childhood. Despite this, he thought he would probably become an engineer or a lawyer, and it was only at 18 that he decided to leave Lebanon and study fine art in Paris. He stayed there for five years, but struggled to find his footing as an artist; he was inspired but also intimidated by all the great painters who had lived in the city in the past. He then moved to Canada and shuttled between there and Lebanon for seven years before finally returning to the country of his birth.

It was only in the early 2000s, against a backdrop of global political upheaval including the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, that Sahmarani found his voice as a painter, motivated by a need to convey the tumultuous realities of the Middle East. His initial foray into figurative painting, heavily influenced by sociopolitical events, gradually evolved into a more nuanced exploration of personal and collective identity. 

However, the political context of Sahmarani’s art cannot be overlooked. Lebanon’s violent history and ongoing struggles have had a profound impact on his creative output. His paintings offer viewers a window into the complexities of a nation grappling with its past while striving for a better future. 

Sahmarani is inspired by many of the great masters of art history, from Giotto to Cézanne. He invites viewers to contemplate the interplay between the recognisable and the mysterious. “I can go from abstraction to figuration, if I feel like it. I’ve learnt how to draw and now I want to learn how to draw like a kid,” says Sahmarani – a similar sentiment to that once expressed by Picasso, whose artistic practice also fluctuated between figuration and abstraction. 


Marwan Sahmarani, 'The Dream of Saturn', 2022, oil on canvas. Courtesy of ITERARTE & the artist
Marwan Sahmarani, 'The Dream of Saturn', 2022, oil on canvas. Courtesy of ITERARTE & the artist

Central to Sahmarani’s artistic process is light; in this he harks back to the Impressionists, whose pictorial interest was often dictated by the light in the places they visited. Sahmararni’s light transcends mere aesthetics, carrying within it nuances of politics, violence and society. The artist’s return to Beirut marked a shift in focus, emphasising the cityscape and, through its light, the intricate interplay between the political and the personal. He says: “The medium is the message, but the light behind it is the essence of the painting.

Sahmarani’s artistic versatility extends beyond painting, encompassing drawing, engraving, sculpture and ceramics. Each medium enriches the others, fostering a continuous dialogue within his artistic practice. His works in other media echo the fluidity and dynamism inherent in his paintings, forming a harmonious symphony of creative expression.