"Critics should help people to see by themselves. They should never try to impose their own explanations,.... if a critic's explanations increase the general obscurity, that's all to the good.": Georges Braque.
"Tanger 54" by Mona Thomas; a Critical Analysis.
I had decided to write this analysis on Mona Thomas's book, Tangier 54, because this book gives a large display of part of the life of a great Moroccan artist, unknown of the general public, Ahmed Ben Driss El Yacoubi (Fes: 1928-NYC: 1985).
Ahmed Yacoubi was, in the same way as Jilali Gharbaoui and Ahmed Cherkaoui, a pioneer and a precursor of modern art in Morocco. The fact that he became unknown or forgotten, as mentioned by Fouad Bellamine in his presentation about the artist at “l’Atelier du Lion” in Casablanca in December of 2008, is due simply to the fact that he lived mostly in the USA and not in France and in Morocco as did the two other artists.
Mona Thomas therefore had the merit to make the memory of this great artist be born again but the question that arises is the following; did she do it in a spirit of irreproachable ethics or else in a spirit of intellectual honesty which leaves something to be desired?.
I am going to show at first that the "Norman Drawing" (see Photo Gallery) is not of Francis Bacon as Mrs. Thomas suggested and do not represent Ahmed Yacoubi, a hypothesis also advanced by the author.
Secondly, I’ll describe the flaws in the research work made by Mona Thomas concerning mainly Ahmed Yacoubi; they consist of voluntary gaps used in the interest of her story, and involuntary gaps which shows a certain carelessness and a lack of seriousness in her research
Thirdly, I shall try to bring a little less perverse version of the life of Ahmed Yacoubi in particular his relationship with the novelist Paul Bowles
Fourthly, I shall show that behind the man described by Mona Thomas, there was a talented artist recognized at the international level at the time
To conclude, I shall try to emit a hypothesis based on my own research, on the artist who painted this famous "Norman Drawing " and the character who is represented in it.
The first idea that comes to mind when anybody sees a portrait which is attributed to Francis Bacon, considering his fame, is naturally to send a copy to the Francis Bacon Committee in London which is the only authority able of expressing an opinion as to its authenticity. Therefore, it is the first thing I did. An email with the photo of the Norman Portrait was sent to Mr. Christophe Dejean, Committee member, around the end of October, 2012. His answer, two days later, was of the most surprising; Mrs. Thomas had contacted the Committee by sending a photo in 2011 and Mr. Martin Harrison, editor of The Francis Bacon’s Catalogue Raisonne to be published, was formal, the Norman Drawing sent by Mona Thomas doesn’t look like anything Francis Bacon could have made during his whole career.
The answer of the Committee was confirmed when the website of the Tate Gallery of London which organized three Francis Bacon's retrospectives, was consulted; this extremely well conceived site contains a good number of works on paper of Bacon which have nothing in common with the drawing of Mona Thomas's book.
Since the drawing turns out not to be of Francis Bacon, Mona Thomas's story has no more reason to be but I am not going to stop here because there’s much more to it.
The second question that arises is, since the drawing is not of Bacon, then the portrait may not represent Ahmed Yacoubi as Mona Thomas claims it does. She puts forward the argument that Carol Cannon, who claims to be the expert in the work of Ahmed Yacoubi, has immediately and formally identified the portrait as being of A. Yacoubi’s. Thomas was told by Carol Cannon that she is currently working on a book, a tribute to Ahmed Yacoubi. The relationship between Carol Cannon and Ahmed Yacoubi not being of current interest to us, I shall not waste time on it but I certainly think that Miss Cannon was very naive to voice an opinion which we consider doubtful and I think that Miss Cannon wanted to serve the interests of her book because a portrait of Ahmed Yacoubi by Francis Bacon would for sure give more value to the contents of her book and Miss Cannon as well as Mrs Thomas had a tendency to give an idealistic version of the relationship between Francis Bacon and Ahmed Yacoubi for the sake of their personal interests up to the point where Carol Cannon mentions mutual complicity in phone conversations between the two artists many years later while if friendship there had been between Yacoubi and Bacon, the latter would have been able to, if he had really wanted, being at the height of his career, find the former a gallery where to exhibit or to introduce him to art collectors considering the very precarious financial situation where was Yacoubi in New York at the time. There was certainly some respect between Bacon and Yacoubi as Carol Cannon claims, as there was some respect between Yacoubi and Jacques Berdugo in the text she wrote for the auction catalogue of the CMOOA in Casablanca; but unfortunately this "respect" showed to Ahmed Yacoubi gave nothing in terms of support when the artist fell very ill and help was very badly needed.
This brings me to clarify certain aspects of the relationship between Ahmed Yacoubi and Francis Bacon described in Tangier 54.
Everything leads me to think that the relationship between Ahmed Yacoubi and F. Bacon was brief, the time of an apprenticeship in the use of oil paint. Mona Thomas describes a relationship that lasted for a long time and that, from the point of view of Francis Bacon was an intense and obsessing relationship. Mrs. Thomas gives as an example the fact, very questionable, that Bacon represented Ahmed Yacoubi in many of his paintings (see Photo Gallery) in particular in one of the paintings of the 1953 Papal Portraits serie with " the dazzling smile and the spotless shirt of Ahmed " while with all the respect due to Mrs. Thomas as an art critic there was nothing that can makes anybody believe that there was the slightest similarity between the way Ahmed Yacoubi looked like and all the paintings of the Popes series especially in the way very unique that F. Bacon had to deform faces.
In the same way, Mona Thomas identifies the legs of Ahmed Yacoubi in Study of Van Gogh on the Road of Tarascon, a painting part of the tribute to Van Gogh by Francis Bacon; it's a pity that for a reason of copyright I cannot reproduce this picture, the resemblance found by Thomas would be of the funniest not to say the ridiculous kind (see Photo Gallery).
Moreover Mrs. Thomas recognizes Ahmed Yacoubi in the character barefoot and wearing a jellaba, the only painting of Bacon which represents a Moroccan and that Bacon himself entitled Man Carrying a Child . For Mona Thomas, the character was Ahmed Yacoubi carrying on his shoulder not a child, but Barbarhio, Paul Bowles’ parrot (see Photo Gallery).
To finish with this part on the relationship between Yacoubi and Bacon, according to Mrs. Thomas, there has been an exchange of portraits made by both artists, Francis Bacon having drawn the Norman Portrait and Ahmed Yacoubi, as his pupil, having made an oil portrait of Francis Bacon.
This portrait, always according to Thomas, is the one that Bacon had thrown, in a fist of anger in the garbage with many of his letters, personal belongings, sketches, ect. and which have been collected and saved by an electrician who worked at the artist's home, Mac Robertson. A photo of this portrait appears in the catalogue of the auction of Ewbanks of 2007 in Great Britain. This portrait is frankly the work of somebody who does not know how to neither draw nor paint with whatever medium. It is an insult to the talent of Ahmed Yacoubi to attribute to him this oil portrait; he indeed learned to paint with Bacon using oil but it is necessary to point out that Ahmed Yacoubi was 30 years old at the time and that his talents of draftsman and painter using pencil or gouache were already too well advanced to paint such a tasteless thing. To support her argument, Mona Thomas goes on by saying that the difficulty for Ahmed Yacoubi to paint a portrait, thus the bad quality of the portrait, would come from " the prohibition of the representation of a face brought back from the childhood of the young Muslim ". No need to emphasize that at the age of 30, Ahmed Yacoubi had long ago gotten over this "prohibition", if prohibition there ever was, because he had drawn faces and characters well before his encounter with Francis Bacon. In 1956, when he met Francis Bacon, he had at his credit several exhibitions worldwide: the Betty Parsons Gallery in NYC and Galeria Clan in Madrid to quote only these two; Mona Thomas should have inquired with Carol Cannon before making such statements.
Mona Thomas quotes Pierre Gassier's monograph dedicated to Ahmed Yacoubi; for the information Pierre Gassier was the cultural attaché of the embassy of France and an excellent art critic, maybe the best among the non Moroccans who really understood the evolution of art in Morocco. In this monograph, which we suppose Mrs Thomas had access to since she mentions it, there are photos of drawings, pastels of Yacoubi of 1952, 1953, and 1955 before his meeting with Bacon, and which testify of an advanced precision in drawing skills and already a fulfilment of Ahmed Yacoubi as an artist, too talented to having done this oil portrait, rather the work of a novice.
Mona Thomas's research work at least as far as Ahmed Yacoubi is concerned suffers numerous gaps and mistakes due to the fact that the work was simply botchy. It is easier for me to enumerate them:
-The year of birth of Ahmed Yacoubi is 1928 not 1931. Thomas was certainly misled by the page of Wikipedia dedicated to the artist which gives 1931 but Carol Cannon's site gives the correct date; three years in the life of a painter can make a huge difference.
-Page 62: Thomas mentions that the tales of Ahmed Yacoubi were published under his pen name “Driss ben Hamed Cherhadi”. Driss Ben Hamed Cherhadi was the right pen name for Larbi Layachi, another storyteller, friend of Bowles, not Ahmed Yacoubi’s.
-Page 79: Michael Peppiat in his book Francis Bacon in the 1950s, mentions that Francis Bacon was not in Tangier in 1954, the year which appears on the Norman Drawing, his first visit dating to 1956, even the previous year as points out it Mona Thomas quoting another source, but not 1954, for sure. Therefore, how come that the drawing, if it was the work of Bacon, was situated and dated by the artist while he was not in Tangier. Mona Thomas suggests that the drawing would have been dated by Francis Bacon after 1954. This reasoning, which does not stand, leaves us in a state of extreme confusion.
-Page 89: Mona Thomas has the nerve to blame the Francis Bacon Committee for his lack of reaction as to the respect for the copyrights of a photo representing Bacon and Lacy on a terrace with the Mediterranean Sea on the background; the picture being available on the net. This picture in fact belongs to the auction with the Origin: The Robertson Collection, lot 2025, Ewbank Auctioneers, April 24th, 2007, auction that Mona Thomas will refer to many times later on in her book. Thomas leaves us with the impression there were two different pictures while in fact it is the same picture.
-Page 115: Mona Thomas, referring to the work of Daniel Farson, The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon points out that the exhibition of Ahmed Yacoubi in the Hanover Gallery in London has never taken place. This exhibition, contrary to the fact that asserts Daniel Farson, took place in Oct.1957; it was a joint exhibition with the famous Brazilian artist Maria Helena Vieira da Silva; I am in possession of newspaper articles which show it. Thomas will be several times inspired by this Daniel Farson's book while in his lifetime Francis Bacon, who knew well this character deprived of seriousness, honesty and full of very reactionary political ideas, never wanted that this biography be published while he was alive; Farson will have it done after Bacon’s death. I shall make mention of this book again later on.
-Page 120: Mona Thomas describes in detail how Ahmed Yacoubi and his would-be-wife met; she was being inspired certainly by the Paul Bowles's official site because she mentions her only by her first name Ruth without making the effort to make the necessary research to find her surname, Marthen.
-Page 156: Mona Thomas wanting to give some spice to the relationship between Ahmed Yacoubi and Paul Bowles will say that the latter had offered his house of the Kasbah (the old part of Tangier) to the artist, house which was later burglarized. That's not the case, Paul Bowles has never offered a house to Yacoubi who had rented a studio in downtown Tangier on a street by the name of Moussa Ben Noussair; studio the door of which was years later forced and the belongings sold by the landlord.
- Page 159: According to Mona Thomas, Ahmed Yacoubi would have stored paintings in London in the 70s in a storage space which had been broken into. It is false, it was his daughter Karima, after the death of her father, who stored paintings brought back from the USA in a warehouse the owners of which sold the paintings later on. It is also not true that Karima Yacoubi died of leukaemia as Mona Thomas claims she did; to be respectful to the memory of the deceased, we would prefer not to mention the cause of her death.
I have enumerated some clumsiness and errors in Mona Thomas's research work. Throughout her book Mona Thomas insists several times on the enormous research work she had to carry out.
But these flaws are not what is most annoying compared to certain allegations as to the Moroccan society and culture which seem to us uncalled-for, not to say the least unworthy of a writer as well established as Mona Thomas.
In her research work, Mona Thomas was led, according to her, to look into the work of Moroccan painters of the 50s to see if one of them could have made the Norman Drawing. " As for the Moroccan painters of the fifties to whom I had access, they apply on themselves completely to painting landscapes. Some of them prefer the abstract forms, most excel in a “Med Club” genre of colored patterns. ". I consider that coming from an art critic, this judgment is rather severe, completely erroneous; the Moroccan painters of that time were only a few and to my knowledge none of them deserves the label " Club Med " but on the contrary these artists have a lot of merit to have made a success of the transition towards a modern art in a country where it was hardly at its first steps.
When speaking about the confusion of Ahmed Yacoubi between love and his relationship with money, Mona Thomas explains it by the fact that he was born in " a Greek system of society where … … … … ., young boys, seduced by grown-up men, seduce other men once they reached maturity ". This explanation with an "Orientalist" orientation aims to be general and is an insult to the morality of the Moroccan society and the Arab-Muslim societies in general.
We had mentioned earlier, Francis Bacon's biography by Daniel Farson. Thomas picks up from it a rather serious argument as to its stupidity, according to which the tribe of Djebbalas in Northern Morocco encouraged homosexuality. Mrs. Thomas did not have to take back this Farson’s argument, but she did in spite of the very doubtful reputation of Farson in particular his well known political views. Therefore, it was in a very precise purpose otherwise she could have asked for their opinion the many Moroccan writers and sociologists who live in Paris.
Throughout Mona Thomas's book, I noticed a hostility and a fierceness towards Ahmed Yacoubi that leave the reader with a very negative image of the man, whether it is by quoting very precise elements which she picks up from other authors or her own. Mona Thomas when describing the life led by Ahmed Yacoubi, says that he had been a child who has never known authority and probably who was seduced at a very early age, which led him to want in adulthood to repeat the gestures and acts committed on him as a child. I wonder where Mona Thomas got the information according to which Ahmed Yacoubi could have been a victim of pedophilia; a lack of respect for the deceased, for his family and for the circle where he grew up. I also wonder, if Thomas does not want to make once again a generalized statement.
Thomas quotes D. Farson according to whom “Ahmed Yacoubi always tried to extort money or something from Paul (Bowles)”; according to Farson nothing was more common in this kind of relationship. These comments in fact come from Jane Bowles as Michelle Green reports it in her book Tangier, The Dream at the End of the World, Paul Bowles’s wife who facing the closeness of their relationship shown by Ahmed Yacoubi and Paul Bowles, became very jealous not for love’s sake but because she was afraid that Paul spends too much time with Ahmed and neglects her while she was counting on himto help her write.
Thomas portrays Yacoubi as a vulgar dealer of “majoun” (cake with cannabis) and of “kif” (cannabis). In fact, as Michelle Green quotes, it was under Paul Bowles's instructions that Ahmed Yacoubi made “majoun” because Paul liked and had fun with experimenting the effects of “majoun” on himself and on others and he went as far as giving it to people without their knowledge of the effects such as the artist Robert Rauschenberg while visiting Tangiers. It was not therefore under the initiative of Ahmed Yacoubi, as claims Thomas that “majoun” was given to the guests of Paul Bowles. As to “kif”, it is part of the popular culture in Morocco, to quote again Michelle Green: " The Moroccans as Yacoubi, were very familiar with the way the kif could improve their creative powers. A popular proverb says that a pipe of kif before breakfast gives the strength of a hundred camels ". It is certain that Ahmed Yacoubi in his moments of need, sold it some times to make some badly needed money but from there to portray him as a dealer seems to me impossible to believe.
On another topic, the fact that Ahmed Yacoubi had sexual relationship with men is true, we know that, but as Thomas asserts that it was a vicious habit, difficult to believe. We should not forget that Ahmed Yacoubi came from a very modest and conservative family from the old part of the city of Fes, and it just happened that the company of Westerners who brought along their habits, their clothes and their beautiful cars made him “dizzy”. It is also necessary to keep in mind that to be part of the circle of Westerners very affluent artistically and intellectually in which he evolved in Tangier, it was necessary to play the game and conform to their rules for the sake of his painter's career which Ahmed Yacoubi loved more than anything else; thus his relationship with Francis Bacon which was brief, enough time for an apprenticeship in the use of oil paint because it is well known that Francis Bacon at the time was extreme in his tastes and had an ongoing relationship with Lacy; so, to make it a relationship that lasted a long time as claims Mona Thomas is very unlikely if not fictitious.
I never met Ahmed Yacoubi in person but all the people who had the opportunity to have known him say of him that he was very charming, very funny and of very good company, thus his relationship with Paul Bowles whom he entertained and amused tremendously.
The relationship between Ahmed Yacoubi and Paul Bowles was one of the paternal kind. In an entitled book Tangier, City of the Dream, the journalist Iain Finlayson comments on this relationship. Yacoubi as well as Bowles, according to Finlayson, have both denied that a sexual relationship never took place between them. The same argument is also mentioned by Nicholas C. Edsall in his book Towards Stonewall, who confirms that this kind of relationship did not take place between both, and who describes their relationship as “avuncular ". Moreover, according to Edsall, an "expert" on the matter, Bowles had a repressed sexuality and was asexual; This opinion however is not shared by the notorious Peggy Guggenheim, who in her autobiography Out of this Century: Confessions of an Art Addict written while Paul Bowles's was still alive, asserts having slept with the latter during one of his visits to Italy.
Paul Bowles was a skillful manipulator and would sometimes have wanted to persuade his guests who for the most part were homosexual, that he was one as well and had a relationship with Yacoubi; but it was only to play the game.
Paul Bowles liked very much Yacoubi and the artistic career of the artist was dear to his heart because having flair (he was among others things a music composer) he knew Yacoubi was very talented and had a very promising artistic career. Thus his disarray when Yacoubi chose to stay with Libby Holman in the US. ; Paul Bowles was very concerned about the painter giving up his career and not as claims Thomas that Bowles had red eyes for having shed tears over the absence of Yacoubi.
The aforesaid author, Iain Finlayson had a very good understanding and analyzes the relationship maintained by Paul Bowles with the "Bowles Boys" as being a paternal and educational relation; Bowles helped them to develop their artistic potential and to fulfil themselves completely: the benefactions derived for him were substantial; better assimilation of the Moroccan society and culture, " what the others could think of his innocent entertainment, didn’t really bother him “.
I would like to bring some precisions to an event which happened in June, 1957 and that every writer, including Mona Thomas who would have missed for nothing the opportunity to report it, mention. This event is the arrest of Ahmed Yacoubi by the Moroccan police for having seduced supposedly a German minor whose parents had lodged a complaint. Yacoubi was released then jailed during 5 months in December of the same year and finally freed after a trial which lasted about ten minutes in May of 1958. To understand what really happened, it is necessary to place this event in its political context and not to attribute it to the perversity of Ahmed Yacoubi. Morocco had just gained its independence and Tangier which was an international zone became part of the Kingdom. During this period of transition, common to all the governments which experienced colonization, the Moroccan authorities wanted to assert and to impose their presence recently acquired by trying, with concerns for morality, to end all the moral diversions that Tangier had known during the period of laxity preceding Independence and to show to foreigners that, from now on, it was the authorities of independent Morocco who guarantee order and the rules of morality. Naturally, to arrive to this purpose, it was necessary to give examples and to find scapegoats; who better than Ahmed Yacoubi could play this role. I do believe that the arrest and condemnation of A. Yacoubi had been made up by the new authorities of the city of Tangier. Actually this policy of show of force was given up a few months after the exodus of all the foreigners of Tangier who were afraid of arbitrary decisions by the new administration and things took their course as before the independence; Ahmed Yacoubi was released even though according to the law, he incurred several years of prison but the judge had considered that he was not guilty.
Ian Finlayson gives a very good and detailed account of this period and gives as the official reason of the arrest of Ahmed Yacoubi, not sexual abuse but rather " aggression with intention to commit a murder ". Finlayson thinks that it was in fact after Paul Bowles that the authorities were after; he was questioned four times before deciding to leave the country until things calm down to return.
Contrary, to what could be implied by reading Thomas's book, Ahmed Yacoubi was not an unscrupulous individual deprived of moral value.
In her book, Michelle Green, tells us how the extremely wealthy American Libby Holman having seduced Ahmed Yacoubi during his visit in Connecticut with Paul Bowles at the end of 1953, tried then to get rid of him after he had satisfied the eccentric whims which characterize this kind of woman. Ahmed Yacoubi did not go away before having torn to pieces and thrown in the swimming pool all of the clothing she had giving him as gifts during his stay with her.
Peggy Guggenheim, in her already mentioned autobiography, recalls that one day when she was sunbathing naked in her palace in Venice during a visit of Bowles and Yacoubi, the latter was shocked and horrified to see her sunbathing without nothing on.
To finish up with this part dedicated to Ahmed Yacoubi it would be difficult not to mention the fact that he was a very good and talented artist since the beginning when he was noticed by Paul Bowles. A study of Ahmed Yacoubi’s art which purpose would be to be complete, would deserve to be allowed a whole book.
There is not a lack of praises and tributes to him coming from great personalities of the entire art world as Dali in person, Peggy Guggenheim, William Burroughs, Alan Ginsberg, Mohamed Aziz Lahbabi, to quote only these ones. The art critics were unanimous as to his talent and his visionary approach to the art of painting; Bernard Saint-Aignan, Pierre Gassier, F. Wayne among others. His works are a part of famous collections as the ones belonging to the MoMA in NYC and we count among the collectors all the famous personalities as Montgomery Clift, Helena Rubinstein, Albert Rothschild,Tennessee Williams,ect. Ahmed Yacoubi was the Moroccan artist who had the most international career of his time as was emphasized by Mohammed Sijilmassi in his book L’Art Contemporain au Maroc; to quote Sijelmasssi " Self-taught, he distinguishes himself from the start by an abstract art he will explore and will master the most dynamic international trends of the pictorial movement of these last thirty years. ". Ahmed Yacoubi exhibited at the Gallery Clan which at that time hosted such famous talents as Picasso and Miro, at the Betty Parsons Gallery of New York, at the Hanover Gallery in London and also participated at the Paris Biennial of 1965 with J. Gharbaoui and A. Cherkaoui, exhibited as well at Bab Rouah and took part to the “Rencontre Internationale des Artistes” at the Oudayas Museum of Rabat in 1964, maybe the most remarkable event by the quality of its participants ever organized in Morocco.
I will end with this comment by Kamal Lakhdar in the excellent compilation put together by the S.G.M.B. in 1995: Regards Immortels where a sizable part is dedicated to Ahmed Yacoubi certainly under the directive of Fouad Bellamine who worked as the artistic advisor for the book design and who has been giving recognition for years now to the importance of Yacoubi’s work; we quote Kamal Lakhdar: " Remaining unrecognized – not to say unknown – in his country, Ahmed Yacoubi happened to be one of the most important painters of the first generation of artists, a precursor whose works were listed among the current debate questioning of his time. ".
The question which would come to mind to anybody and which seems to ask, without doing it directly, Mona Thomas is if an artistic career this rich and full as Ahmed Yacoubi’s, would have been possible without the help and the support of his very famous homosexual friends. Regarding Paul Bowles, the answer is undeniable. Paul Bowles was a good "coach" whether it was for Yacoubi or for his other protégés; he had this quality to emphasize their artistic potential and to encourage them and guide them towards the path on which he thought they were going to excel in from their beginning. However this "coaching" was not sufficient in itself, the artist had to be talented. For Yacoubi to be able to exhibit in the renowned Galeria Clan of Madrid, the intervention of Bowles and his power of persuasion were necessary, but it is mainly the positive effects made by the works of Yacoubi which contributed to it; Paul Bowles was not known in Spain at the time.
It is necessary to keep in mind that Ahmed Yacoubi was illiterate, spoke only the Arabic dialect and some snatches of other languages which he had learnt here and there; this gap was to be badly felt when he had to deal with foreigners other than his western friends.
As to Francis Bacon's support, we know now that it was limited to an apprenticeship with Yacoubi playing only an observer's role, Francis Bacon not having taught him any painting techniques; Paul Bowles will say that Yacoubi "will watch him (Bacon) as a cat" quotes Michelle Green in her book. Aside from two of his paintings we know, one representing two owls and making the cover of Paul Gassier's monograph, the style of Ahmed Yacoubi is very different from that of Francis Bacon. Bacon has organized Yacoubi’s exhibition at the Hanover Gallery of London but it must have been effortless, him being the owner of that same gallery.
It is also necessary to emphasize Jane Bowles's role, Paul Bowles’s wife, who in spite of the fact that her relationship with Ahmed Yacoubi became tense later, admired tremendously his work to the point that during one of her trips to New York, she took a whole collection of its paintings and before the arrival of the artist had already set up an exhibition in the famous Betty Parsons Gallery and had convinced the owner of the Weyhe gallery to organize another one; these facts are reported in Michelle Green’s book. Unlike Mohamed Mrabet, another protégé of Bowles who will continue to depend on Paul Bowles because the latter translated the former’s tales into English, Yacoubi early on in his career stood on his own feet thanks to the medium he used.
The fact that he was illiterate became a handicap for Yacoubi only when it came to exhibiting outside of Morocco on unknown territory. In Morocco he had very quickly acquired fame and reputation and was able to get by alone because he could easily communicate with the people of the art scene, the language barrier being not there.
His illiteracy played a much greater role when he emigrated in the USA. Indeed his written English being non-existent and his spoken English very approximate, he will have problems becoming integrated in the artistic life of NYC and of the US in general. His liaison with Carol Cannon, who was supposed to help him, turned out to be not of much help due to her lack of experience and skill in the areas that were of matter to him.
In her website www.carolcannon.com, she mentions to have organized two exhibitions of Ahmed Yacoubi in Morocco. Miss Cannon refers to the exhibition at Galerie le Savouroux in Casablanca; considering the fame of the artist in his native country at the time, no gallery would have refused him an exhibition. As to the second exhibition if we can call it an exhibition, Jacques Berdugo, the host of A. Yacoubi and C. Cannon in Casablanca had organized a reception and invited his friends to socialize and eventually buy Yacoubi’s paintings. Jacques Berdugo had made a trip to New York prior to that to see Yacoubi’s paintings without buying any. When Yacoubi was a guest in his home in Casablanca, he bought about ten of them and certainly at a very decent price considering the scenario he had built up upstream.
To conclude this part of the presentation I consider that each artist, whatever his medium, has a career path of his own. Providence puts on his path opportunities to be seized and obstacles to be overcome with the ultimate result that his reputation and his fame sooner or later will be acquired, only and if only this artist was born talented.
I also would like to highly recommend that a tribute should be organized to Paul Bowles by the city of Tangiers. He was very attached to and loved dearly the country of Morocco, chose to spend most of his life and finished his days there in spite of the fact that he had seen a lot of the world during his lifetime. He had the merit to have made Tangiers known internationally and attracted many famous artists and entertainers, most of them eccentric but nevertheless famous and appreciated in their home country and all over the world.
The most logical way of concluding this analysis of Mona Thomas’s book Tanger 54, would be to make an attempt to try to solve the riddle of the character represented in the Norman Drawing and the artist behind the drawing.
How about if the character who is represented would be no other than William Burroughs himself as written on the drawing?. Everything seems to make us believe it especially if we compare the face of the drawing with that of William Burroughs's picture on the cover of the book in its english version The Letters of William Burroughs, 1945-1959, edited by Oliver Harris (see Photo Gallery). This picture was taken by Harold Chapman in Paris at the "Beat Hotel" where William Burroughs and Brion Gysin were staying in 1958. The resemblance between William Burroughs in the picture and the character of the Norman Drawing is striking.
As to the artist who made this drawing, it could have been only Brion Gysin, who, since they had been introduced by Bowles, became inseparable friends with Burroughs and worked together on a number of projects as " the cut-up technique " and several publications.
Gysin was famous for his paintings inspired by calligraphy but he also made figurative works as those presented during the retrospective " Brion Gysin: Dream Machine " in 2010 at The New Museum for Contemporary Art of New York. Brion Gysin used pastel in many of his works and when he dated his paintings, did it in French as for example in " 28 Mai 65"(see Photo Gallery). Another argument which give wide support to my hypothesis is the fact that in the book edited by Oliver Harris mentioned earlier, the collection of the letters of Burroughs, at the end of the book, in the letters of Burroughs to Brion Gysin, Burroughs used "Tanger" and not "Tangier" as he was used to doing; this explains the missing "i" in the “Tanger” of the Norman Drawing caption. Finally if we compare the handwriting of the Norman Drawing, we can notice that it looks similar to the one of the poem of Gysin presented at the same retrospective and entitled: " I AM I, ARE WHO YOU”.
Mohammed Tazi, May 2013
Edsall, Nicholas C. - Towards Stonewall, University of Virginia Press, 2003
Farson, Daniel - The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon, Vintage, 1993
Finlayson, Iain - Tangier, City of the Dream, Flamingo, 1993
Green, Michelle - The Dream at the End of the World. Bloomsburry Publishing Ltd., 1992
Guggenheim, Peggy - Out of This Century, Andre Deutsch Ltd., 1979
Harris, Oliver - The Letters of William S. Burroughs (1945-1959), Penguin Books, 1994
Peppiatt, Michael - Francis Bacon in the 1950s, Yale University Press, 2008
S.G.M.B. - Regards Immortels, Editions Nuvo Media, 1995
Many thanks to:
- Dr. M. F. Bencheqroun for his encouragements and his comments concerning this part of the website.
- Conrad Fulbrook from Macaya Magic to have allowed me to reproduce the copyright material of Brion Gysin free of charge.
- Christophe Dejean from the Francis Bacon Committee in London for his very precise answers as to the authenticity of the Norman Drawing and for his generosity as to the discount on the copyrights fees related to the reproduction of Francis Bacon's paintings.
- Alice Hogg from the DACS in London for her patience and her help in getting the copyrights permission to reproduce F. Bacon's paintings.