Johnny Semaan is a Syrian artist from Latakia who currently lives in Lebanon. He graduated from the Fine Arts University of Damascus and participated in numerous workshops, including exhibitions with the German Cultural Center Goethe Institut and le Centre Culturel Francais in Damascus. He was also a teacher at Tishreen Faculty of Art and Architecture in Latakia and is the founder of Zografow workshop for children (2012).
I had the great opportunity to meet him and visit his studio.
About the writer – Maëva comes from Lyon and has been volunteering with MakeSense for 2 years. She used to work for social entrepreneurs in South Asia (Vietnam, Philippines). #Education, #WomenEmpowerment, #Refugees.
To meet Johnny, you have to go to the Art Gallery 392Rmeil393 in Gemayzieh, a cool district in Beirut. You will find him painting amazing scenes in a beautiful and peaceful old Lebanese garden.
Johnny started painting and drawing his first icons when he was 12.
“Every day I find inspiration in daily life on the street, days have a different routine and I want to catch it”
Since the beginning of the war, inspired by street scenes he started to make little paintings full of color and life and sold them at reasonable prices. He wanted his art to be affordable for anyone to enjoy it. You will find many of these little paintings in coffee places, art galleries and even at your friends’ house.
Meet Johnny’s work IRL
He has also made 1800 special paintings, one for each day of war. He wanted his artistic creations to be the complete opposite of war: full of life and beauty.
Color and people are an important aspect in his art.
Johnny in front of one of his WIP works
“What I want to show is the translucent halo I can see around all my Syrian friends… to me it represents the luminescence of a human being”
Moreover Johnny uses symbolism like dogs – known as a human’s best friend, symbol of friendship and solidarity, or fish, which in his opinion represent the needs of people.
Human’s best friend in Johnny’s painting
His paintings were exhibited at the 392Rmeil393 Gallery for the unfortunate celebration of the “6 years of war in Syria”.
At the end of our interview, Johnny also showed me a new project he is currently working on: Huge paintings of people with no distinct faces gathering. He explained that all these people have the same point of view, always with one outsider looking from a far distance. This person doesn’t want to belong to the group as he is an observer and considers the good and the bad from an objective point of view.
Johnny also makes references to love, immigration, and politics in order to make us think about these topics.
One of Johnny’s colorful painting