Helen Khal sets her paintbrush to rest, one last time
Helen Khal (née Joseph), a renowned painter, author, and art critic, who taught painting at AUB (1967-76) and LAU (1997-80) died on May 20 of complications following hip replacement surgery.
Born in 1923 in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Khal was a Lebanese-American. She started her prolific painting career at the age of 21; when illness forced house rest, she began to draw. On a visit to Lebanon in 1946 she met and married a young Lebanese poet, Yusuf Al-Khal (they later divorced), remained in the country, and studied art at ALBA from 1946 to 1948. Returning to the United States, she studied at the Art Students League in New York City from 1948 to 1950. Back in Lebanon, in 1963, the couple established and then she and Leila Baroody, directed Lebanon’s first permanent art gallery, Gallery One.
Encouraged by the Lebanese artist Aref Rayess and others, Helen Khal held her first individual exhibition in 1960 at Galerie Alecco Saab in Beirut. Numerous one-artist shows followed: in Beirut at Galerie Feuille d’Or (1966), Galerie Manoug (1968), and the Contact Art Gallery (1972, 1974, 1975); she also held exhibitions in Pennsylvania, Jamaica, and Washington, DC. Her work appeared with other artists in the Biennales of Sao Paulo, Alexandria, and Baghdad, and in group shows in Japan, France, Jordan, and Lebanon, individual shows at the Alwane Gallery in Kaslik (1991) and at the Caves de France (1998). In Beirut she held one-woman shows at the Théâtre de Beyrouth in 1996 and in the City Café in 2005. In 2007 a retrospective exhibition of her work was held at the Safana Gallery in Beirut.
Helen Khal also had a distinguished career as an author, editor, and art critic. She was publications director for the Jordan Information Bureau in Washington, DC for fifteen years, writing and editing articles for the magazine and for government officials, including the king and queen of Jordan. She wrote articles on art and culture for The Daily Star (1968-72) and (1996-2002) and for Monday Morning (1972-75). For three years (1999-2002) she was senior editor with UN/ESCWA in Beirut. Most recently she was copy editor for AUB’s quarterly magazine, MainGate and later for this publication, AUBulletin Today.
A series of lectures given on a tour of 22 universities in the United States became her book, The Woman Artist in Lebanon published in Lebanon in 1987.
Khal, who was painting shortly before she fell into her final sleep, is remembered for her keen intelligence and probing, witty conversation. The artist on color: “Each color has its own climate, creates its own particular world; inviolate, each color speaks with quiet seduction.”
Helen Khal is survived by two sons, Tarik and Jawad, both mathematicians; five grandchildren, one great grandchild, and her sister, Seya Parbousingha, also a painter.