Into the singular world of Tony Maalouf
Posted on 2022 Jan,20  | By Ghada Azzi

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Tony Maalouf’s journey as an artist began during his childhood when he developed a passion for art.  When asked what sparked his interest in art, design & illustration, he says as long as he remembers, art has always played a big part in his life.

   Since his childhood, Tony was known among his family and school friends as the “kid who can draw” and who is sure to become an artist. So, it was only a logical path for him to study art.

Not surprisingly, his background as an interior architect provided him the technical skills to jump effortlessly into the world of illustration and develop his talent further. “My master’s degree in interior architecture expanded my creativity and took my passion for art to new levels and fields.”

Asked about what he thinks is his strongest skill, Tony says, “I guess associating my illustrations to the current Lebanese political and social events made my art more relatable and gave it a purpose, which is really important to me.“

    Tony’s body of work is highly inspired from what he sees and experiences directly in a country like Lebanon where highly charged situations abound to offer the artist a visual vocabulary like no other.

On top of this, there are a lot of references to local pop culture in his work. When asked about the true basis of his inspiration, the point of departure for an illustration, Tony confides that conceptualizing for him always starts with pencil and paper.

   If there is one consistent element through all of his pieces, it’s his now recognizable hand-drawn artwork, which he often superimposes on a basic digital photography. “I usually take random photos of things and places that I find interesting and underground, and try to imagine how I can add characters and life to it, and try through my art to express my feelings and opinions toward any happy or unfortunate event that is occurring in Lebanon or affecting me personally.”

He creates work that contain pop culture imagery, simplified, recognizable references that allow people to digest the artworks in a familiar manner. “I always try to add purpose to my illustrations and not to just focus on the esthetics,” he says. 

“Movies and music have major influence on my work, and you can see that clearly in my illustrations as I usually quote a song and use it as the title for my artwork.

“And I love to mix modern pop culture with Lebanese themes, like the ‘Golden Girls’ having coffee over a typical Lebanese “sobhiyeh” (morning social gathering), or the ‘Sex and the City’ girls enjoying their time at a Lebanese restaurant…”

His work is a stunning mixture of imagination and reality; a rather playful and ironic exploration of what Lebanese life is all about. By using familiar references, he brings different aspects of Lebanese life to the table. He interprets situations and events with their brilliant individualities, and uncovers new connections, ideas, and hidden meanings in his simple but visually bold compositions.

His singular compositions make Tony’s style instantly recognizable. He successfully created a style of his own. This singularity is surely what made the UNESCO select him, as the only Lebanese to be part of their campaign, “Culture & the Language of Creativity in the Arab Region.”

Indeed, when you see Tony’s work, there are no mistakes about it, you instantly know whether it’s Tony Maalouf or not, no need to second-guess.

For instance, everyone knows and reckons his postcards series of Lebanese cities, but also few one-offs like the ‘Bonjus and Mankouché’ mix for Valentine that went literally viral across the social sphere.

But we wanted to know his most memorable project, a project he’s felt really connected to.

“Perhaps the artworks related to the current situation in Lebanon are the most memorable to me because I drew these illustrations out of sadness, anger and frustration…from the 4th of August explosion at the Port of Beirut to the dramatic economical fiasco.”

Tony also expressed how technology, in particular, the iPad Pro has transformed his workflow and ability to create and how his drawing process started evolving over the years.

Using software like Photoshop has helped combine his love for pencil drawing with digital media and transform his drawings into animations or adds visual interest to still images in other ways. An already beautiful-looking photo in the hands of Maalouf is often enhanced with a minimal sketch that adds a splash of satire and whimsy.

His stylized, simplified technique was cut to please the eye, but at the same time it never fell into the trivial. Because Maalouf makes sure to always renew himself. “I try to keep up with new ideas, applications and techniques to stay updated and to explore new skills that can enrich my art without losing my identity.”

It is no surprise to learn that the Lebanese artist has many projects in the pipeline, such as collaborations with local brands and NGOs. “Hopefully my first solo exhibition; and taking my brand to the next level through the creation of an online store to share my art in a different way… I’m excited about the future!”