La Piscine Museum
Roubaix, France
24 October 2015 to 31 January 2016

Claude Lemand Gallery
Paris, France
30 September to 31 October 2015


This fall, La Piscine museum will be exhibiting the graphic works of Mahjoub Ben Bella. Although the artist is renowned for his large compositions that unveil a persistent and whimsical movement, La Piscine took the decision of displaying Ben Bella’s works on paper that he produced since the beginning of his artistic career. More than a hundred works have been brought together on this occasion, showcasing Ben Bella’s multi-faceted oeuvre on paper.

On the works on canvas, the signs could be interpreted as a song that is to be listened to and looked at, yet on the works on paper, the signs are to be deciphered and read, like an unfinished novel that follows the path of the artist’s life, story, memories, culture and passion…

The richness of an unrestrained inspiration is exposed to our wide-open eyes through the intimacy of his sketchbooks. Even the quality of the paper used add to the precious dimension of this work. The variety of shapes and of ‘art informel’ sometimes places us before the virtuosity of an abstract style and at other times we stand before the magical memory of an architecture that is just as much sacred than it is imaginary.

Ben Bella’s graphic oeuvre is characterized by the watercolor’s discrete elegance, the gouache’s mat thickness, the black ink’s graphic stridency, the self-centered page layouts and the motifs that cover the surface of his works.

The artworks will be exhibited in the sensitive cocoons of the cabins along the large pool, hence inducing the audience to be in communion with the coherence and diversity of his work, that is recognized as being today one of the most original and most varied oeuvre, qualified by its own independent modernity.

Since 1996, the Roubaix Museum has undertaken several projects with Mahjoub Ben Bella. Through the diversity of techniques, periods and supports that are represented in this exhibition, this new adventure triggers another type of emotion and another aspect of an artist, whose origins have superbly nurtured the aesthetic landscape of our region since he arrived in Tourcoing in 1965.


Curated by Brigitte Ben Bella and Sylvette Botella-Gaudichon. Catalogue published by Atelier Galerie Éditions. Text by Art historian Alain Jaubert.

Translated from French by Valérie Hess


About the artist

Mahjoub Ben Bella was born in the Western part of Algeria, in Maghnia, in 1946. He did his artistic training first at the School of Fine Arts of Oran, then in Tourcoing and finally in Paris, and settled in France. Ben Bella is a multi-faceted artist, producing monumental artworks, painting ceramics, objects, in addition to large and small paintings on canvas, on paper, panel or even on stone, as well as performances and monumental compositions for public spaces. His works have been exhibited in many solo and group shows in museums, art foundations and galleries across Europe and the Middle East. Besides having his works featured in prominent private collections across the globe, Ben Bella’s oeuvre is also present in the collections of twenty museums and public collections.


The most distinctive aspect of his painting is his repetition of a particular sign or pattern, and how this sign or pattern resonates like a magical song. However, Ben Bella does not illustrate nor does he follows the illustrative steps of an ordinary Arabic calligraphy. Instead, he simply extracts from it a musicality that is given life through both his lines and colours. This eventually forms a music score that permeates throughout the painting, the sounds of which pulsate and vibrate across the artwork’s surface. Whilst he neglects the silence of a monochrome surface, he generously covers his canvas with an abundance of quavers and other notes that diffuse the melody across the painting, transporting it towards a syncopated and linear abstraction. On some occasions, Ben Bella surpasses this simple tonality and tries to carry the viewer away into life’s rustle and into its quivering landscapes. In the north of France, Ben Bella is renowned for the frescoes he produced along the roads, decorating more than 12 kilometers of cobblestone with his signs and patterns. In his canvas paintings, he creates sacred fields, the furrows of which lead the viewer to transcend the simple lyricism. It seems that he allows himself to be taken over by the vertigo of writing up until ecstasy, thus becoming the bard of a book of prayers celebrating the glory of art. (Jean-Louis Pinte, Les champs sacrés de Ben Bella, Figaroscope).


Mahjoub Ben Bella established himself internationally as a diverse and expansive artist who paints not only canvas but also ceramic pieces, fabrics, tiles, walls, everyday objects such as plates, and Métro stations. Ben Bella also uses color to invent a new language of signs. Working from his unconscious, he creates spontaneous images based on instinct and memory. The process and the resulting artwork therefore emerge from a trancelike state. His work evokes both Arabic calligraphy and European abstraction, the signs and symbols materializing out of composition and rhythm. Throughout, the movement of letters and calligraphy of symbols, traditional or invented, signify an exploration of the senses, of colour, and of form.  (Metropolitan Museum, New York).