Joseph Abi Yaghi


Self taught

Collective exhibitions:

S.A.D. Lebanon - 1996
Epreuve d’artiste - 1996-7-8-2001
Fiad - 1998
Artuel - 1998
A.U.B. - 2001

Individual exhibitions:

My fomer house - 1997
Les Créneaux - 1999-2000
Alice Mougabgab - 2000
French cultural center - 2003
Crypt St- Joseph Church - 2009


Salon d’automne (Sursock museum) special distinction - 1995
Salon d’automne (Sursock museum) special distinction - 1996
Salon d’automne (Sursock museum) first prize - 1997


The Art of Ceramics – Joseph Abi Yaghi

How do you promote a very talented artist? I have asked myself this question for a long time, and write this letter to all those who really love beautiful ceramics.

My name is Birgitta; I am from Copenhagen, Denmark. I am a Ceramist, and started my workshop 26 years ago in Copenhagen. In the evenings I worked as a teacher in different art schools. I really love to teach, to feel the joy when students succeed in the learning process. I have been a teacher beside making my own ceramics, until I left Denmark almost three years ago to live here in Lebanon.

I write this letter to promote a young Lebanese Ceramist - Joseph Abi Yaghi. When I first met Joseph, he had made ceramics, learning from books. He did many nice things and he was talented, but he had never used a potter's wheel.

Using a potter's wheel is a difficult task and it normally takes years before you are an expert. Joseph and I worked together for only five weeks in his small workshop in Ashrafieh. When you teach how to throw on the wheel, it is very important to give the students an idea of the feelings they should have in their fingers, when the wheel is turning the lump of clay in their hands. So I sat there - on the floor - cupping my hands over his hands. Joseph worked very hard, day after day, week after week, and bigger and bigger pots grew up between his hands. In a few months he raised to be an excellent potter, he continued to improve his skills and he became an artist. Today he throws very big bowls and pots and he completes their beautiful forms with wonderful decorations and glazing.

Joseph is the most talented artist I have ever worked together with, and I am very proud of his work. Every time I visit his shop in Ashrafieh, I become overwhelmed with the splendor of this ceramics. A few days ago he showed me an amazing bowl, very big, thin stoneware with a decoration of drops outside and inside. If this bowl was exhibited in Copenhagen, London or Paris it would be classified as International Art at its best.

From December 17 Joseph will exhibit his ceramics at the Epreuve d'Artist Gallery.

By this time I have left wonderful Lebanon, but I wish Joseph the best of luck with the exhibition, with his work and with his future.

Birgitta Ostergaard Hansen

The creative forces of an ancient craft - Joseph Abi Yaghi is an artist with tremendous power and skill, writes Helen Khal
The Daily Star, FRIDAY, JULY 4, 1997

The production of pottery in Lebanon goes back thousands of years. We still see evidence of the tradition, lined up along the roadside, in row upon row of red sienna pots, vases, water jugs and bowls that, in style and material substance, have remained unchanged throughout the centuries.

In this ancient land, as elsewhere, pottery has always been viewed as a popular craft designed for a specific functional purpose. Only in this century has it evolved into a valid art form, relatively devoid of function and worth investigating primarily as a medium of expression. Similar to how the concept of "art for art's sake" elevated the function of art a century ago, so has "pottery for pottery's sake" altered our perceptions of pottery today.

While Lebanon is inundated with painters and sculptors, it has had very few contemporary potters. Until she died too young in 1991, Dorothy Selhab Kazemi was the only known figure in the field. Possessing an outstanding sensitivity for the potentials of clay, she became the first potter to mold the material into unique sculptural expression.

Working alongside her in the early eighties as her student was Samar Mougharbel, who is now recognized as a ceramist of note. Like Kazemi, she ventures beyond the traditional approach to uncover new, more personal, directions in the medium.

We now have Joseph Abi Yaghi, a potter of extraordinary power and skill who is currently holding his first one-man show. A maverick of sorts in his disregard for professional status and commitment, Abi Yaghi rejects the label of an artist and insists that he is simply a potter, no more, no less. He became one two years ago, after only five weeks of instruction, and says he doesn't know - nor really care - whether or not he'll still be making pots next year.

He is exhibiting not in a gallery but in the courtyard of a lovely old villa in Tabaris, Ashrafieh. There, beneath the hanging fragrance of magnolia, hibiscus and lumquat, around a small oriental fountain and on into the villa's rooms, are displayed more than 300 examples of his work.

While some of the work is standard, functional pottery that by itself would not elicit much comment, many of the pieces, in which Abi Yaghi has pushed his power as a potter to its ultimate limit, are quite remarkable. Seldom have I seen clay vessels of such elegant beauty, such innate purity of spirit, such astonishing skill in production.

Most pottery, wheel-thrown, rises in curves that define a closed interior space. The potter's hands, in pulling the soft malleable clay up from the swiftly turning wheel, usually guide it outward then inward but always upward into circular vessels of containment.

In contrast, the creative force that shapes the pottery of Abi Yaghi is open and giving. His forms do not close in to contain space, but rather stretch out and offer it communion with the limitless space beyond.

When I asked him about this outward pull, he threw his arms out, saying, "Yes, this means opening… a wide chalice of endless love, caring and beauty…” Then, crossing his arms in a tight huddle across his chest, he said: "Never, never closed like this!"

Another distinctive, and certainly the most unusual, element in Abi Yaghi's pottery is his ability to stretch the soft clay out into wide horizontal, curving planes as thin as glassware. Imagine the Wheel-turning and your hands guiding the clay out into wide, precarious suspension. What could hold such a fragile flange of wet earth in suspended symmetry except for a prayer?

That Abi Yaghi works in stoneware helps. The clay he imports from Denmark provides him with the tough consistency of material his kind of pottery demands. It is fired at high temperatures of above 1200 degrees centigrade, making it ovenproof and completely sake for cooking use. Lebanon's clay, on the other hand, is porous and fired at low temperatures. Most of the earthenware we see around us is made of this clay and is not considered safe for cooking.

One of the star attractions in the exhibit, a delicate beige platter of prancing horses (shown here) is 20.7cm in height and 63.2cm in diameter. It took Abi Yaghi one month of daily work to finish it. At any stage in the production process - shaping on the wheel, bisque firing, glazing and final firing - an accident or error would take him back to square one.

Another equally impressive piece, of the same size and form, carries around its wide surface the glazed imprint of the names of Sidon's nine mosques, rendered in the intricate, entwined script of Diwani Arabic. In the perfection of its design, we see a sure hand and an innate sensitivity for balance.

Adding to the difficult challenge of the process itself is the handicap Abi Yaghi faces in not having adequate studio space. He works on the wheel in one small, closet-sized room, transports the air-dried piece for firing in another place, moves it from there to a third space for glazing, then back to firing again. That breakage which occurs on the way is not uncommon.

I am sure the cryptic string of letters that Abi Yaghi cuts into the clay next to his initialed signature on the bottom of each piece is a private charm intended to protect his work from harm. Each inscription differs from the other. Curious as usual, I asked him what they meant. Turns out they are quotations from the Bible, each letter representing the first letter of each word of the quote. We get no more than the initials; only Abi Yaghi knows what they mean.

The exhibition ends July 7, but if you miss it (though I hope you don't), stop in when you can at Abi Yaghi's handicraft shop, Sienna, on Rue des Saints Coeurs in Tabaris to see whatever is left of the show. Most of them are quite affordable and would make marvelous gifts.

Potter with a passion for ‘lightness of being’ - Helen Khal to Daily Star - 1999

Sudan joins the foray with a painting exhibition by one of its leading artists.

Joseph Abi Yaghi is, without exaggeration, a potter of world-class merit. I said so two years ago when I wrote about his work, and must say it again after seeing his exhibition at the Creneaux this week.

Before getting into the pottery, however, the Creneaux itself deserves a tribute. It’s the handsome new clubhouse built by the alumni of the Nazareth, one of Achrafieh’s oldest private schools. Completely financed by its members, it has absolutely everything ­from indoor tennis and squash courts to exercise and games rooms to a swimming pool, plus an auditorium, restaurant and bar.

Superbly designed by architect Simone Kosremelli, the building elegantly integrates modern functional facilities into a stately structure of simple lines that discretely echoes Arab architectural traditions. There is no other clubhouse like it in Beirut.

On display in the split-level garden adjoining the club’s restaurant, Abi Yaghi’s pottery projected its own qualities of traditional craftsmanship wedded to creative innovation.

There were 131 pieces in all ­ bowls, vases, cups and pitchers of all sizes, the largest 75 centimeters in height ­ each unique and handcrafted to perfection.

Abi Yaghi’s forte is his ability to give pottery a “lightness of being.” Never have I seen pottery of such fragility. Imagine huge bowls pulled without a single flaw into millimeter-thin shells of clay on a whirling wheel. What magical hands are these that can work such wonders?

In using color glazes, Abi Yaghi is a minimalist. He embellishes most of the pots with simple concentric swirls or centered patches of color. In several, he focuses more on design and fills the surface with the repetitive pattern of a fish or winged horse. But always, his passion for pottery is fired by his love for the ethereal lightness and beauty of form.

New in this collection is a series of strange but stunning bowls that are roughly textured and not resembling clay at all. When I saw them, I immediately thought of Pompeii and imagined them as pots fired by volcano lava and left to petrify for 2,000 years. These also are wheel-thrown, but made of hard granules of fired clay mixed with raw clay. Abi Yaghi admits the material is difficult to work with and sometimes makes his hands sore for days.

The exhibition ends on Saturday. After that, Abi Yaghi’s pots can be found at the Sienna shop in Tabaris.

Last week, Sudan brought us a sampling of its art in an exhibition made up of paintings by one of its leading artists, Ahmed Chibrine, alongside a collection of its traditional handicrafts.

Held at the Ministry of Tourism’s Glass Hall under the patronage of Minister of Culture and Education Mohammed Youssef Beydoun, the show drew a large mixed crowd of people, all curious to see what Sudan had to offer.

Chibrine is a name familiar to many of us who were on the scene during Lebanon’s cultural prominence before the war. It was a time when Beirut was known as the “Paris of the Middle East” and artists from all over the Arab world ­ as well as from other, more distant lands ­ were thronging to Lebanon. Considering the astounding number of exhibitions filling our calendar to mark Beirut’s reign this year as the cultural capital of the Arab world, it looks like our fair city is well on its way to becoming “Paris” again.

Sudan, admittedly, is a late starter in the emergence and development of its contemporary art. Its first generation of modern artists did not appear until the early 1960s ­ some 50 years later than in Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq, for example. Chibrine was one of its pioneers.

In looking at his work now and remembering his early paintings, I could easily recognize the old Chibrine. He retains a consistency in style and content that acts as a trademark ­ focused as it is on abstract compositions based on the rhythms of Arabic calligraphy. What is new, however, is his heightened interest in color contrast as a design element. This strengthens the vitality of his graphic patterns and adds a more personal note to his arabesque style.

The handicrafts on exhibit belong to traditions centuries old. They include hand-loomed textiles, woven basketry and a variety of carved wooden items that speak of the enduring legacy of a people’s art and how it serves to grace their daily lives with functional objects of beauty.

Informations Locales – Regard : Charles Belle, Samia Osseiran Junblat, Joseph Abi Yaghi - Juillet 1999 L'Orient Le Jour

Méditations matérialisées

La terre, rares sont les potiers qui savent et peuvent la façonner au tour avec autant d'amour et d'adresse que Joseph Abi Yaghi, qu'on pourrait prendre pour un sosie de Jésus avec ses yeux bleus rieurs, sa barbe et sa longue chevelure bouclée.

Depuis 1995 où, des son premier envoi au Salon d'Automne il fut distingué par le jury, il ne cesse de surprendre et d'étonner par l'audace, l'inventivité, la finesse, la beauté, de ses plats, vases, pots et bols émaillés avec un sens rare de la retenue et du raffinement chromatiques.

Travaillant une terre fine importée, l'argile libanaise n'étant pas à ses yeux de qualité suffisante, il en tire des ustensiles presque impondérables aux parois tellement minces et fragiles qu'ils en deviennent précieux.

Il en tire aussi des vases et des plats géants qui sont des tours de force techniques, d'autant plus que son atelier est un réduit exigu et qu'il ne possède pas de four, ce qui l'oblige à les transporter sur les routes cahoteuses au risque de les briser, accident assez fréquent, en plus des casses, distorsions et fêlures au feu, lot ordinaire de tous les céramistes.

Aux hautes températures, entre 1260 et 1300 degrés centigrades, la cuisson donne du grès et non plus simplement de la terre cuite.

Parfois, les pièces sont ornées d'un motif répétitif tapissant les parois externes et internes, à se demander comment Joseph Abi Yaghi parvient à appliquer son gabarit avec une telle régularité, y compris jusqu'au fond de vases a fonds pointus.

Abi Yaghi tend de plus en plus à chamotter sa pâte en y introduisant des terres de qualités différentes, ce qui produit des effets de constellation dans le biscuit de la plupart des pièces et, dans certaines, où le chamottage est plus accentué, une rudesse de texture telle que ses mains en sont souvent écorchées pendant le tournage qui requiert concentration mentale et force physique, sans parler du sens de l'équilibre. Il doit attendre parfois une semaine que les écorchures guérissent, puisque les mains sont toujours atteintes aux mêmes points d'appui sur la pièce tournée.

Joseph Abi Yaghi, qui a le sens et le goût du spirituel, crée des pièces qui sont comme des méditations matérialisées en trois dimensions.

C'est pourquoi elles sont de parfaits supports de méditation et de rêverie pour l'usager ou l'amateur.

Cependant, l'œuvre du potier, comme la rose, est sans pourquoi: simplement, elle est, dans la nue splendeur de son imparfaite perfection. (Les Créneaux, Achrafieh).

Joseph Tarrab

Nus sans le savoir - L’Orient le Jour Décembre 1999

Sublimer la matière

Un gobelet qui aurait été façonné par Joseph Abi Yaghi: malgré la tentation permanente de délaisser la céramique pour revenir au service des handicapés physiques - il était prothésiste et se reproche de ne l'être plus depuis qu'il s'est assis devant son tour - il démontre à chaque exposition combien le travail de la terre lui est pour ainsi dire inné: il était céramiste dans l'âme avant d'être prothésiste, et je me permets d'ajouter à son intention que si beaucoup sont capables de fabriquer des prothèses, peu ont le don de faire ce qu'il fait.

C'est peut-être sa sensibilité spirituelle qui le pousse à alléger à ce point la matière de ses poteries: certaines sont tellement minces de parois qu'elles peuvent difficilement servir, même si elles sont moins fragiles qu'elles ne le semblent, à autre chose qu'a être contemplées pour leur beauté, caressées pour leur texture tantôt lisse, tantôt rugueuse, éprouvées pour leur son quasi cristallin, soupesées pour leur surprenante sensation d'impondérabilité.
L'objet utilitaire est devenu ici objet de pur plaisir esthétique, voire objet de méditation. On pourrait voir, dans ces légers objets sonores aux formes, aux surfaces, aux glaçures si variées, une tentative de sublimer la matière, une sorte de prière, une activité quasi sacrée à l'instar de celle des anciens artistes-artisans qui oeuvraient d'abord ad majorem Dei gloriam, pour la suprême gloire de Dieu: même un pur génie musical comme Bach ne concevait pas autrement son métier de compositeur.

Comme tout orant, du moins potentiellement, Joseph Abi Yaghi cherche à pousser sa prière jusqu'à la limite de l'impossible: il rêve de pouvoir, un jour, construire un four assez grand pour cuire une céramique géante, la plus grande possible d'un seul tenant. Et de s'arrêter après.

En attendant, du réduit exigu qui lui sert d'atelier au four disponible de l'autre côté de la ville, bien de grandes pièces arrivent cassées par les cahots. Mais il persiste, dans l'espoir de pouvoir bénéficier un jour d'un espace qui lui permettrait à la fois d'aménager un atelier spacieux et de construire le four auquel il rêve. Et si l'espace est un jardin, tant mieux: il pourra produire de la poterie « raku » que l'on brûle dans un trou creusé dans le sol.

Des pièces fascinantes sont données à voir: ces vases où la partie inferieure est façonnée au tour et la partie supérieure au colombin, intégrant les deux techniques de fabrication, par rotation et par construction. Admirables sont les vases construits à l'aide de cordons de terre glaise (les colombins) qui restent apparents à l'intérieur alors que l'extérieur a été lissé, ou vice versa. Chaque pièce est une nouvelle expérience, tel ce vase cylindrique qui s'épanouit en ombrelle et dont la surface intérieure et extérieure est enduite d'un épais email noir grumelé, avec bandes concentriques alternées noires et violettes sur l'ombrelle. On dirait la cheminée d'un volcan récemment éteint. Ou tels ces vases emmaillés en noir dont le fond est tapissé de verre fondu (les pièces sont cuites à 1260 degrés) qui lui confère une brillance irisée, ou telles ces poteries à pates mélangées ou chamottées ou à décoration modulaire dont l'exécution fastidieuse exige une longue patience, une sorte de mortification. Petites et grandes merveilles sui generis, subtiles et raffinées. (Galerie Alice Mogabgab).

Featured Works

 Peace - Hauteur:49 cm - Diametre:17 cm Stoneware, 1280 degrees, slabbed
Peace - Hauteur:49 cm - Diametre:17 cm Stoneware, 1280 degrees, slabbed
 My Cedar - H: 8 - D: 49 Stoneware, 1280 degrees, Wheel
My Cedar - H: 8 - D: 49 Stoneware, 1280 degrees, Wheel
 In the desert - H: 9 - D: 35 Stoneware, 1280 degrees, Wheel
In the desert - H: 9 - D: 35 Stoneware, 1280 degrees, Wheel
 Freedom - H: 7 - D: 33 Stoneware, 1280 degrees, Wheel
Freedom - H: 7 - D: 33 Stoneware, 1280 degrees, Wheel
 Broken Heart, - H: 75 - D: 65 Stoneware, 1280 degrees, Coiled
Broken Heart, - H: 75 - D: 65 Stoneware, 1280 degrees, Coiled
 Broken Heart, - H: 75 - D: 65 Stoneware, 1280 degrees, Coiled - Inside
Broken Heart, - H: 75 - D: 65 Stoneware, 1280 degrees, Coiled - Inside
 Treasure - H: 96 D: 61 Stoneware, 1280 degrees, Coiled
Treasure - H: 96 D: 61 Stoneware, 1280 degrees, Coiled
 Untiteled - H:18 - D:18 Stoneware, 1280 degrees, Wheel
Untiteled - H:18 - D:18 Stoneware, 1280 degrees, Wheel
 My Ashes - H: 23.5 - D:13.5 Stoneware, 1280 degrees, Wheel, 2 pieces
My Ashes - H: 23.5 - D:13.5 Stoneware, 1280 degrees, Wheel, 2 pieces
 Untiteled - H: 7 - D: 18 Stoneware, 1280 degrees, Wheel
Untiteled - H: 7 - D: 18 Stoneware, 1280 degrees, Wheel
 Beauty - H: 7 - D: 30 Stoneware, 1280 degrees, Wheel
Beauty - H: 7 - D: 30 Stoneware, 1280 degrees, Wheel