Ahmed Yacoubi

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Ahmed Yacoubi (1928–1985) was a Moroccan painter, fine chef and story-teller. He was born in Fes, Morocco in 1928.

A Moroccan art scholar describes Yacoubi as "the best cultural ambassador Morocco ever had", having created a prolific body of spellbinding drawings and oil paintings of a caliber surpassing anything having been made since the Renaissance. In the process he portrayed the intelligence and grace of someone from the highest level of education although his background was of the oral traditions of ancient Fez. In the course of his life he generously informed, entertained, and amazed the international elite with his knowledge of the Koran, Moroccan traditions, fine cooking, and independent artistic accomplishments.

Paul Bowles, the American composer and writer, met Ahmed ben Driss el Yacoubi in 1947 in Fez and later in Tangier, with his wife Jane Bowles (the playwright), encouraged him to draw and paint the characters of his tales after seeing how well Yacoubi illustrated his translations for them.

Bowles, recording different cultures' music for record labels, invited Ahmed to continue to translate for him in Spain, Italy, Turkey, India, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Japan and then transcribed Yacoubi's stories from Maghrebi (Moroccan Arabic) into English: "The Man and The Woman" (1956), "The Man Who Dreamed of Fish Eating Fish" (1956) and "The Game" (1961), and a play "The Night Before Thinking" which was published in the Evergreen Review in 1961 and later produced at The White Barn Theater in Westport, Connecticut.

In 1952 Bowles invited Yacoubi to his island, Taprobane, located off the southern coast of Ceylon where Yacoubi prepared memorable meals for their guest Peggy Guggenheim (mentioned in her book Confessions of an Art Addict) and where she purchased several of his drawings.

Bowles arranged for Yacoubi's first exhibition of drawings at the Gallimard Agency bookshop on the Boulevard Pasteur in Tangier. His art was highly acclaimed and 28 works were sold. Further exhibitions were held at the Galerie Clan in Madrid and the Betty Parsons Gallery in New Yorkin 1952.

Although Ahmed had begun painting in oil, Francis Bacon catalyzed him further by, according to Allen Ginsberg, painting four small canvases blue and telling him to 'Paint'! The two collaborated and painted together, remaining friends for the duration of their lives.

Further exhibitions followed in 1957 at the Hanover Gallery in London and worldwide throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, receiving serious acclaim with his paintings being collected by the world's top collectors, including the Museum of Modern Art and La Musee de l'Art Moderne in Paris.

Yacoubi lived and travelled with an American writer named Ruth Marthen and in 1965 in Tangier had their beautiful daughter Karima Yacoubi who demonstrated at an early age the same highly creative talents as both of her parents. Yacoubi continued to exhibit in Tangier, London, New York, Cleveland, Rio de Janeiro, Hong Kong, Paris, and Rome.

Ahmed Yacoubi evolved what was originally described as a "primitive" style to a highly complex, sophisticated and secret technique of layering in oil glazes that produced canvases of mesmerizing depth and complexity, amazing viewers and critics alike.

In 1966 Yacoubi moved to the United States and continued to work prolifically, exhibit and travel, meeting and being host to diverse and international artists, writers, collectors, politicians and connoisseurs.

Befriending Peggy Hitchcock and her husband Walter Bowart, owner and publisher of Omen Press, Yacoubi collaborated with friends at their ranch in Tucson and eventually published his first cookbook, "The Alchemist's Cookbook" that became something of a collector's item. Returning to New York, thanks to the support of Ellen Stewart (La Mama of the Off Off Broadway theatrical world) Yacoubi lived and painted on Great Jones Street in the East Village where he met the artist Carol Cannon in 1978. They lived and painted together for seven years, parting as friends and still collaborating on exhibits and projects such as the screenplay of his play "The Night Before Thinking". Three years later, Yacoubi received news of the robbery of his paintings and beautiful Moroccan antiques from his studio in Tangier simultaneous to his being diagnosed with lung cancer. He died on December 25, 1985, at the age of 57.

His heir, daughter Karima, died suddenly of health complications in London in 2004 at the age of 44.

His work and life has yet to receive the full measure of study and appreciation that critics, collectors, and all of those who knew him and his work believe they deserve.

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