Jilali Gharbaoui began taking painting classes while in secondary school in Fes, at the Académie des Arts. With the support of the novelist Ahmed Sefrioui, director of fine arts in Rabat, Gharbaoui was able to receive a scholarship to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts of Paris, where he took classes with Jean Souverbie and often visited the atelier La Grande Chaumière. He studied an additional year in Rome, and often returned to Paris, where he was introduced as part of the "groupe des informels" at the Salon Comparaison in 1959 by art critic Pierre Restany. He was particularly influenced by classical Flemish painting after a trip to Amsterdam in 1962. Gharbaoui suffered from severe mental illness, and was hosted on multiple occasions by Father Denis Martin at the monastery of Toumliline in the Middle Atlas Mountains. In the late 1960s, major Moroccan art collector Abderrahman Serghini bought a large part of his works and studio. Like other Moroccan artists at the time, Gharbaoui's extensive travels were motivated by the lack of infrastructure and support for the arts in Morocco, and he was outspoken about these issues in print, as in the 1967 "fiches et questionnaires" in the leftist cultural journal Souffles. In 1971, Gharbaoui's body was found on a public bench in the Champ de Mars. His body was repatriated to Morocco by André Malraux, and he is buried in Fes.
In Gharbaoui's short lifetime, he played a major role in furthering the debates around Moroccan modernism. Along with Ahmed Cherkaoui, Jilali Gharbaoui is considered one of the founders of modernism in Morocco. While Gharbaoui felt himself and his art to be deeply influenced by Morocco, particularly by the colors of Moroccan earth, it was not in the direct and traceable way of Cherkaoui's work. Many contemporaneous Moroccan artists, such as Farid Belkahia and Mohammed Melehi, worked to root their modernist abstractions in the signs and symbols of Moroccan visual culture. Unlike his contemporaries, however, Gharbaoui distanced himself from these debates, centering his work on the gesture of painting itself. Although Gharbaoui worked with both sculpture and painting, he is best known for the striking colors and violent brush-strokes of his gestural abstractions on canvas, paper, and wood. Very early works by Gharbaoui are relatively representational or focus on geometric abstraction, but later works are easily identified by a consistent style of loose abstract work that focuses on the movement of the brush itself. The paintings deliberately highlight the hand of the artist and often build up texture through thick layers of paint, showcasing both the interplay of colors and lines as well as the materiality of the paint itself.
During his lifetime, Gharbaoui exhibited widely in Morocco and internationally, in Egypt, France, the Netherlands, the United States, and Brazil. As part of the "groupe des informels," Gharbaoui participated in an exhibition that moved to Japan, Mexico, and Germany. Particularly since the 1990s, Gharbaoui's importance has been celebrated through a number of exhibitions and books. Gharbaoui was the focus of a 1993 retrospective at the Institut du Monde Arabe, as well as the monograph Fulgurances Gharbaoui by Yasmina Filali, published the same year in Casablanca. A film on Gharbaoui was additionally commissioned by Filali and the IMA by Faten Safieddine. Within Morocco, the Museum Bank Al-Maghrib (2011) and the Villa des Arts/Fondation ONA of Rabat and Casablanca (2010) have also hosted large retrospectives of Gharbaoui's work.
Selected Solo Exhibitions
|2011||Regards sur l'oeuvre de Gharbaoui, Museum Bank al-Maghrib, Rabat, Morocco|
|1993||Gharbaoui, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France|
Selected Group Exhibitions
|1985||19 Peintres du Maroc Centre National d'Art Contemporain, Grenoble, France|
|1961||Rencontre Internationale des Artistes, Rabat, Morocco|
|1959||Biennale des Jeunes Artistes, Paris, France|
Gestural abstraction, Moroccan Modern Art, Groupe des Informels, Toumliline.
Gharbaoui, Jilali. "Fiches et Questionnaires." Souffles. (N 7-8, 2/3/4 trimesters, 1967), 53-55.
M'Rabet, Khalil. Peinture et Identité: L'expérience marocaine. Paris: L'Harmattan, 1989.
Tnifass, Azzouz. Jilali Gharbaoui: Voyage au bout du rêve, 1930-1971. Rabat: Marsam, collection "Regards Obliques," 2007.
Zahi, Farid, ed. Regards sur l'oeuvre de Gharbaoui. Rabat: Bank al-Maghrib, 2012.
Filali, Yasmina. Fulgurances Gharbaoui. Rabat: Fondation ONA, 1993.