The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


June 28, 2014

Wall-to-wall exhibit | Retrospective of 90-year-old’s paintings on display at Loretto museum

A local museum will be filled to the rafters with art when it unveils the largest exhibition it has ever mounted.

“Wall-to-Wall Kamal,” a retrospective of paintings by 90-year-old Kamal Youssef, will fill the main and upstairs galleries, stairwells and foyer at Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art at Loretto on the campus of St. Francis University through Oct. 11.

The exhibition will feature more than 230 works spanning more than 70 years in the life of Youssef, a native of Cairo, who now resides in rural Indiana County with his family.

“It was supposed to be on display next year, but we changed it to this year,” said Jessica Campbell, education coordinator for SAMA, who is co-curating the exhibit with Barbara Hollander, coordinator at SAMA Altoona.

“It has taken us six to eight months of steady work to pick hundreds of pieces. There also are loan agreements, insurance and the hanging.”

Campbell said Youssef’s pre-American work, which was done while he lived in Egypt and Paris, will be displayed in the upper gallery, while the majority of his work will be in the main gallery.

“This is his life, from 1948 to 2013, so it’s nice that it’s wall-to-wall,” Campbell said.

Youssef has lived in the United States for more than 50 years, but his paintings continue to be influenced by his native Egypt, which can be seen in the flattened figures, minimalist shapes and burning colors.

His figures, primarily women, represent the creative forces that have shaped, influenced and nurtured his life.

Three of his pieces are in SAMA’s collection.

“He is world-renowned,” Hollander said.

“He did some abstract, too. He went through periods, like any artist. He had a blue period like Picasso. From early to late, he’s true to his Egyptian background. It looks three-dimensional the way he layers colors. We have from small to large, all different sizes.”

While Youssef’s paintings harken back to the bold designs of ancient Egyptian art and are steeped in the traditions of Egyptian lore, the artist’s contemporary style of painting creates an inspiring body of work.

“We have a political wall about his ideas on government, since he lived in different countries,” Hollander said.

“He’s a pacifist and is not afraid to show the horrors of war. And we have a wall of beautiful women.”

Youssef’s work has been exhibited throughout the United States, Egypt, France, Italy and Brazil.

The museum will celebrate the exhibit with a reception from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Aug. 15.

The cost is $20 per person, and reservations are requested.

As a youngster, Youssef was greatly influenced by his maternal grandfather, Mohammed Swelem el-Bekri, who taught him to appreciate people of different backgrounds.

The lessons he learned in those early years stayed with him because Youssef’s artwork clearly exhibits a sincere love for all people.

His artistic talent was evident early on when he began painting with watercolors and paper given to him by his father.

Later, Youssef was selected for a new, progressive secondary school, where his art blossomed.

Under the tutelage of artist Ratib Siddik and European instructors, Youssef was inspired to seek new heights in his art.

He did not pursue art at the university level because his father encouraged him to obtain a degree in engineering.

This proved to be a wise decision because his engineering career provided him with more artistic and economic freedom.

After immigrating to the United States in 1956, Youssef worked as an engineer for Swindell-Dressler in Pittsburgh, where he designed highway overpasses and steel mills.

The idea of a retrospective came after Hollander contacted Youssef about doing a show at the Altoona museum and saw his work.

“We took a ride in the country to see him,” Campbell said.

“We really feel we have a hidden gem.”

Campbell and Hollander said they work well together and are proud of what they’ve accomplished.

In addition to their other work on the exhibit, Campbell and Hollander had to complete a 111-page catalog with images for the exhibit.

“That was a process in itself,” Campbell said. “We have a great staff. The person who does public relations and the curator helped with the catalog. It takes an army.”

Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and 1 to 5 p.m. Saturdays.

Ruth Rice covers Features for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at


What: “Wall-to-Wall Kamal.”

When: Through Oct. 11.

Where: Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art at Loretto on the campus of St. Francis University.

Admission: Free.

Information: 472-3920 or


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