In Tangier, it was the nights that inspired the creatives of the past. Through smoky cafes off grimy dark streets, discussions and hedonism broke out and sparks ignited iconic paintings, literature and avant garde. This, for a long time, made Tangier the hub of the artistic outlaw. It brought us works by Francis Bacon, Matisse, Burroughs and Bowles. Now times are different. The wild nights have faded into quiet, and it is the Tangier days that inspire the creatives who now live here.
I was on my way to Atelier Des Italiens in the Kasbah; a small gallery of mixed media ‘Global Art’ run by two Italian artists, Dario Iosimi and Laura Li. It was like the sun was chained to my back. With a streaming brow and soaked shirt, I struggled up Rue De La Kasbah toward the northern gate of the Kasbah.
The alleyways, narrow and cool, are a white washed maze kept spotless by local residents. At Atelier Des Italiens gallery, the front door leads me into a cool breezy front lounge with minimal yet voluptuous furnishings. A beautiful portrait of an elegant Greta Garbo in lavish dress and a jewelled clasp poses the height of one wall. She holds back an emerald green curtain revealing a blue intricate mosaic; a dominant trait of Moroccan art. Other art pieces compliment the aesthetic of Moroccan retro and modern pop art. Gracefully suspended through the intimate space are the large 'Hands of Fatima'; beautiful creations lovingly crafted with protective, positive symbolism and designed from a special resin formulated by Atelier Des Italiens. The impeccable detail and clean almost see-through affect of each is refreshing. It feels like I have walked into some kind of dream gallery in the clouds.
I ask Dario where all this began for them both. “I met Laura in Calcata, a bohemian village just north of Rome. We worked together there on an art magazine in 2008, and then collaborated on other projects like music festivals while still working on art. It was an artistic commune, a very creative place. We moved to Morocco in 2010 and it has been a big change for us. But our artwork has progressed for us both since we came to Tangier.”
Dario stands in front of me, as I look up from a low sized lounge. He passionately explains the concepts behind Atelier Des Italiens artwork.
"The connections in our art are both traditional and modern, and yes technology is part of that creative process.” The creation of images using modern technology is a nector seen as integral and non-threatening to Atelier Des Italiens. “We have a passion for creating. This is the passion which drives all art. To be an artist you have to be open; if you are not open then you cannot create.”
Laura creates a lot of the large prints and art cards that Atelier Des Italiens exhibits. These prints show scenes of Ibn Battuta to Paul Bowles, against fantastic backdrops of the Petit Socco, Assilah and the Kasbah. Vintage Maroc. Decadent Maghreb. Sensual and timeless. Laura explains more:
“Tangier is very inspirational. The light of the city is fantastic. You have seen the Grand Socco, the souks and the people. These scenes inform a lot of the prints I create; a classic view mixed with modern perspectives.”
Many people have come from outside and made their homes on the fringes of Tangier. They reside in palatial Marshan, overlooking the Atlantic coast and along the fringes of Boulevard Pasteur looking down into the melting pot of the Medina and Kasbah. But it is few who have braved the transition to the inner sanctum of the Kasbah. Traditionally a tightknit, hard living, closed off section of the city; it has never contained many outsiders. In fact, up to recent times, most foreigners wouldn't stand a chance here come nightfall. Most would be out of the Kasbah before dusk or risk the dangers of its winding alleyways.
Dario and Laura know only too well how difficult getting started in Tangier is for artists.
“It hasn't been easy. Tangier isn't an 'easy' place. The romantic ideal of the artistic foreigner living the free life of luxury in Tangier does not exist. There is still chaos. But chaos has its balancing attributes.” says Dario.
Streams of different lives float throughout Tangier. The collision of different eras can still be felt at the turn of a street corner. The atmosphere, always with 'edge', is an aura that shows its subtle presence within the artwork of Atelier Des Italiens. The city of Tangier seeps into this work. And Dario Iosimi and Laura Li are like alchemists inventing a new form of visual magic.
Dario walks me down through the Kasbah. Cafe Baba comes into view on our right, another iconic dropout for bohemian cool that can only be found in this alter-terrestrial city. It recently seeped back into the counter cultures psyche through Jim Jarmusch’s movie ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’, where the ailing vampires Tilda Swindon and John Hurt sipped blood under anonymity aided by locals. The selecting by Jarmusch of Tangier as the cloaked, old world hideaway from the new world decay of Detroit is no accident of course. The dark romantic allure is strong around the alleyways of the Kasbah. Dario sees me off at Tangier’s front door, Bab El Bhar; a majestic archway looking out over the blue Atlantic and across to the headlands of Spain.