SID CHIDIAC–THE CHOCOLATE PAINTER
Whenever Sid Chidiac paints in public, he creates a sensation. As the crowds watch him dip his brush in the paint pots arrayed before him, bewilderment shifts to amazement when the onlookers realize that Chidiac’ s “paint” is actually …melted chocolate and that he is creating portraits and scenes that can be admired and then…eaten.
He has become accustomed to the attention his chocolate paintings and to the artistic title bestowed upon him as “the chocolate painter.”
Slightly-built, friendly yet reflective, Sid Chidiac attributes his creative passion and talent to the Lebanese side of his personality. Born in Sydney, Australia and now a resident of New York City, Chidiac grew up in Lebanon. His father was Lebanese and, when Sid was five, he moved with his large family from Australia to Becharre, his father’s village in North Lebanon. “Those were the most beautiful years of my life,” Chidiac told Al Mohajer.ention his chocolate paintings attract and to the artistic title bestowed
He lived not far from where now stands a museum dedicated to Gibran Khalil Gibran, Becharre’s legendary artistic talent from an earlier generation, and a name that is revered in the West as much as his beloved homeland. Chidiac, too, is a son of Becharre. His full name is Sayed which is a very familiar name in this particular village, and he also takes pride in speaking Lebanese with his Becharre accent. He calls Lebanon “his country” and still recalls fond childhood memories from the monks’ catholic school he attended in the neighboring village of Jebbeh; and the “soubia” (stove) and burning charcoal brought into their house to keep warm during snowy mountain winters that kept the family indoors for days at a time.
“These are the best memories that I will carry with me till the last days of my life… I continue to visit Lebanon once a year. I walk in the street like a little boy in love. I visit every city in Lebanon with my small camera, and talk to everyone so I can gather stories and then capture them in my paintings.”
From Becharre to Sydney
At the age of 16, Chidiac left Becharre and returned to Australia with his family. When he graduated from high school, it was his decision not to go on to university but to get a job so he could help his family financially and build a future for himself. He found a job in a company specializing in glass mosaics. “There my talent started to be shaped little by little.” He already knew he had a talent for drawing and, with the encouragement of his company, he took important projects that showcased his special talent for color arranging. In 1994, he entered a national painting competition in Australia and won the Young Achiever Award, given to rising artists under the age of twenty-four.
Sid was encouraged to begin studying drawing and painting at one of Australia’s oldest and finest art schools, The Julian Ashton Art School, in Sydney. He had the benefit of great teachers and focused his artistic style painting with oils on canvas. However, tuition was very expensive and he was hit with a financial crisis in his third year at the school. His search to find $AUS5,000.00 to pay his tuition would led Sid to a job that opened an unexpected but innovative and rewarding creative outlet for him.
“A friend got me a job in her family hotel and I started working in room service. Then one day, the hotel’s chef called on me to decorate a wedding cake. Here, I discovered a new talent…decorating food with melted chocolate. The idea then clicked in my head….why don’t I draw my paintings with chocolate. Now I paint with chocolate using a secret mixture to preserve the color for years to come. I call it ‘Sid’s mixture’.” But with this new discovery, came a dilemma for Chidiac, as he told one interviewer because he was “…momentarily torn between staring at this new beautiful work of art, and dealing with the temptation to take a bite from it!”
Around the same time, one of the hotel guests asked Sid to paint a “chocolate” portrait from a photo taken at the Vatican with Pope John Paul II. “When he paid me a thousand dollars, I felt like I’d won the lotto!”
In 2003, Chidiac made the big decision to move to New York and try to make a living as an artist.
“I faced all kinds of mockery. People told me–what are you going to do in New York? You think yourself another Gibran? You want to be poor like him all your life? I gave these critics a deaf ear. New York is the city of art, culture, and beauty and I resolved to find someone who would support me.” Doors did not open easily to the young Australian-Lebanese artist but that did not stop him from trying. “I sweat and knocked on doors until I got to where I am now.”
His big break came from the media coverage of his “chocolate painting” technique. His first show of chocolate portraits was entitled “Flavor of New York” and was exhibited at the Sixth Annual Chocolate Show in Manhattan in November 2003. The exhibit was a huge hit with thousands of attendees and extensive media coverage. To date, Sid has been profiled on National Public Radio(NPR), the Food Network (TV), the major American news networks (ABC, NBC), as well as cable television (CNBC); and in The New York Daily News, The Chicago Tribune, Bloomberg News, Time Out New York and The Washington Post, as well as numerous international outlets.
From the outset, Chidiac has collaborated with the international chocolatier, Barry Callebaut, headquartered in Switzerland, which supplies him with all varieties of chocolate–milk, white and dark–for his paintings. His chocolate creations are designed to withstand high temperatures and humidity, and the sugar content is low to avoid rapid melting or damage. In April 2005, Chidiac was awarded a gold medal at the 8th International Culinary Art Show in Warth, Austria for painting in a new medium– chocolate.
Nowadays, Sid can be found in New York’s crowded Times Square surrounded by curious onlookers as he paints on a canvas or a nude body with his special melted chocolate mixture.
Interestingly, many of his paintings and drawings are about Lebanon or events in Lebanese history.
“I have drawn portraits of many world stars and politicians but I decided to dedicate my work to a nation I adore and whose air I breathe even though I am living here in New York. A strange feeling runs through my body when I draw Lebanon.”
His love of the music by the renown Lebanese singer, Fairuz, led him to transform into a painting his vision of her famous song, “Take me and plant me in Lebanon.” In 2005, he was commissioned by a private sponsor, his cousin Habib Chidiac, to paint a series of images that embodied the history of the Phoenicians up to modern day Lebanon. So far Sid has painted images that include Phoenician deities–Adonis, Ashtoroth, and Elissa–a Phoenician princess who is said to have founded the city of Carthage in North Africa. “These pictures are not for sale but are intended to tour the world in exhibitions to show the greatness of Lebanon,” says Chidiac.
Given his artistic exposure in the many of the world’s capitals, it is surprising that Lebanon has not featured much of Chidiac’s work and that some of his artistic efforts have been rebuffed at the highest levels.
A few years ago, Chidiac was offered the opportunity to hold an exhibit in the lobby of the Phoenicia Hotel in Beirut. But the unsettled security situation in the capital made him feel uncomfortable and so he “packed and returned to Beirut without selling one painting.” There is a possibility that the municipality of Becharre may provide space for him to host a permanent exhibit open to locals and tourists.
What upsets him greatly though, has been the reaction of some of the country’s public figures to his artistic gestures.
“I do not blame the regular Lebanese but I have suffered from those who have not had a kind word to say about my work. I want you to publish this and I stand by what I am going to say. Some events have saddened me and remind me of what Gibran said: ‘No prophet will be honored in his own country.’ I drew a portrait of Sheikh Saad Hariri which I wanted to present to him when he visited New York but all I got was a few kicks from his body guard who told me to stay away. ‘Yalla! Yalla! Get out of here!’ was all I heard from them. On another occasion, the Lebanese Consulate in New York arranged for me to meet with President Michel Sleiman when I was in Beirut and present him with one of my paintings. When I arrived at the presidential palace I was received by two of his advisors who asked me what I did in New York and the price of the painting. Then, they took the painting and told me the president was very busy and couldn’t see me in person. I was so sad. I was not there to get money. In Lebanon, they always have the wrong idea about the artist. We are not beggars. We are the outreach, carrying Lebanon in our hearts. The people of Lebanon do not understand the feeling of those who live far from a country you adore.”Courtesy Almohajer.