Saif Gaddafi's paintings

People keep talking about Saif Gaddafi's artwork, but it is useless without pictures. Here are a few of the paintings ascribed to him in press reports. Many are sadly but necessarily shot at oblique angles to make them more interesting.

Whenever they've been exhibited, critics have been very unkind to Mr. Gaddafi. It's true that the paintings resemble a high schooler's first stab at a selection of genres. But these critical notes play strongly into an established narrative of 'tyrant art' that does not do Mr. Gaddafi's spectacular work justice. In fact, Mr. Gaddafi's surrealism is not like, say, the studied mediocrity of a Hitler landscape. It is quite its own thing.

Take The Challenge, for instance, above. It appears to feature three Christian crusaders being burned from reality by the stern glare of a giant airborne bust of Muammar Gaddafi. Zardoz-Muammar is wearing vintage cocaine shades like you can get on Etsy. There is also an eagle. This one is my favorite.

Seen here at the Flickr of Ross Hayden, The Desert is not silent resembles a late-1980s "youth programming" segue on BBC 2. If it had been titled "Janet Street-Porter is not silent," it would have been a masterpiece of reflective pop-culture irony.

In this work, Gaddafi is doing that thing where you go for inoffensive decorative gradient effects so that it'll be decent no matter what. This is the sort of painting that journeymen do over and over again, until everyone realizes that it is going to be their career-defining motif and says, OK, sure. You could totally sell prints of this to restaurant chains in the southwest, or to tourists as numbered Giclée prints in galleries in New Orleans or whatever. It is seen here in Moscow at the international Default Art For Small Picture-frames Expo. Photo: REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Unfinished Cat, (2001). Photo: REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Mr. Gaddafi demonstrates his technique during a news conference ahead of the opening of the traveling art exhibition in Tokyo, on April 5, 2005. The painting places elements of a traditional still life against an expressionist backdrop, juxtaposing the traditional way of Libyan life against the violent forces of Western modernity, etc. Photo: REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Titled Still Life, this one was presumably put in just to make sure he'd get a C if the examiner was really old-school. Evincing a degree of technical accomplishment not present in his more strictly symbolist entries or indeed the prior still life, this might be Mr. Gaddafi's Akiane moment. Photo: REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Titled The sun of the oasis, this one depicts three dark-skinned persons in what may be traditional north African garb, in varying stages of corporeality/completion. It kind of looks like he got bored with a portrait and thought, "Fuck it, time for more expressionism." Photo: REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Bela Rosa, in its directness and conspicuous symbolic simplicity, might be the most likely entry in Gaddafi's ouvre to win over a European art critic unaware of its creator's identity. But there are shibboleths: the daft handmade frame, the 'outsidery' rendering of sky/sea/whatever at the top posed against the more traditionally-painted rose, and the textural smearing of the composition-unifying white splodge, reveal that the artist has not actually been to Goldsmiths.

Some kind of 1930s Dali thing going on here with that pointy cloud. The waves in the foreground, however, are what makes it truly worthy of a Basildon jumble sale.

The most touching work by Saif Gaddafi, to my eye, is this formal portrait of Henry Silva.


  1. Not so bad, not so bad…

    Sort of a Dali-esqe landscape with the floating head over the sun(set?)…my favorite part is the jellyfish lurking at the top: that’s avant garde right there!

  2. Jimminy crackers, remind me never to let you see anything of mine. Yeah I mean his dad was a horrible dictator, but that’s still sorta harsh.

  3. “Fuck it, time for more expressionism.”

    Also, Bela Rosa? Bela Rosa?! Was that necessary? Killing the Italian language just for a painting?
    Or maybe it’s in Malay, so “bela rosa” would mean… “advocate sterile.”

    … I rest my case.

  4. At first I thought that there were cracks in the surface of the painting at the top of this article, but then i looked closer.



    1. It strikes me that Zardoz-Muammar is actually summoning the eagle, in the manner of a character in a Final Fantasy video game, and is is the eagle who is destroying the penitents/crusaders.



        The eagle is good. The crusader is evil. The crusader brings silly hoods and makes new life to poison the Earth with a plague of men, as once it was, but the eagle brings death, and purifies the Earth of the filth of brutals. Go forth … and kill!

  5. Not going to critique, but I will bet you the art community in Tripoli thought they were cap-A awesome.

  6. The super classic still life is funny. I really wonder what could have happened had he not said “fuck it, i’m gonna be contemporary” (whatever Contemporary means). Although it reminds me a bit of the Vonnegut book Bluebeard (one of my favorites. tho, being an artist I might be a tad biased) where there is this “Modern” artist who painted one thumbnail of realism ever that was so amazingly good that people always said “man, what he could have been…” Anyways tho, I can’t tell you more because then I ruin the punchline of the book. Let’s just say there was more to the artist than met the eye… Meaning, I wonder what Saif has stashed away that he’s NOT showing anyone. 

    Granted, it could just be the stuff that even HE considered garbage.The Dali-esque sea cloud thing looks like it belongs on the side of a 70’s dodge van. Look, most of it is just really terrible. The Egyptian pharaoh looking one… Christ almighty!! 

  7. Hey, he’s a better painter than I am. He’s famous for being famous, but some of these are decent journeyman work.

  8. That brownish sandstone slab one is pretty good, I could totally live with that on the wall.

    Oh, wait — that’s a dolphin painted down in the corner.  Never mind!

  9. Etsy : Google
    Janet Street-Porter : Google
    Akiane : Google
    Goldsmiths : GoogleBasildon : Google
    Henry Silva : Google
    Jesus, I guess I need to get out more.

    The “Unfinished Cat” is great –  it’s so much fun seeing  dictator-son-nepotism-cash elevating mediocrity to the realm of respectable, art-gallery profundity by a bunch of Very Important Men.

  10. I suspect “mediocre artwork” is the least heinous of the crimes he is charged with, so I’ll give him a pass on these.

  11. This have significant added value because of who painted them… their artistic merit is in most cases quite poor, but the collector’s value is probably higher than we might think (not that any of these hypothetical collectors would display them…)

    The one of the cave painting is actually kind of cool… the photograph of it sucks. Was it really necessary to have two big shadows? I’m guessing the photographer thought it made it more dramatic, as if he were Werner Herzog in a cave in France and not a staff photographer in an art gallery. And there’s no dolphin… t3kna2007 must be high as an eagle if he/she sees one there.

    1. > t3kna2007 must be high as an eagle

      I’m trying, brother, I’m trying.

      Kidding and dolphins aside .. I agree, the cave painting is a nice piece, and I’d be happy to give it a spot in my home.

  12. “Still Life” is technically competent, at least.  “Unfinished Cat” isn’t bad.  I was all ready to go “Holy Shit!” about the cave painting, thinking it was a stroke of brilliance to add paper cutouts on the lamps to cast shadows – but apparently they’re just people in the gallery. Is OK, it’s still actually a pretty nice painting. Overall, I’d score it at the low end of journeyman – he could make a living at it if he didn’t mind living in a not-too-large apartment in a not-too-expensive city.

  13. It’s absolutely true, I think, that this stuff is better than anything Hitler turned out. If you’ve never seen any of Hitler’s paintings, you can see some representative samples here: And above all else, they’re *boring*. Really, amazingly boring. Depressingly boring. 

    Gaddafi’s stuff, at least, looks like he had fun making it. Most of it isn’t for me, but I wouldn’t call you crazy for hanging it in your flat – and I could be talked into hanging an inexpensive print of the cave-painting thing. 

    1. Hitler’s paintings suggest that he was obsessed with, but never mastered, perspective. They look like art class homework.

  14. Hah! You know, that’s not a bad description at all. The funny thing is that, as I understand it, Hitler actually did sell paintings – just to tourists and stuff, but still. Some poor suckers looked at his work and said “Why, this is splendid, and I must purchase it!” No accounting for taste, I suppose, but I’ve seen prints hanging in Best Westerns with more warmth and character. 

  15. I agree – but part of the reason I like it is that it’s much, much more sedate than Gaddafi’s other work. Less of the “painted whilst high” feel to it. In fact, it’s so different that a thought occurs: If you’re the dictator’s son, and you want to take credit for another artist’s work, who will stop you? 

  16. I have no education in art and no credentials when it comes to critiquing or understanding modern or classical art, but I think many of those paintings are beautiful.  Maybe the most striking factor is how brutal Saif is in contrast with that art.  /laymansperspective

  17. OMG… please do art a pleasure and don’t call all that rubbish depicted above art. We got some of those art-fairs in our rural country, and most of the paintings are way better than the high-school scribbles of that brutal Saif. He’d probably someone tortured to paint these for him…

  18. Well, while there might be a degree of competence about them, and some of the ideas are interesting, there isn’t a single painting shown that I would give wall space to. Not even in the toilet. As a visitor to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition for many years, I think I know what I like, and nothing here measures up.

  19. I just remembered an old joke. Gaddafi invites Brezhnev (if anybody can still remember him) to his tent and asks “Dear Leonid Ilyich, do you have any hobby?” “I certainly do”, the guest answers, “I collect jokes about me.”
    “And may I inquire how much have you got,” Muammar asks. “Well, should be three camps by now” Brezhnev replies.

    1. When Kruschev took power following Stalin, he was speaking at a rally and someone yelled, “Why didn’t you protest Stalin’s terrible policies?” Kruschev said, “Who said that?” When nobody responded, he replied, “There’s your answer.”

  20. Aw, man. We have a Museum of Bad Art here in Somerville, and if one of these had been found in a dumpster somewhere it would have gotten some pretty prime real estate…

    Saif, if you’re reading this and are ever hard up, I bet you could get seventeen bucks or so from them for one of these. Look in the basement of the Somerville Movie Theater for the museum.

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