Rhorbal- The Moroccan Dali

On a sunny Tangier afternoon, Jonathan and I climbed the arduous slope of the Kasbah, in search of "Jews Beach"- the mythical landing point of thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing from Andalusia, across the Strait of Gibraltar. The Moroccan equivalent of "Omaha" and other Normandy beaches!
On our way down from the Kasbah heights, we wandered into a fashionable art gallery, curiously eying the framed maps and etchings on the wall. As a 'serious researcher' I consistently studied old maps, hoping to find clues pertaining to changes in Moroccan geography.

As I somewhat suspiciously eyed the framed prints (each of which had obviously been torn from multiple issues of the same book or publication), wondering at the silly prices, Jonathan talked his way into rummaging through the Gallery's office and storage place. Amongst the curiosities unearthed by Jon was an unusual miniature, depicting a couple staring at a flying staircase. We were both struck by the unique perspective (the couple turned its back to us) and the surprising combination of surrealistic, Dali-like style with a traditional Moroccan setting. The price, of course, was a bit beyond our means...

As Jon distracted the owner with more rummaging through her office, I stared at the painting, bringing it to the window for a better look. Examining the frame, I noticed a small piece of paper, stuck at the back of the canvas, with the Artist's name and phone number. I grabbed pen and paper and scribbled his coordinates, stealthily replacing pen and pad in my purse- all unnoticed by the busy owner.

Hurrying out of the store, we settled on a Tangier wall, and conferred. The phone number was an old one, having two less digits than today's numbers. So we called information, hoping the artist's address (Sale) and his name (Rhorbal) would help identify him. As it so happens, the woman who took our call knew the painter personally, and was quite happy to share his phone number with us. We couldn't believe our luck. When is the last time you called information and heard, "Joe Smith.... The Architect? Yeah, I know that guy. He's worked for Pacific Bell, you know, designed that new stadium!".

We called. A very amiable man picked up the phone, and hearing my confused story about our morning discovery and man hunt, happily laughed, calling himself "The Moroccan Dali". I wondered if surrealist painters expect life to be as twisted as the scenes they depict! We made an appointment for the following week, when Jon and I would be back in Rabat.

A few days later, a thin, handsome, smiling elder man picked us up in front of the Sale train station, driving us to his home and studio in a rather fancy Mercedes- whose horn made a quaint whistling sound, when honked at ruthless Moroccan drivers. There was something a bit contradictory in the chasm between the anger of the action and the melody of the sound! An artist's quirk, we thought.

Rhorbal's house is an ode to his art- wife, sister and children live in 4 floors of color, where even the walls and courtyard have been painted by the father. We immediately liked what we saw, and this initial visit was the first in a long succession of meetings to come, all of which invariably ended or began with a long, delicious family meal!

To see some of Rhorbal's work, please visit his site.

For information on other Moroccan painters, please go to: