Painting in the Face of War, Cruelty, and Indifference
In a world with so much chaos, brutality, suffering and all sorts of entertainment, how much space can be allocated to works that project a deep and meaningful relationship with the world today?
At the turn of the twenty-first century, I stood in the intimate company of a vast range of my works to face a situation that would force the closing of my studio and divert to storage thousands of works. With memories still lurking from an earlier catastrophic event when my New York studio was seized and its contents destroyed, I struggled to avoid a comparable disaster by dismounting thousands of works and storing them in storage facilities. While this ordeal threw me into a precarious state of putting on hold artistic activities, I carried on with life and work as I have previously done through the many vicissitudes of a laborious and disturbed life that has known many sharp turns.
The convergence of constricting events, however, resulted from various obstacles accompanying a long standing form of prejudice, repression, and sanctions whose imposition and enforcement by the bureaucratic imperative of art authorities suppressed and denied my works any accommodation and excluded them from every survey of contemporary art. This complete disregard for the impact, role, and significance of works reflecting important development in contemporary painting, amounted to no less than an all out boycott in which I am obliged to find himself on the periphery of existence and endure various forms of punishment. The catastrophic consequences of this scenario are rarely reported or covered largely because the victim is assumed not to exist and the assailants have access to a wide variety of disguises.
If the view from the high structures where the works were born and conceived permitted no visibility of the loftiest conception of an alienated spirit, the view from the hollow and dark ruins of the land of origin obliterated any sight of it.
Lebanon, which has been the subject and theme of a wide range of my works, has no such thing as a museum of contemporary art and has never expressed a need for one. The spacious stage of its theatre of operation is more than sufficient for the display of a wide variety of chaotic engagements and events that engulf the entire area. Its venerated ensemble members hold a continuum of exhibitions and performances that embody scenes and acts of applicability beyond the plastic forms of a metaphysical activity. In the matter of painting, they regard its practice as an extraneous diversion situated outside the realm of serious affairs. They prefer to ignore it, and confine their time, energy, and attention to the more serious practice of civil and uncivil wars, and
the whole appanage of anarchy, convulsion, self-indulgence, and
endless varieties of conflicts and chaotic events.
Therefore, they feel justified in finding no sense or purpose in the meaning of my work. However, in order to recompense whatever contributions I have made elsewhere, they exacted a dear price that brought complete financial ruin to me and to my family. In a scheme designed to alter the outlook of a city exhausted by the devastation of a civil war, they razed to the ground my property in Beirut and turned over the land to developers who expropriated and arbitrarily imposed an outrageous fraction of its value. Having deprived of a vital subsistence upon which I depended, they appeared unconcernedly indifferent to the pain they caused as if this is just another ongoing local event that one ought to accept.
The symptoms of decades of disregard and levity toward a soul engrossed in painting may reveal a clearer picture through a brief view in retrospect. Over the course of a long period marked by intense hostilities between East and West, standing between the opposite currents of two mutually exclusive cultures encircled a wide gap. The irreconcilable forces of two vastly different regions obstructed access to the art bursting in the middle ground and detached its roots from the respective soils of both. Isolated and trapped in the cold, the works were deprived accommodations in both.
Considered an outsider, stripped my work of its privileges. While not seeking rewards, the works have been been censored, ignored and excluded. In exercising the power of exclusion, the acting art authorities seem to adhere to a formula comparable to the one used by a power that refuses to recognize an entity that it disapproves of or considers illegitimate. While the situation in my case is not dissimilar, it does not appear to offer either disapproval or illegitimacy. In fact some of the most prominent figures representing several prestigious museums and galleries in New York and elsewhere stood awe-struck when they confronted my canvases. Many renowned artists, critics, poets, and scholars found an immense vista unfold before their eyes. In each situation, they all saw a compelling view situated in perfect harmony and relation with the world. The art in all its manifestations revealed the passion, the imagination, the innovation, and the fullness of truth in both the physical and spiritual aspect of things. These characteristics, however, also constituted traits whose elements were considered disturbing, dangerous and at odds with a commercial society.
During some of my earliest exhibitions in New York, a number of prominent figures in the art world expressed a particular concern in which they feared that the walls of commercial galleries might become frightened by the intensity, fury, and scale of the paintings. Over the course of time, this point of view evinced its reality. In 1974, years of works were pushed into the abyss when my New York studio was seized and its contents including over 700 paintings were destroyed.
The sacrificed paintings, however, left deep scars on almost every canvas that I painted thereafter. While those who condemned the works have turned their back and occluded any sight or sound of the buried art, they were unable to prevent the conception and birth of new paintings. Clinging tenaciously to an inner energy and working under unfavorable conditions and circumstances in various locations, I continued making paintings depicting human brutalities and suffering on large scale formats. The proceeding works, however, could not escape further discrimination and punishment throughout their peaks. The circumstances and times spanning the years of conception of my works through the seventies, eighties, nineties, and two thousands provide an idea about the depressed atmosphere that over hanged the air with endless wars and hostilities that continue unabated in threatening our planet, splitting nations and peoples, and assaulting the very essence of humanity. With so much of the turbulence emanating from the near, far and Middle East, the responding art facing them had to be held accountable.
Unwilling to examine works whose expression of the human subject evokes ideas, experiences and visions that lend critical insights to an important intersection of our time and space, the persecuting authorities eliminated them from view. In espousing the principle of equal rights in the selection of the best and worst works, they seemed quite certain to exclude works whose images appear foreign to biased eyes and disturbing to prejudiced minds. This policy became especially enforceable in the case of a painter pursuing a course outside the apparatus of a commercial system.
Moving independent of any current or trend, the work was taken to different environments where there was no fear of displaying disturbing visions and ideas. Held under the auspices of art institutions and museums in Venezuela and other countries in South America and Europe, a series of major exhibitions traveled extensively for an extended period of time. They created their own relatedness and event exerting an impact that has been felt and noted by a wide circle of viewers. Those who came face to face with the paintings found no barrier that impeded their visions and instincts or one that intimidated their feelings and sensations. They recognized the disparity between works that speak for themselves and those exclusively based on the sayings of others. The documented testimonies of eyewitnesses who upheld their faith in the art works disclose no confusion or contradiction about their merit and significance. However, neither the expressions of the work nor the affirmation of attestations seem to have any bearing or effect on the imperative of the autocrats that are disguised as connoisseurs and judges. In their capacity as artful authorities avowed to execute justice with eyeful prejudice, they disregarded the confluence of all supporting evidence with unshakable malevolence.
Scorning as beneath their notice any work that has no famous name attached to it, they dispensed with the works as foreign and answering no real local needs. To prevent excess and access of works consisting of too much truth, they proceeded to subdue and numb the conceptions that continue to flow freely and untrammeled by commercial falsification. In an endeavor to fend-off an impending assault that may bury all evidence of the existence of works, I undertook the complex task of compiling, photographing and documenting several large series of paintings. While the visual documents allowed some light to be brought to the integrity of the original work and provided some access to them, they were ignored by the media on the ground that society needs know nothing about work that is not commercially promoted.
In a situation prolonged and intensified by persistent bias and disregard, the flow of paintings was arrested as they were bursting at full pitch. Tons of art works and their author were forced to vacate their space and endure untold amount of anxiety, pain and humiliation. The crude trappings, which once constituted contempt, disdain and derision became a travesty overloaded with injustice, cruelty and indifference.
How many people must be deprived from reaping any aesthetic pleasure, enjoyment or appreciation of works created and presented for everyone?
How many yards of canvas transmitting inmost emotions, experiences, and ideas must be sacrificed?
How many gallons of paint, intellect, imagination and passion must be obliterated?
How high a price must an artist pay for a breathing space to pursue his vision and carry out pure work.