TEXTS

Excerpts from a broad range of articles and reviews:

"The exhibition of Nabil Kanso fully justifies an expression of gratitude. One is grateful for the pause in a landscape where nothing seems to supply the happiness brought by the visit of someone with the build of a creator. This painter is a generator of aesthetic possibilities within the precepts of the foremost forms of painting.
The magnitude of the paintings places you in the midst of a beautiful and a violent cage… The cage becomes a huge purgatory which is reduced to the pupil of the eye.…The synchrony and diachrony of the work cross a still point in which the show is no longer a total of 27 paintings, but only one. … As it is such a spontaneous style of painting and so rarely attempted by other painters, it deserves serious attention from critics and artists, for it is more than painting, it is a favorable dissertation, beneficial and significant. Kanso applies a brutal brush stroke, rough and steady…this mastery is admirable. The size of his canvases is more than big, it is heroic. …The battle against large formats cannot be won but with a strong determination and an absolute mastery of technique. These are inseparable and preconceived. The dynamic handling of the layout has a total identification with Kanso’s topical matter. His powerful themes could in no way be handled with softer and milder style designed to make them palatable…The vast spaces covered with paint look like murals that shrink and contradict the first impression…. Muralism tends towards fetish, towards cliché, towards the rigidity of an idea ruled by the perfect tension between what it says and what it wants to say, between what touches the pupil of the eye and between what one feels in constant life. It is here that you find the hand of the real artist beside the painter: a man with a faculty, a meaning, a longing and a point."

Hugo Figueroa, "The Painting of Nabil Kanso." Panorama, Venezuela
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"Through his paintings, Nabil Kanso demonstrated the institutional breakdown by exposing power structures, penetrating them and ultimately deconstructing them and revealing their impotence. In The Door, he introduces a "juridico-discursive" notion to power, which is based on the rigors of legal logic and death. The authority figure (judge) mounted on a horse in the upper center of the painting plays the role of legislator in whom the pure form of power resides. …Everywhere in the painting there is the dynamics of transformation, rather than static forms of distribution and knowledge. The mounted horseman is the legislator, judge, sentencer and executioner; the man with the book is authority because he holds knowledge which alludes to a way other than the juridico-discursive system that depends on repression and negation; the horrified man with his hands thrown in the air is the executioner victim, the observer…
Warring Wings is certainly the artist’s grandest interrogation of power. In this painting he explores to the fullest extent the multiplicity of power and makes aware of its mobile relations. He achieves this by creating a center with no central figure, a contemporary grotto if you will, where four figures replace the notion of a center of power with the multiplicity of mobile relations…
Nabil Kanso has pointed to the serious issues confronting man. The artist is not in search of codes even though he points to economic, political, social and cosmological issues, which reside in the realm of cause and effect relations. He is interested in life in its reflective state as it is presented to him through his confrontation with the boundary situations of death, love, suffering and guilt. It is the organization of these boundary situations in their reflectiveness, which constitutes his poetics. ..Thus his communicative poetics is predicated on a profound human kingship with the West and an amazed expectant detachment from it. From this circle he derives his extraordinary power of expression."

Gail Kurlansky, Nabil Kanso’ Split of Life: Looking for the Poet: Power, Death and Sexuality, Art Papers, 10/86 _____________________________________________________________________________

"A drawing in the spontaneity of color, a language in the materialization that verifies human thought, a fleeting expressiveness, spontaneous, aggressive and full of feelings, in a dynamic that cannot take away from time the speed and dimension of the present era, the story of our century whiling away between fabulous dreams and a sad reality.
If space could hold the reasoning of Nabil Kanso, his soul as part of his work would benefit of the infinite immensity for drilling and penetrating into the ethereal expansion filled with the illusion of its incandescent threads which dramatize and illuminate with their absolute visualism his intensity of pain and pleasure, and the enjoyment of a feeling in which that great space shrinks in front of his reality, his reasoning, his image, his mirror.
Human shapes retrace themselves assuming an abstractionism, a symbology, a concrete message, from an idealized peace to the horrifying interpretation of pain, the representation of childbirth escaping from terror, the despair of encountering nullity, the impassivity of a king who agonizes in his essence, the symbolic strength of a constant movement, where man, wild and untamed, routs and escapes into the devastating freedom of silence. In his artwork, martial art are repeated where dogmatic heritages of the virtues of cultural perfectionism destroy themselves, or promise the autocratic homogenates of a perfect leadership.
Nabil Kanso’s paintings are the anguishes of the pain brought by the thoughtlessness of man and placed in the infinite space of a principle, in which the conflict of a cause: terrestrial peace in the play of word and idea, fire and sky, or total darkness…the naught. His aesthetic and artistic imagination envelops the whole twisted reality of revolutionary and historical plenitude into an odd inferno… Scarlet, crimsons, yellows, violets, ochres, and the few brushstrokes of blues are the perverse of joy and evil sweeping in a narcissistic masturbation that moves from the real to the unreal towards the destruction of the essence of being whose pale shadows of the images embody that reality which is denied.
Nabil Kanso’s universe if full of carnal essences and mute significations, mixture of essences and existences, imaginary and real, visible and invisible, the discovery of truth by way of looking and seeing what is hidden in the occult wisdom of artistic science…
Upon arriving at a sensible meaning, we find ourselves beyond perceptive intuition. It is the memory’s doing what makes reflections of a generator of such expressive forcefulness whose genius is the fact of the great truth. The truth of Nabil Kanso, a compulsive being substantiated by a beautiful faculty."

Ildebrando, Rossi, "The Work of Nabil Kanso: A Summit without Interlude" Critica, Venezuela
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"…Let us go back to the dream and try to express ourselves through the sensuality of Nabil Kanso;s colossal painting, "Drowning," a captivating and irritant intensity which is provoking and touching to the senses. The woman presiding over this and each one of these fantastic pieces overwhelms the space and transcends the dense imaginable frontier. The blue, suddenly acquired by our incessant totality, is no more than a simple and extravagant amusement of survival… What does the continuous deep intensity of the blue mean? -That exhilarating, reiterating, disturbing, tenacious color. Is not that color the mask we use in order to hide from the multitudes? As we said before, collective impiety leads to individual expiation. Only by expressing the possibility of apocalypses can we be true, can multiple and individual pain be true. Not even clothes, vanity boatful tinsel, could transform ruins into exquisite tolerance. In justice, only honor corresponds to a very small portion of hope which is our only feasible way to have fun, even if we do it precariously in this pretentious circus of life. And all our certainty, accumulated with arrogance and rave, collapses on us in one stroke of doubt and despair. All of this is what Nabil Kanso paints. His work shocks, provokes and makes us understand what it is to be human. It awakens us or at least gives our dream an authentic vision of the final disaster.
Nabil Kanso opens another window for us. He allows us to contemplate and ponder on our precarious existence… He is able to show the never-ending darkness existing in an ephemeral glare right before bursting. We are, therefore, in front of an intelligent, sensible and passionate testimony of a teacher of torment and love. Kanso faithfully expresses orphanage, rage and the importance of living. Only blake’s vision could make us tremor so much:
The tomb is open, the species are thrown, the canvas is wrapped
The bones of death, the clay that covers them, the contracted nerves, desolated
Reviving they tremble, inspiring they move, breathing they awaken! "

Luis Camilio Guevara, "Between Horror and Dominating Rupture" Nacional, Caracas
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"The first time I saw Nabil Kanso’s work was in his studio. "Startled" is a weak word to describe my reaction. Every wall was covered with paintings that reached the ceilings. In some places the paintings were leaning against each other several deep. Others, lots, were rolled up on the floor. A long table was littered with empty and partially empty tubes of oils paint. It was hard to believe one man had done all of this. It wasn’t just that the paintings were large but their content was brilliantly focused, it came from a seeming struggle going on in a landscape that appeared biblical. Although they were silent, one could almost hear the voices of calamity and striving.
In the show at Nexus, the painting once more reached the ceiling. One painting went the entire length of the room, maybe 30 feet. I felt like a coward. It was almost impossible to look at the power and extravagance of these scenes, so I turned instead and looked at the faces of the other onlookers. In their faces were the reflections of the painted holocaust around us. I turned again to the painting which now entrapped is in a cage of feeling. Everywhere were naked bodies, more naked than I had seen before. Clothes no longer being of any account… I struggled toward the painted surface and as I did the painting began to open up. The space enlarged, the flesh and flames became fused… I thought of Kanso’s art thus:
…a tapestry of souls, struggling, reaching… for one another… painted jazz rhythms of naked spirits climbing an interminable Jacob’s ladder in a metaphorical conflagration which repulses and sucks us all in."

Steve, Seaberg, "An Artist Response" Art Papers, Atlanta
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"Kanso’s outstanding mural-scale paintings are a cross between the specificity of Goya’s ‘Horror of War’ and the universality of Picasso’s Guernica. With broad turbulent strokes, he paints horrific tales of man as a monster…" To stand in the central space surrounded by Nabil Kanso’s 12-foot-high paintings is as close as you get to being in the middle of a fire. Using lurid oranges, yellows and reds, Kanso fills every inch of canvas with visions of violence and human suffering that rival medieval descriptions of Hell. But Kanso’s frenzied meditations on man’s inhumanity have a more contemporary source. The horrors of war in his frenzied meditations on man’s inhumanity have a more contemporary source. The horrors of war in his native Lebanon have fueled the fires that burn in these effective paintings."

CatherineFox,"Fantastic Visions" AtlantaJournal/Constitution
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"…In carrying out his work Nabil Kanso appears calm and quiet. But the light of fire in the paintings look like nightmares which he has to work through, often spending several months on one painting. Figures after figures with their hands over their faces, fallen over, crawling in a cave like place, clambering up a sheer cliff of what seems to be a sea of blood, sometimes like cavemen, sometimes women fleeing from burning homes… Half naked people come falling from the skies to join the crowd below. ..White teeth shine horribly…people bite each other. His enormous painting "Lebanon" -measuring about 9 meters long- is one of the many hanging in his studio. Here, it is not the Knight of the Apocalypse riding toward each other, rather two women in the center, stretching out towards each other and almost reaching. To their left a horse and a Druze Sheikh seem to confront us with a desperate calling. A fallen girl appears with closed eyes between the horse and the sheikh. A large dark bird covering a half hid sun hovers over the conture of trees projecting flames amid the destruction of houses. The ruins farthest assume the shape a slope with cave openings. "Lebanon" shows the desperation of war. The women are classical abstractions and modern mothers of peace. Along with the children in the suffering mess, they wound up in an explosive dance of warm calling to humanity. The work of Kanso’s brush is indignant expressionism. This may be our time’s version of Picasso’s protest against the war in Spain in 1937, the Guernica of our time."

Lars Bäckström, "Guernica of Our Time" Ord & Bild, Stockholm, Sweden
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"The depth of the question Nabil Kanso poses in "The Split of Life" to painting in the western tradition can be measured in four different directions:
He questions the human subject
He questions the Gods
He questions the luminous sky
He questions the concealing, self-concealing earth.
Mortal men appear in "The Split of Life" as the flesh that never dies, the flesh of humanity, always compelled by the laws of regeneration, always offering itself willingly to the torments of domination and submission. The East gives us propriety and sarcasm, the West gives us a choice and the irony to have to face mortality in, and for, all our choices. Kanso refuses us both the East and the West. He gives us instead the Middle East, the chasm of necessity that yawns at the heart of human contingency and universal contingency.
"The Split of Life" intends to be a pure affirmation of the earth, an absorption of painting into the forces that conceal, and conceal themselves in, everything that comes to light. The earth cannot appear by itself; it needs of painting, of the choice of the painter, even as it consumes them. Yet Kanso questions the Earth as if it could respond directly to the artist.
Why question the earth down to the point of self-destruction? Kanso wants to explore the terror that surrounds the act of choice of self-choice, of painting. He returns from this journey to hell with three presents to the viewer: first calligraphy of terror, second a confinement of the earth and its terrors within the narrow bounds of the tactiles, of two-dimensional patterns, third the gift of his vocation as a painter. From this point of his return, he offers himself to us as the "Necessary Angel." Painting well or failing to paint are not important; what is important is that painting becomes more necessary than Necessity. This point of return is clearly a fork in the path of Kanso: either some form of calming in a non-Western style, or a total redefinition of painting in a non-Western style. But are these not the choice of every western Painter?"

Angel Medina, "Nabil Kanso and the Vocation of the Painter."

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"A formidable painter with a powerful style and compelling vision, Nabil Kanso is one of the few artists working today who creates significant paintings that open up the visions and ideals of apocalyptic art."

Peran Ermini, " The Apocalyptic Art of Nabil Kanso" Catalog, Museo Caracas
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Some early reviews from 1971-73

Drawings by Kanso show the fascinating progress of an artist, posing questions as well as giving answers. Is Kanso making studies or creating finished drawings? He has a talent for grouping figures, suitable for grand compositions, which he undoubtedly will develop further. Other drawings show a search for the secret of nature’s structure. The exhibition comes at a time when the public has become interested in drawings that show the development of an artist’s ideas, involving at times several versions of the same subject. Kanso’s drawings which involve the nude are at least a partial answer to this need.

G. Brown, Senior Editor, Arts Magazine, New York, 6/72
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KANSO stresses expressive faces –pouting, beseeching, angelic, bashful, flirtatious, charming, sleepy, talkative, expectant, reluctant, pensive. This is the work of a born artist who goes far beyond the wooden dummies painted by so many others. Just to go over a list of possible expressions shows how much life and art these others have missed. Drawings especially, such as Kanso’s, capture the mobility of the face. The formalist, who used dots for eyes and one straight line for nose, lost these facial expressions.

G.Brown, Arts Magazine, NY, 2/73
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L’esprit volage et grivois de Pascin inspire les aquarelles et habite les personages de Nabil KANSO qui, dans une ronde semi-érotique, se convoitent, se frôlent, se caressent et s’enlace avec grâce. Trois feminins issus d’une fresque païenne don’t le temps est consacré à la danse, au parfums, à la toilette, moment propices au dialogue, à la comparaison, occasions perdues où rarement se montre le faune…
Mauves, roses et bleues, diaphanes mais effervescentes, ces bacchantes échappées d’une île célèbre spéciale semblent réapprendre le bonheur qui consiste a capturer l’instant qui passe sans trop se soucier de ce qu’apportera demain. Marie Laurencin aurait aimé les tons pastels de ces gracieuses aquarelles.

Saint-Evremond, "Nabil Kanso" France-Amerique NY, 1/72
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Venezuelan first recognized the importance of Nabil Kanso's paintings in 1980s, when his work were exhibited in Maracaibo. During the same period, Kanso held major exhibitions in the United States and Europe and his work generated the interest of museums and collectors in Europe, the United States, and the Middle East. With the return of this painter to South America, the question is raised: what is it about the paintings of Nabil Kanso that makes them significant to all of these countries in spite of their obvious national differences?

The work becomes important because he addresses a shared common humanity from the perspective of a man without the pretention of being god. He presents us with a view of the world through the boundary situations of love, death, suffering and guilt. He gives us what a world of mass media, high technology and war has forgotten; a respect for our feelings and consequently he reminds us of the freedom of our mind. Through his paintings, Nabil Kanso demands our rights as human beings. Because he produces these works against the framework of contemporary politics, rather than from within the political structures, each painting is a rebirth of man rather than a reiteration of worn out themes. He preserves for us what is continually threatened: Our humanity! 


Ateneo -  29 March, 1987, Caracas, Venezuela