Born in Lebanon, a small country that once was the site of one of the oldest cultures in the world, and in recent years the scene of a long protracted civil war that caused much destruction, devastation and human suffering. While the prolonged state of chaotic events have had a profound effect on my life and work, it did not take away the memory of a cheerful childhood.
The home where I was born and grew up provided me with deep experiences of happiness and confidence, and profound moments of contemplation and meditation. Situated on a hill in West Beirut, the house was open from all directions providing spectacular views of the mountains and the city along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. We played in a spacious courtyard whose entrance pressed a warm welcome to the interior where my parents, Melhem Kanso and Munira Saab brought up their eight children of which I was the sixth.
My first contact with art came early and naturally looking up at the images of angels painted on high ceilings supported by marble aches adorned with arabesque and lattice wood work. Over the years, I discovered various pictures from the art works that my parents brought from Mexico. My mother taught me basic elements of art and design, and acquainted me with the work of various artists from the East and West. As there were no art museums around, the country's remnants of ancient civilizations provided splendid sites to admire, enjoy and study. The schools that I attended offered courses that emphasized the country's rich heritage. They followed a balanced curriculum of French and Arabic with some elementary art classes. When the schools were forced to shut down for more than a year during the 1958 Civil War, there was little to do and no place to go. But there were many gatherings among family and friends, and I occupied some of my time making sketches of characters and scenes that captured my curiosity and interest. The atmosphere was gloomy and the view obfuscated by thick smoke from burned buildings. There was shooting from all directions and on one occasion flying bullets grazed my side and wrist while standing at the entrance door. It was around this time that I began to develop a desire to leave the country and travel to America where my father came when he was about the age of fourteen.
The opportunity came in 1961 when I went to London to continue my studies. I enrolled at the Polytechnic with the idea of becoming an architect. But the venture to explore my interest in art and various subjects was overwhelming. With so many museums in London and across the Channel, I took time to closely look and study masterpieces that I had never seen before. After a five-year period of study and travel in various countries in Europe, I made the journey across the Atlantic and moved to New York in 1966. I enrolled at NYU where I studied art, philosophy and politics and began intensive art courses of self-training. I established a studio in New York in 1968 and immersed myself on the art scene attending shows and meeting many known and unknown artists of various backgrounds, fields, and styles. In 1971, I held my first solo at the 76 th Street Gallery. The exhibition attracted many art lovers and was attended by a number of prominent representatives from New York's leading art galleries and museums including the first director of the Mudeum of Modern Art, Alfred Barr whom I met in front of Guernica. The positive response from viewers provided the encouragement and support to expand the studio and turn its space into a continuum of conferences, performances and shows that brought me in contact with a wide range of artists and activists on the New York art scene.
While the studio provided the space to produce and show the art, its existence and maintenance required substantial funds that could not be met without financial support and the sales of work. After a period spanning more than seven years of prodigious output, the studio was seized and its content of art works and personal valuables were placed in storage. The hope to retrieve them vanished when the outbreak of the Civil War in Lebanon cut off contact with my family. Although the loss and destruction of many paintings dealt a terrible blow at an important junction in my career, I clung tenaciously to my confidence continuing to paint large scale oils while working in various places. From the late seventies through the eighties I made frequent visits to war-torn Lebanon with intermittent stays in London where I met Rhonda in 1978. After a period of travels and shows in different states, we settled in Atlanta where I acquired a studio. In 1983 I went to Venezuela and began a series of exhibitions that traveled throughout Latin American. The exhibitions received considerable attention attracted and provided invaluable stimulant in initiating the Journey for Peace through which numerous conferences and shows were held in various countries over an extensive period of time. At the turn of the new twenty-first century, however, a wave of constricting events and obstacles converged to force the closing of the studio and placing tons of works in storage.