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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Nabil Kanso

Split of Life installation, 1985, 12 X 34 feet, Nabil Kanso
Artists now and those back then have (or had) two choices as to content. They could join the legions of their peers and paint that which was pleasant, beautiful, touching, loving, lovely, and sometimes simply art for art's sake. The competition was stiff and the battle for commissions quite ruthless at times. The other choice was to deal with the gratuitous violence, hatred, prejudice, war, and all the other sins of man, hopefully making a coherent statement decrying such human horrors. If the artist was strong enough, perhaps his or her work would shock the rest of society into taking a hard look at stopping, or avoiding, these monstrous epics. In the first instances, the artist, if he or she has the talent and persistence, may be rewarded with a modest lifestyle and even some degree of recognition over and above that of their fellow artists. On the other fist, choosing the latter road, while it may lead to some degree of fame, even fortune, its coming will be long-delayed an horrendously frustrating.

Partial view of the Split of Life installation, 1985, Nabil Kanso
The Lebanese-American painter, Nabil Kanso chose the rougher of these two roads. His constant content is that of war. It's a subject which he'll never find lacking in inspiration. His work is hellish, as well it should be, and only in the most twisted, brutish sense could it ever be called beautiful. Even though formally trained at the London Polytechnic where he studied mathematics and science, and at New York University where he received his BA and MA in art history, philosophy and political science, Kanso has nonetheless spent much of his career in grinding poverty, moving to and from major cities around the world in search of an art market which could appreciate and support his artist's vision.

A picture of Abstract Expressionism a generation late.
Nabil Kanso was born in 1946. He grew up in a home environment of Italian and Oriental art in Beirut, Lebanon. In 1958, at the age of twelve, with the onslaught of the Lebanese Civil War, Kanso got a firsthand, first-taste of the horrors of war, forcing him to interrupt his education and seek shelter with friends. It was then that he began to paint. Since then, it's been said that the artist has "declared war on war." His painting The Vortices of Wrath: Lebanon 1977 (below, third painting down), is an intense depiction of his country in a time of war. The dark grays and black make for a gloomy, sad mood while in the center, appears to be a power struggle between rugged figures. The way Kanso uses blurry images gives a creepy feel as seen in the background what appears to be skeleton-like figures. His brush strokes are very apparent and give the painting its life even though it is all about death.

Kanso also explores music and literature in his paintings.
He's done over a hundred works based upon Faust.
Kanso began his painting career in the U.S. with a studio in Manhattan around 1968. He was part of the Post-modernist movement, which included music, fine art, film, and writing. Characteristics of this style stressed communication from artist to audience, throwing out the traditional narrative that life has meaning. Between 1974 and 1979, Kanso worked from studios in the Carolinas, Atlanta, and New Orleans where he produced a large number of paintings. His works from this period are the series Vietnam (1974); Lebanon, which he'd begun in 1975, at the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War; One-Minute (1978–79) on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the Jazz Suite (1978–79) and Faust (1976–79) comprising over 100 paintings (above). So far, he's had little success in winning his "war on war."

Imagine, hanging paintings by the square mile.


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