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He Never Uttered Death


When I confided the notion to you that God has created man from ashes and tears you asked me: Whose tears?

I confess that I find great difficulty in overtaking him; and suppose I did for a brief moment, I would it more difficult to be on par with him; for he disagrees and moves farther beyond my discernment.

It appeared to me that he, even for a moment, had settled in his own Sabouresque icon- that phase I can recognize as s period of peaceful and harmonious coexistence between Nizar as an individual with a very distinct personality, clear ideas, fervid emotions, sincere dogma and a true sense of belonging, and an artist who believes that, above all, it is his solemn duty to make every effort to give us fascinating art works. This is the period when every artist must slow whenever permissible while working at the same time, or say hibernating for many years changing scopes and colors, forms and themes, and periodically introducing slight changes by which he deludes us that he is evolving. But soon Nizar abandoned that period entirely; and neither was stability his primary concern, nor comfort, nor achieving his highest sales ever. First and foremost, his concern was but one single thing that  I doubt  I am able to pinpoint and articulate.

 Yet, I am able to distinguish his bedeviled and impassioned spirit dictating its obsessions and tendencies. I know what sort of a man Nizar is. He is one of those at war with themselves before being at war with anyone; those who prevail on no one and no one prevails on them except their own souls.

 I would watch him drawing saints and devils, pottery in irregular forms, exotic fruits and vegetables, trees standing high at the flank as though eager to leap in, or out- only God knows. These are paintings that do not seek to make any ostentatious display of either expertise or deftness. I used to see him bowing or stretching his body over them, looking almost as a hunchback , for hours, day and months: Painting is pain for Nizar; unlike a backache or shoulder ache; it is a spiritual pain. Because of this, he is quite beyond our envy.

 But there are always seem to be order in the way Nizars experience evolves. I would say he has lithely moved from icons as though unseen by anyone to a novel experience born almost its predecessor. It is less spiritual: no I mean, less puritanical; more materialistic; but come t think of it ,it is not; for is this man were to draw stone, he would still exude spirit seen by everyone. I mean he has become more sentimental, more sensual, more dynamic and more emotional. Only one word love can fully describe Nizars experience; there is really no need for another; and he mindfully has kept it among the elements from his earlier period which included such heartening motifs as oriental towns, guards of hills as well as icons. He also kept utilizing some of his former techniques as using a golden base then painting on it in translucent brown color, using bold colors, painting over engraved wood and painting multi faced objects as armories or coffers.

 But his strictly defined human figures have now become taller and suppler, forming bodies that tilt, twist and blow. The heroes in his works now have wide-open eyes, noses with scales and full, soft lips. Some have half-concealed fledging breasts and limbs in embrace; and suddenly they are the saints themselves, Mary and Christ, full of agape love.

 Nizar soon also departed from this period as if it were, despite its forcefulness, almost love and what more than love do you want? The real reason for this last shift is clear, and that period is akin to a shinning tail, a conclusion to the fuller and more salient ironic period.

 Thenceforth, Nizar began to draw and more diversely: Wall mirrors surrounded by  shells, miniature, fine drawings, and others less miniature, which he ties together as though they were mantras or spells. Paintings from this period do not have definite themes and they feature primordial objects, batons and plates scattered to form a semi-memorial scene. Nature is mute and painted in large proportions; it is his dominant theme that he likes to treat repeatedly utilizing his innovative techniques learned from each new period. After his Spain visit he worked with Architectural mouqarnasas, which he had studied meticulously at Alhambra, to make some forms and digits. He had also started to use a new substance that he had no prior experience with, a dry, colorless and spiritless material absent from everything except death: Ash.

 In the primary works everything seems raw, as a fruit fallen before reaching maturity; everything seemed dead; and if it did not die instantly, it would die once made a cry. This time, Nizar want to add some soul, not to mud or stone, but to ash; and this the pangs were more tormenting and crueler; and this was not Nizars desire. One again I say, in every period a new Nizar is born, a nizar we do not know, a Nizar he himself may not know.

 Thus, one painting after another, his work began to grow and mature. The new Nizar covers entire walls with large paintings and murals, filling up the place and leaving no space other than that which serves as one  of the elements  of the composition. Such paintings do not allow their beholder to advert from them unless his whole body moves  away to hide behind a wall nearby which is likely to be also filled with a painting  akin to the first in toughness. I say toughness because Nizar has substituted his colorful angel and haloed saints and lovers with bland, crude and hideous nudity personified as dwarfs, cave inhabitants, females with sagging breasts and appearing as prostitute, unsaved. Nizar, shedding his beautiful divine, angelic and loving face, has put on dark and gloomy mask. Could it be he means to frighten us with it?

Being intimately friendly with Nizar and a fan following his work, significant or insignificant, I still cannot wholly fathom his experience. When I inquire him he replies: I guess it is just out life.

Such is the manner in which Nizar paints us and our lives, as he has stated. But it is not at all as simple as his answer; because within these works, in their middle or top, we may picture a person larger than to be sized up and compared with other persons or thing, defined in layers of ash and thick glue mold in colors at times darker and at times lighter, standing astride to stretching one limb ahead of other seemingly assuming a fighting position, a person intent on controlling the painting as well as enthralling its viewer.

And although such explanation could entail the great risk of being classified as political art, Nizars great expressionistic skills and not being retentive or blunt, save him from falling into such pitfalls and give him a wholly existential dimension.

You would not easily accept seeing such paintings with such scope, techniques and themes, left in one of he corners of the artists atelier without an overwhelming desire to take one, albeit hesitatingly, giving him the alibi that you would present it to a friend who admires his work but cannot afford to buy even a drawings the size of the palm of your hand. Nizar then would not object  and would be glad to give it to you except that it is not complete or signed yet. Then you would reply: Your works do not need signature. At that, he would relent. And, if you happen to disagree with Nizar on something said or done, he is likely to agree with you, or simply nod his head smilingly.

A man with such degree of tenderness cannot judge us any harsher even if something compels him. After all. I know him he said Our life is a life in ash; but he never uttered  the word death.


This man sees the Angels


writes Mounzer Masri of artist Nizar Sabour. One thing is certain: the paintings now exhibited at Ada Cherfan and the Centre Cultural Franais find their inspiration in centuries of representing the divine.

Nizar Sabour was born in Lattakieh in 1958 and graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts of Damascus where he is now an associate professor. He was also a Candidate of Philosophy in the Sciences of Art in Moscow in 1990. His works can be found in the collections of many museums not only in the Middle East, but in Washington and Moscow as well.

"Les portails de l'me", "the Gates of the Soul", presents the fruit of the artist's fascination with religious icons whether Christian, Muslim, or even Pharaonic. Though the feel conveyed corresponds well to the rough energy of archaic work, this is obtained through very different means as the colours are resolutely modern and the technique more reminiscent of Dada collages than a monk's patient brushwork. Yet a striking feature of the series is the fact that the contemporary treatment does not affect the evocative power of the icon. Sabour seems to have deliberately deconstructed conventional religious imagery to isolate its characteristic elements and test their power of evocation separately. At the same time, all these traditional elements: wooden support, triptych or gate-shaped canvas, haloes, flattened perspective, verticality -- are appropriated by the artist and treated in completely non-traditional ways. Aside from the icon-related elements, is his own
 personality that he applies freely to the support. The haloed characters, which recur the most, are reduced to little more than literally iconic silhouettes, that out of context might be mistaken for a chess pawn but here keep all their expression as ancient and venerable. The wild exploration in colours and shapes does not interfere with our reading of the images.

The correlation between the shape of many of the works and the title of the exhibit is no coincidence, and the artist confirms his intention to evoke doorways in some pieces where cultual objects (a candle, a votive statuette) stand on a wooden piece that juts out of the composition like a doorstep. The viewer is invited to "enter" the space of the picture, so well defined by clear framing elements, and lose himself in contemplation. The traditional icon has lost none of its significance in Sabour's interpretation: it has merely embraced a new skin.

Beirut's hosting two simultaneous exhibits of Sabour's work is a unique opportunity to witness a progression from one to the other. "Les Portails de l'me" correspond to an older period of the artist's work, and "Vie dans la cendre" ("Life in the ash") is its chronological successor, but the passing of time is expressed in a deeper way. The works from the latter exhibit inscribe themselves stylistically with contemporary art, no longer with ancient religious art, so that the entire history of art seems to have taken place between the two exhibits. On yet another level, one can't help but get the impression that the paintings of "La vie dans la cendre" are an expression of what the passage of time would do to the earlier ones. They look like the remains of once-decipherable images, an impression made all the more vivid by the fact that under the rough abstract layer of black "ash" it is often possible to glimpse figurative scenes such as a table set for a meal, or even fragments of Sabour's haloed silhouettes themselves. One wonders what exactly the artist may have meant by the title he chose: does it imply a lifetime spent in the ash, or is it that life can be found in such ashes?