THE SPLIT OF LIFE
NABIL KANSO AND THE VOCATION OF THE PAINTER
The depth of the question that 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 propriety and sarcasm, the West gives us a choice (choosing to act, to narrate, to paint) 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.
Kanso questions the Gods: the Gods are immortal but not eternal; each Holy Family presides only over one epoch in the history of men with the Gods. The powers (beyond Good and Evil) into which Necessity is analyzed have no history; they crush humanity within the eternal circle of helpless reflection and unconscious desire.
Kanso questions also the luminous sky, the empty horizon that makes possible light and darkness and their relations. He denies us space and all its cognitive illusions.
"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, a 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 well 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.
Angel Medina is professor of philosophy at Georgia State University