Nabil Kanso Split of Life

An Artist’s Response

Steve Seaberg

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 paintings 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 us 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…

From Art Papers, 11/85
November/December issue, 1985