Luis Camilio Guevara
We are here before Nabil Kanso’s colossal painting "Drowning." An irritant and attractive intensity demanding painful demonstration whose primary origins delineate reality: showing an apparent vigil obsessed with the inevitable between life and death. In this piece we serve as spectators, executors, assassins, and victims. This becomes our valid excuse –without too much conviction and scandal- not to become trapped by the morbid thought and dark side of the other, whose melancholy is crushed inside his soul. I heard the screams, witnessed the despair, the incredulity, the mess. I sensed the phantasmagorical in this painting for there is hope, dominion and ecumenical character in it; its conceptual beginning transcends everyday events, unlike history, which survives through time and lacks an immutable face. Strength is also in the painting: precise and persistent. Even the light that seemed lost in pitiful moans searches and finds escape. It is the simultaneous harsh and passionate clarity of night that falls on us; the true night, the only night. And one seems to visually wander in a space that seems to be like infinity contained in an empty bottle. Or maybe, localizing the image, one wanders in a true sea that sways between heaven and earth. There is sarcasm about the physical ailment before the remains of a loving and nostalgic intimacy. We think of what caused such a gathering of power, submission and rebellion. For Kanso there is no limit between the known and the unknown. His viewer could as will be an equally solitary citizen avoiding danger and death. Where is all this enticing and rejection of peace coming from? When we are before this ardent abyss, it seems like man’s history multiplies in each inconceivable and austere trace of that line which equally reduces individuality to a chasing and absurd anguish; anguish overcome by passion, as blind and immeasurable as the shadow itself, condemned to disappear. It will disappear because we have not given ourselves time to meditate. Everything takes place in eternal instants, in light and colors suggested behind a foggy curtain that burns like the bramble where man and his partner will be consumed second by second before the holocaust.
Let us go back to the dream and try to express ourselves through the sensuality of this painting which is touching and disturbing to the senses. The woman presiding over each one of these fantastic pieces overwhelms it and transcends the dense imaginable frontier. The blue, suddenly acquired by our incessant totality, is no more than a simple and extravagant amusement of survival. Because we are here on earth only to disappear one day, we will not have eyes, mouths, ears, or anything. Meanwhile, each of us left here will go home to his permanent solitude, feeling more insecure every time, or less arrogant facing this internal sight that strips us naked with unmatched mastery, with the terrible and portentous seduction of a game-table full of lights and bidders.
What does the continuous intensity of the blue mean? -That exhilarating, reiterating, disturbing, tenacious color- Is that color the mask we use to hide from the multitudes? As we said before, collective impiety leads to individual expiation. Only by expressing the possibility of apocalypses can we be true, can multiple and individual pain be true. Not even clothes, vanity boatful tinsel, could transform ruins into exquisite tolerance. In justice, only honor corresponds to a very small portion of hope which is our only feasible way to have fun, even if we do it precariously in this pretentious circus of life. And all our certainty, accumulated with arrogance and rave, collapses on us in one stroke of doubt and despair. All of this is what Nabil Kanso paints. His painting awaken us or at least give our dream an authentic vision of the final disaster. Until yesterday man could hurt nothing and no one but himself. He was his own executioner and sole owner of his imagination. A simple matter without major prejudice, recorded by his symbol in ancient caves, on the bark of trees and in the sand itself where the sea mirrors time’s mystery. We used to say that only man could dispense with his own destiny, and that of his partner. Only he could dispose of fire no matter how wasteful and violent his action was. He was the borrower, the Maker.
Everything has changed now. The power of weapons is a terrible and absurd reality which mutates the space of human warmth that until recently, our continuous and absurd reality which mutates the space of human warmth was our continuous resort. But let us go deeper into this painful proposition which is the totalizing vision of Nabil Kanso, a strong painter greatly endowed by centuries of expressive mastery. We realize his tremendous interest in the anonymous figure, that is, in imploring the collective as the object and measure of his art. However, this collective belongs to a specific realm of our contemporary culture, that of annihilation. That which has no face and lacks characteristic senses; but this existential test makes us ache because we are attending a pre-holocaust, a verdict already dictated by atomic reactors or by some other invention that we would not yet imagine. We cannot even name that invention because our dead are not incinerated, nor are the expanded viscera are given a perspective. We smell like the death which is (without further commentary) an accusation, an unmistakable fact of survival. That is why this painting provokes life, for its agony is a painful and authentic awakening well fed by our superior desire to prevail as the vehement human species that we are.
We find ourselves immersed in this violent totality, terrible and incisive world, we are trapped. Let us resort to George Bataille: Violence is not cruel in nature, it is cruel in the transgression, in the act of being within the one who organizes it. Cruelty is one of the forms of organized violence and transgression. Like cruelty, eroticism is premeditated." This confirms the remote situation of man when he was his only contender. Such an axiom is no longer feasible. It is pure speculation to go back into the past where nothing has happened. Until now, everything was possible. Now we can imagine the worst annihilation, the cruelest war. How far could our extermination go? We thought extermination was only local, minimum, almost ridiculous, because we thought we were "absolute." We could continue shredding down the road, sometimes reaffirming the present time as the most beautiful of all, as togetherness. Or, we could continue going the other way: toward hatred or love. We would always make our choices, one way or the other. Definite and prevailing examples of choices were knifes and bullets. No matter what it was, history –that which has been told and retold every time we need to prove or negate- involved a fact to come, a hope for tomorrow, a counting of days and nights, of hours and minutes, of rains and storms.
All of this was real, could be real, even in the oddest and most delirious thought. In the love sphere, man and woman had full rights; that is why they punished themselves inventing a conventional means to enjoy the most complete intimacy: time. Such intimacy nullified any principle of individuality including language or any other forms of pleasure whether scandalous or pure. There is a step further: eroticism, the struggle between carnal power and chastity of the senses. Both struggle and exist outrageously through an incredible journey that could last an eternity. The more chaste the person, the more extravagant the act; this vision was always painted and written about.
Nabil Kanso opens another window for us. He allows us to contemplate and ponder on our precarious existence, beginning with the most intransigent and total fact of contemporary fear: total extinction of mankind. We are the spectator facing extinction, a total death that belongs to you and me. Death that makes us clings to deep love, stepping on an incommensurate surface which is the abyss of a void with no memory. That is exactly what Kanso’s painting makes us feel: the magnitude of the almost inevitable. This artist is able to show the never-ending darkness existing in an ephemeral glare right before bursting. We are, therefore, in front of an intelligent testimony, sensible and passionate of a teacher of torment and love. Kanso faithfully expresses orphanage, rage and the importance of living. Only blake’s vision could make us tremor so much:
The tomb is open, the species are thrown, the canvas is wrapped
Kanso’s work produced in me a strong visual insolation and a relative, purile skepticism. I am aware that there are other perceptions of his work based on the strong impact of creative opposition which may be more important than mine and still reaffirm today’s true art. Regardless of any opinion, one is facing a unique moment when experiencing Kanso’s work. This way I do not appropriate any excuse. I leave you with a teaching from Octavio Paz that we can reread it under the empire of loyalty:
Guevara, Luis Camilio, "Nabil Kanso's Painting" Exhibition Catalog, 1987, Ateneo, Caracas
Drowning, Oil, 8 X 11 feet (225 X 330cm), 1983