It is very difficult, even naïve, to think that one could sum up the life of a man, a thinker, a philosopher, a man of letters, or an artist in few lines or even few book pages. Well, it is known that every second of any man’s life is an ongoing evolving journey. On this journey, a man acquires experience that will one day enable him to achieve an exceptional level of humanity and perfection. Every man has a unique and independent personality, which prints differ from any other; although, similarities in human nature may be common.
This process becomes even more difficult when one tries to write a book about an artist that still has a lot to offer. What may be true right now might change tomorrow: men evolve and change their point of view. Therefore, what I am trying to do in these pages is to shed the light on a particular temporal and artistic period of the works of Jo Koury.
The period that has captured my attention is defined by the vast expanse of colors on the canvas. Therefore, I was inclined to name him the ten thousand color artist. The colors are sculpted onto the painting while covering it with an almost unique technique.
Most of these canvases are a fiery and strong cry. I would go further and say that they were explosive during the nineties, at the dawn of the ending of the murderous war in Lebanon, knowing how much the artist endured then. It is as if the mind and body, when attacked, develop a personal immune system, which disintegrates when the immediate danger fades away. I think that the disintegration of Jo’s immune system is expressed in his paintings by this explosion of colors. The latter took the shapes of abstract art, symbolism or virtual surrealism. It was all defined by light, dark, hard, cold, and fiery colors. In addition to that, it was characterized on one hand by spiraled sharp brushstrokes and on the other by large vigorous ones.
What I want is to shed the light on few works of Jo Koury. Koury is an artist who fell in love with colors and with the freedom to cover canvases with lively colors and brushstrokes with different techniques. These fiery, lively and garish colors could only be the cry of a lively soul. The latter has a complex vision of man, woman, life and spirituality. Unwittingly, Jo is expressing himself through colors and colored voids. The colored masses shock and intrigue the eye. Questions on what they represent, what message they convey, what they symbolize, where they end, or what they aim at, impose themselves. The colored voids are also the background, which completes the components of the painting. Jo’s paintings do not have third dimensions.
The color might be his favorite mean of expression. Furthermore, this color stock might have been piling up in his subconscious since childhood. It appeared that he was a nature lover since he was a kid.
A General Survey
Joseph Badih Khoury was born in Kfarabida, in northern Lebanon, in 1952. He went to the Jesuit school in Ghazir and later to the Capuchin school in Batroun. He graduated in economics from the Saint-Joseph University in Beirut. After he graduated, he took many painting and sculpture courses in New York. He started to exhibit his art in the mid-eighties. In the nineties, his exhibitions reached their peaks. He graduated in 2007 with an executive MBA degree from the Lebanese-Canadian University, Aintoura and UCAM University-Canada. His productivity never ceased to grow.
Jo Koury exhibited his works in private and in group, in Lebanon and abroad, namely Paris, New York, Chicago, Louisville, Washington, Amman, Dubai, and Qatar.
A Point of View
Plastic art is a huge world full of ideas, pictures, forms, and colors. Although people are somehow similar, each individual has a unique personality and a personalized contribution regardless of how small or how big it is. Thus, art is also unique and tightly linked to its creator.
It is, therefore, very difficult to judge a man or an artist based on a particular set culture. Knowing that whoever might like this color or this form, might not like another one. One critic that overrates a genre and underrates another might be unjust in his/her criticism. In fact, he/she simply is not fond of this genre because it does not match his/her cultural background.
I personally believe that the critic or the viewer should look at the object of art objectively and regardless of all preconceived feelings and ideas. They both should let art move them. Furthermore, the viewer must try to unveil the beauty of the art object. He/she should appreciate its just value by studying it in its own historical time and space frame. History carefully sieves out water preventing gold from leaking out!
Umberto Eco differentiated between the concept of beauty in the western cultures and elsewhere in the world. “As to other cultures, rich in poems and philosophy, for example, the Indian or the Chinese culture, it is often difficult to know how much certain concepts are similar to ours. Although our traditions have forced us to translate them in western terms, as “beautiful” or “fair”…. We start by assuming that beauty was neither absolute nor immutable. In fact, it took a different look whenever time and place changed”.
By comparing two works of art by the same name of Madonna, the first was painted by Parmesan in 1532 and named “The Madonna with the Long Neck”, and the second was painted by Eduard Munch and named “Madonna”, we clearly see how each painting has its own magnificence. Their individual beauty shines through the colors, the workmanship or the artistic components; although, each painting is completely different from the other. These two paintings belong to different places and different times. Furthermore, each artist expressed himself on the subject through his own culture, times and traditions. Therefore, each painting is characterized by a unique beauty and a unique painter.
Would Michael Angelo accept the beauty of the “The Scream” painted by Munch in 1893, or of “The Young Ladies of Avignon” painted by Picasso in 1907? What would Parmesan say about “The Talisman” painted by Paul Serusier in 1888, or about “The Blue Monochrome” painted by Yves Klein in 1958? Thus, every individual has his/her own mark no matter how similar in content or in the form it may be. Each work must be placed into its particular context, regardless of how much it may differ from our acknowledged and accepted traditional norms of beauty.
A Heart-to-Heart Conversation
About God and death
“He is the power and the beauty, the greatest architect creator of quakes and tranquility”, these were the words he used to describe God. God is the creator of quakes, would He therefore hurt men? “He is the creator of nature, which has its own concepts. We owe Him everything”, was his answer.
I sometimes felt that he was like a beautiful bird full of life longing to living on branches and to singing while flying over prairies of a thousand and one colors. He avoids the grip of reality by flying toward the color, his haven of peace away from the smell of money; although, he undoubtedly acknowledges that the latter is the sinews of life. I see him leading two horses, dream and reality, trying hard to conciliate both; in order to avoid the rebellion of one over the other.
“I don’t like death, I fear it. After death, men go to an unknown place”, he answered me very frankly when I asked him.
I carefully observed his paintings looking for death amidst these color masses covering them. He told me that mauve was the color of death; because it is the combination of the greatest two colors, red and blue. “Every color is the expression of something. For example, red express strength, rebellion, motivation, and blood; blue is life, water, and sky”. He carried on: “Death is the end of a vocation on earth. Every man has a role to play on earth. No matter how weak he is, he has a role to play, and namely the poorest one. His role is to teach us modesty and humility. The poor teaches humanity to the rest of us”.
How do you pray?
“When I’m painting, I’m praying and chanting God. I try to find out where I’m going after death. I look for the answer in my paintings, but they float in a fog of mystery. They are haunted by colorful ghosts, and their dark colors disturb the eye. I sometimes look at my paintings, and I can feel mystery surrounding them. The glimmer of hope, however, always peeks through their walls.”
“Religion is of no importance to me. Men created a religion in order to establish a certain order”, these were his words, which scared me. One could accuse him of impiety or atheism. He carried on, however: “Religion is when I sit and have a one on one conversation with God. I offer Him my prayers. All rites are beautiful, but I feel as if a play is unfolding in front of me. It however fills me with complete religious reverence.” At that point he realized what he just said and added: “I’m a believer, who respects the Church’s Order. This is not however my deepest beliefs. Men are the greatest creatures of this world.” I had a feeling that he was struggling inside him to find out-of-reach answers for vital questions.
One of Khoury's masterpieces (Composition 200 x 200 cm, Oil on canvas)
I paint like I pray... a world of mysticism and pure creation said the artist...
What about women?
A woman is both inspiration and creation! She is beautiful and rough. She inspires good and evil. I would be lost without her. I long for her affection. Her affection inspires you, gives you strength and nurtures your ambition. Her strength could either be the failure or the success of home and professional life. In my work, her personality has its full weight. I was unable to define her with one particular color; therefore, she could be all colors.
Laudy, his wife, is the engine and the dynamism of all his artistic exhibitions planning. She makes all the phone calls, set the appointments, travels, does the necessary research, etc. “She is also the barometer of my paintings! I evaluate the success of my painting through her look and her criticism.”
In my opinion, I believe he expressed himself on sex in his paintings with flaming and explosive colors. It was bluntly and indelicately brought up.
A man is the extension of his childhood. However, personally, I’m not living another extension of mine.
What is that feeling and to what extent is it totally authentic?
All I know is that I’m alive now. I love life, going out and all profane pleasures. I think about God when I’m alone in my workshop. I try to pray through my colors. Painting is a pleasure, not a profession. How I long to break all constraints and dive into an ocean of art and beauty! I don’t paint anything that has a beginning and an end. How can I then seek the deepness of a man’s or woman’s mind? When shapes disappear, there will be neither beginning nor end. The patch of color and the technique, which I use to draw it, express my thoughts. Every painting is the result of a particular thought, experience, or shock that I was faced with. Thus, the difficulty I’m faced with is how to transform this idea or this shock into colored spaces, in order, to pass my message on to the viewer. Certain paintings take months to be finished. Every time, I think a particular painting is finished, I discover that the message I wanted to pass on isn’t there anymore. There is something else, a feeling that was overwhelming me at that moment. Many paintings just lay there without being finished! So many sleepless nights worrying about how to finish a painting! There are feelings that I find hard to express on a canvas.”
I observed him as he was talking, and it occurred to me that men are a single entity from childhood until maturity.
A corner in the artist studio - A place of creative war...