Charles Khoury

Art - A new chance for humanity

The Daily Star March 12, 2012 12:05 AM By India Stoughton

BEIRUT: As readers of the Quran, the Bible and the Torah may have noted, every human being is purported to have one thing in common: We are all descended from Adam and Eve.

“I think humanity needs a new Adam and a new Eve,” says Lebanese artist Charles Khoury. He has therefore created his own, which he says represent “a new chance for humanity.”

“New Work,” Khoury’s varied solo exhibition, which opened at Galerie Janine Rubeiz Wednesday, features 11 acrylic-on-jute canvas paintings, one ink-on-paper drawing, four wooden sculptures and an installation piece made up of 23 black wooden sculptures hung together to form a kind of three-dimensional mural.

This eclectic range of works has in common the artist’s distinctive subject matter – humanoid figures with animal or insect features. Khoury has been working on his “insect-people” since the late 1990s and says he believes they will continue to occupy him for many years to come.

“It’s a subject that I can always be inspired by,” says Khoury, who explains that the idea first came to him during the Lebanese Civil War.
“I felt that there were no human beings,” the artist says. “We were losing our humanity.”

These days his strange creations are tamer and less aggressive. “Before it was a residue of the war,” he explains. “With time that’s disappeared ... I’m searching now for beauty. Because beauty is disappearing from our days.”

His current exhibition contains two large wall-mounted sculptures. Though abstract, approaching cubist, one is clearly male, the other female. They are titled “Adam” and “Eve,” respectively, and accompanying them are two large paintings with the same names.

While clearly humanoid, the figures have many animal aspects. Khoury’s painted “Eve,” for example has recognizably human breasts, whose nipples – one bright orange, one lime green – point resolutely at the floor. Her feet, however, are far from human. One is a flat, rounded paw with three arched nails, like an elephant’s foot. The other rests on two sharp points – a cloven hoof or a misshapen high-heel.

Like “Adam” and “Eve” the figures in his other paintings are recognizably human, but often have strange animal attributes – here a clawed hand, there a worm in place of a nose. Other figures boast wasp-like stripes on a human torso, strange lopsided heads like hammerhead sharks or protruding, frog-like eyes.

The first thing that strikes the viewer about Khoury’s pieces is their rich, vibrant colors. His paintings, as well as the four colorful wooden sculptures – his strange creatures translated into three-dimensions – are a conglomeration of bright geometric shapes, which come together to form abstract figures.

From a distance the bright colors appear childish – splashes of neon orange and garish lime green battling with subtler shades of terracotta and teal. On closer inspection, however, Khoury’s paintings reveal a sophisticated subtlety in their carefully chosen palettes – colors that are often layered delicately on the rough surface of his jute canvasses.

There is a constant battle in the artist’s work between order and chaos. The carefully formed shapes and painstakingly balanced colors come together to create abstract images more complex than their parts.

“When I start to paint I throw colors everywhere,” Khoury says, and indeed on close examination, his paintings reveal wild splatters of multi-hued paint drops beneath and within the studied shapes of the final design.

“Then I rework it,” he continues. “It’s like the contradiction of life. You can see the beauty in very small things and in big chaos. I understand life like this and it’s reflected in my paintings.”

The fascinating thing about Khoury’s work is its multifaceted approach – physically, emotionally and visually. What at first appears to be a human torso made up of abstract shapes may reveal itself to contain small birds nesting among the chaotic patterns, or a human silhouette created by the negative space between two abutting shapes.

The static blocks of color mean that the figures do not exhibit much movement, however, the complex composition ensures that the eye is drawn around the painting along the lines within the figures themselves, taking the viewer on a visual journey.

Khoury’s installation stands out immediately from his other work by virtue of its lack of color. Made up of 23 black wooden figures in various sizes and shapes, it exemplifies his penchant for creating hybrid creatures, like a mad scientist experimentally splicing unrelated animals together.

Glancing at the white wall, against which his creations hang in stark contrast, the viewer is faced with a diverse collection of humanoid shapes. Some have antennae, others mandibles, triangular heads or pincers instead of hands.

The black wooden sculptures are reminiscent of tribal art, conjuring images of totem poles and ebony African sculptures. Like his figures, however, Khoury’s works contain elements from a wide range of sources.

“People always liken my work to African art,” he says. “But for me, it’s not just African, but from all cultures ... If you look for a long time you can see that maybe it’s Aztec, or it’s Inca, or it’s from the cave of Lascaux. All these civilizations are in my paintings.”