An exhibition of recent paintings by Lebanese artist Hanibal Srouji – hauntingly colorful abstract works that are the artist’s visceral response to the horrific brutalities he has encountered in his life, including a bloody civil war in Lebanon and the attack on the World Trade Center – is now being shown at the June Kelly Gallery. The paintings will remain on view through November 15.
Entitled Cages, Srouji’s canvases manifest the violence that he saw in Beirut as a child and went through vicariously at the World Trade Center, where he had worked at the Triangle Art Workshop. He often marks his paintings with fire, sometimes burning a hole in the canvas and surrounding it with pink or light blue flower petals. The flowers, he says, are a celebration of freedom, their fragile petals symbolizing the delicate nature of our lives, but also the beauty we occasionally encounter.
His canvases are square, about 28 inches on a side, and are typically arranged as horizontal diptychs, in changeable combinations. In some presentations, a canvas may be turned on its side or upside down.
In this exhibition, the works relate primarily to pain and suffering inflicted by violence, as exemplified by the World Trade Center attack. In one painting, a tower stands with its lower half of red and white stripes, its top half afire.
In another, a black tower is on the right, strong but vulnerable. In yet a third, there is an orange column on the right, apparently sturdy, but with flames bursting from its middle floors.
Srouji was born in Beirut in 1957 to a family with Christian, French and Arab roots. They all fled the civil war in 1976 and landed in Montreal, where he went to college. In 1989, he moved to Paris and has an apartment and a studio there. With glimmers of hope rising in Lebanon and violence subsiding, he has recently returned to Beirut and is living there, as well as in Paris. He is also teaching at the Lebanese American University.
He has also taught at Concordia University in Montreal, La Sorbonne in Paris, the University of Maryland and Illinois State University in Normal.
Srouji earned a BFA and an MFA from Concordia University, as well as a National Degree of Fine Arts from École des Beaux Arts de Nîmes, France. His work has been shown internationally in Paris, Basel, Tokyo, Montreal, Beirut, Nîmes and New York.
He is represented in many public and private collections, including Ville de Gentilly, France; Audi Bank Art Collection, Paris; Baie-Saint-Paul Contemporary Art Museum, Quebec, Canada; Alcan Art Collection, Montreal; Tetouan National Bank, Morocco, and the Asseleh Foundation, Algiers.