Samir Kansoe: A Romantic Plays With Paint

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Kansoe feels very much removed from the wider art scene, which is focused on the contemporary. (Photo: Dar Al-Mussawir)

By: Rebecca Whiting

Published Monday, November 19, 2012

The shadowy figures of Samir Kansoe’s paintings fill the gallery with movement. He holds forms in the point before abstraction, arresting them in motion, silhouetted against white backdrops or earthy hues. The dark tones of the Lebanese artist’s palette are instantly striking, but the melancholy colors depict lively and compelling figures and the effect is of wistful romance.

Using acrylic on paper, Kansoe paints what he sees as the spectacles, the dances, and the costumes of everyday life.

Kansoe was born in a small village near Nabatieh in South Lebanon. As a child in the 1960s, he attended a convent school in Nabatieh, the scenes of which hugely influenced his art. “Your childhood defines your ideas,” he muses, “as can your environment.” He explains that the nuns’ habits, what he refers to as their “costumes,” were the inspiration behind his palette as a painter. The way their garments moved as they went about their daily tasks kindled his desire to capture “their dance, their performance.”

Kansoe went on to become a French teacher at a school in Saida, all the while honing his skills as a painter. As a younger artist he worked primarily with India ink, perfecting the use of monochrome to express varied emotions and movement. In more recent black and white pieces made in acrylic, he creates the impression of extraordinary detail with a single controlled brushstroke, the lacy pleats of a swirling skirt or garments whipped by the wind.

As is evident in the bold and vivid characters and shapes he depicts in those dark shades, Kansoe loves the dramatic and the theatrical, citing The Sound of Music several times when he refers to the nuns of his childhood. The paintings in his exhibition cover an array of subject matter, from figures clad in Victorian garb parading with parasols, to silhouettes of crucifixes atop a hill, bucolic landscapes, and male nudes depicted in a splash of color.

Painting from his home in Saida, sometimes even in his kitchen, Kansoe feels very much removed from the wider art scene, which is focused on the contemporary. The Lebanon we see through his eyes, centered around the South, is a land of enormous cultural diversity, of intensity, and of romance.

The mix of influences that so mark Lebanon’s history is recognized in Kansoe’s work, as he addresses through a more traditional art form aspects of the country’s culture that are rarely depicted with passion. You see in his works a reminiscence of a Lebanon of the past that is perhaps overshadowed for many by more recent and destructive history.

One piece capturing two figures on a hillside with scarves catching the wind raised above their heads is a scene from his childhood. It is a joyful scene, but with its dark tones it breathes a little melancholic. Kansoe insists that the colors just represent the light before dawn as he remembers it, playing on the hills before school.

He describes himself as above all a romantic playing with paint. “My works are not a message,” he says, “They are just views.”

Samir Kansoe’s exhibition is on view at Dar al-Mussawir in Hamra until December 1, 2012.


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