'I only stop when both colour and light match. I cannot escape from colour, it is my fate and nature - my eyes must have been dazzled forever. The impact between two colours creates light, but whether it be true or false, this "theory" does make me paint'.
(Chafic Abboud, artist's notebook, May 1982)
Born in 1926 in Lebanon, Chafic Abboud left in 1947 at the age of 21 for Paris, the 'city of lights' and one of the cradles of 20th century art, which had attracted a second migration of artists after the Second World War. Abboud discovered there the work of the Nabis painters Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940) and Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947), as well as the two very different techniques and approaches to abstract art explored by both Roger Bissi/gere (1886-1964) and Nicolas de Staël (1914-1955). These were to have a major impact on how Abboud created a style of his own, moving from a poetic and figurative Lebanese art towards a subtle and almost dream-like Parisian abstract art. His works have been showcased worldwide, exhibited side by side with some of the most important names of the Parisian art scene and have had a strong influence on Beirut's cultural and artistic life. Chafic Abboud's paintings are a manifesto for freedom, colour, light and joy, as well as being a permanent bridge between the art scenes of France and Lebanon and that of Lebanon and the Middle East.
Giving the label of 'abstract painter' to Chafic Abboud would seem incorrect because as some of his predecessors, such as Auguste Renoir, Edouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard, he sought to depict light and the essence of it, using organic shapes and unique colours carefully chosen from his palette, prepared by himself from pigments. However, the monochrome planes of colour, the thick impasto and the flecks of pigment, which cover his canvases are reminiscent of Nicolas de Staël's works. The present example L'Amour en noir fleuri is an exquisite example of how Abboud interprets in his own way and innovates the art of these masters. On the one hand, the seemingly flat and almost abstract areas of different colours, which carefully build up the painting's surface recall de Staël's pictorial structure in his compositions, particularly that of 1950 here illustrated. Furthermore, the overall palette, which Abboud uses in the present work, is similar to that employed by de Staël in his series of abstract landscapes painted in 1953-1954. De Staël had just come back from a very fruitful journey in Sicily and those specific works, made up of thickly painted planes of rich colours, overflow with an intense Mediterranean light, very much present in many of Abboud's paintings.
On the other hand, Abboud animates these beautiful flat patches of colour by decorating them with various intrinsically delicate patterns - the blue-green area at the right of the painting is particularly lively with its energetic cross-hatching, heightened by several bright purple touches. In other areas, Abboud opts for mauve and white stripes, such as at the centre left of the composition, or for a white polka-dot design as seen at the centre of the lower edge. Each of these lavish patterns catch the viewers eye, as they contrast with the uniform planes painted with luminous tones of purple, mauve, turquoise, white, red and the black triangle at the left of the painting, hinting to that in de Staël's Composition of 1950. Yet these meticulously executed motifs, forming a patchwork of colourful brushstrokes, which create the effect of almost being embroidered onto the canvas, reflect Abboud's reaction to the Nabis painters' iconic intimistes interiors or landscapes. In the latter, the entire surface of a painting was covered with highly decorative patterns and the figurative elements often blended in with these ornate backgrounds. Edouard Vuillard's Conversation (Le pot de grès) illustrates well the concept of Nabis painting of decorating every inch of the surface and where the figures are barely outlined and appear to be part of the background's designs. The main subject in Vuillard's painting is the pot de grès or the stoneware vase, which contains a large bouquet of flowers, painted with flecks of colours, which seems to spread into his painting's background. Abboud paints his own flowery patterns in L'Amour en noir fleuri, as seen on the right of the composition. Although he follows Vuillard's steps in almost transforming his canvas into a minutely decorated precious textile, Abboud's is more strict in outlining the different motifs making his painting a subtle patchwork of dazzling colours and motifs.
Unlike Vuillard or de Staël, Abboud's paintings do not depict stories or landscapes but nor are they entirely deprived of narrative. He uses hints and extracts the atmosphere of a precise scene in time through light and colours, such as that in L'Amour en noir fleuri. His titles do not aim to confuse the viewer into Abboud's abstract world, but they indicate what he has represented and bridge Abboud's abstract colourful forms with clues drawn from reality which he subtly inserts onto his canvases. His paintings do not tell the story of an event or adventure, but focus on modest everyday-life snapshots, which the artist enjoyed and wanted to remember. When Abboud painted L'Amour en noir fleuri in 1983, he had just gone through several years of experiments with a wide range of techniques, and supports, such as tapestry, sculpture, mixed terracotta, strings, ropes, lithographs, as well as publishing several books and decorating a series of blue ceramic dishes. It seems that Abboud celebrates all these various encounters with new media in the present work, in its composition, texture and designs.
The title L'Amour en noir fleuri is one of Abboud's many poetic phrases, which he chooses to name some of his works, yet its translation 'Blossomed Love in black' draws the viewer's attention to this oxymoron title. The latter is an invitation for the viewer to enter the artist's lyrical world and to not only admire it, but also to feel it and taste it. Nonetheless, this 'abboudian' world is also very intimate and full of memories. The dark tone suggested in this masterpiece's title could refer to the recent tragic events in Abboud's life: his mother's death in 1982 and shortly after, that of the art critic, Roger van Gindertael, with whose encounter back in 1954 had been a turning point in Abboud's artistic career. L'Amour en noir fleuri brings together all these feelings and sensations and shares them with the viewer. Abboud's paintings are to be read as poems, listened to as music, touched as voluptuous textiles, breathed as delicate perfumes and savoured as mouthfuls of memories, some happy others sad. This unique sensuality in Abboud's oeuvre has often been admired, such as Patrick Waldberg who described that, 'for while it is true that each of his paintings appears orchestrated like a sonata or a fugue, it is equally true that it brings to mind a notion of fragrance, so much that his landscapes, his interiors, his still-lives, seemed to me like so many scenes borrowed from what Charles Fourier called "the scented life".' (Patrick Waldberg, Paris, 1981)