Born at the turn of the 20th century in the scenic, Levantine town of Ehden, Saliba Douaihy’s family was very well established in the Northern Lebanese region. Having had a modest upbringing, his first encounter with art came from the churches of his hometown. He had a natural talent for replicating what he saw in front of him or in books at school. Although his father was not very keen on his becoming an artist, he eventually let him pursue an apprenticeship in Beirut under the notable Habib Srour (1860-1938). Douaihy then moved to Paris in 1932 to study at the distinguished École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, taught by Paul-Albert Laurens (1870- 1934) and Louis Roger (1874-1953), as well as by fresco painter Pierre-Henri Ducos (1886-1972), He returned to Lebanon in 1936 after his graduation, where he opened his own studio and became a prominent prolific painter.
By 1945, Douaihy had paved a distinct path for the world of visual arts in the Middle East, yet his style was defined by its descriptiveness and mild additions of minimalism. Seeing as his previous Parisian mentors did not encourage him to experiment with colours very much, he found refuge in the Colour Field movement, which he explored when he moved to New York in 1950. He began experimenting with different styles of painting prior to this refuge, and at the same time he participated in several solo shows and group exhibitions, including the New York International Fair, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the North Carolina Museum of Art and also at the renowned Guggenheim. Meeting several Abstract Expressionists of the time, such as Mark Rothko (1903-1970) and Hans Hofman (1880-1966), Douaihy began developing the epitome of his unique style; fat, minimalistic and bold, monochromatic surfaces, never completely associating himself with the Abstract Expressionists’ movement.
Using light, shadow, and bold Mediterranean colours, he established ‘…handsome abstractions consist(ing) of beautifully composed color planes which, through a subtle play of value intensities, create the illusion of collage. The illusion is further abetted by a torn-edge relationship occurring from shape to shape. Disciplined in the extreme, the work also exudes a sultry, sensuous atmosphere'. Aiming for the transcendence of minimal forms and lines, elements of his early landscape works are still apparent in his now totally abstracted pieces. His love for blues and purples is very clear in his early works as these colours allowed him to broaden the horizons of his practice and ultimately reach the height of these colourful planes.
His style constitutes elements of Kant’s philosophies, those of which Douaihy adhered to, such as reducing all elements to their truest, most basic form. However, he struggled to find a median between what he saw and what he wanted to portray and found it challenging to break free from convention and apply paint in one solid colour on a fat plane. However Josef Albers’ studies and Japanese prints greatly helped him to reach the essence of total fatness in his work, consequently achieving absolute simplification of both colour and form. From the late 1960s until his death in 1994, his definitive source of inspiration for his compositions became the concept of infinite space, harmonising and contrasting, and acute and obtuse angles.
The present work, Connection, dating from 1966, epitomises Douaihy’s unique style, with its breadth of vibrant blue, a reference to the Mediterranean Sea, and its striking red line running from top to bottom on the left half of the piece. The use of these fat colours communicates a sense of two-dimensionality to the paintings, yet the bursts of colours suggest depth. On the bottom of the canvas are several rectangular, boldly-coloured shapes whereas the top of the canvas is painted with green with two contrasting orange lines that almost connect to the striking red line. All these elements abstract in appearance are in fact deeply rooted in the artist’s life and experiences, and translate his emotions and memories through colour and shape.