Renowned for the power of his colours Lebanese artist Elie Kanaan infamously used lines and shapes to bring out colours and light. Having developed his distinctive style in his early twenties, he was particularly inspired by the Fauvists, having studied in Paris where he was able to admire their strong expressive compositions and use of free colours.
Christie's is honoured to offer two different works this season from the Estate of Elie Kanaan. Both of these exceptional pieces offer an in-depth view into the sensibility of his colour template as well as mastery of complex use of lightness and darkness, abstraction and figuration, East and West.
Mixing his experiences in France with his traditional roots in the Levant, Kanaan was able to capture the reality of the outside world beyond its appearances. His works hold an ongoing duality; a dialogue between the softness of his greens, in which we recognise the immaculate beauty of Lebanon and its luscious landscapes, and his use of deep and rich blues, which shed light on the darkness and melancholia that could often fill his heart as a result of the war.
Kanaan's paintings are always a graceful composition of open horizons and organised chaos, leaving his pieces consistently recognisable, yet never repetitive. The experience of paint, becoming almost the subject itself, is tastefully enhanced and blurred into a world where shapes are born from colour.
La Dentellière from the 1980s reflects the period in which Kanaan's work became more obscure and mysterious, most likely due to the Civil War in Lebanon at the time. This delicate melancholia enabled him to produce a wide range of enigmatic pieces of which the present work is a delightful example. Capturing a young embroiderer in a non-descriptive surrounding of varying shades of blue, the feeling of solitude and nostalgia that emanates from the composition evokes the effects of the passage of time and the artist's deep-rooted attempt to conjure up an emotional, rather than physical, state within his compositions. As many continued their lives despite the raging war, Kanaan might have implied that an inevitable sense of solitude was brought about due to events unravelling further in Lebanon.
Equally, Girl in a Field, from the 1980s depicts this sense of loneliness and solitude but in a palette of warm greens and reds that offers a glimmer of hope against the dark blue night that is expressed in La Dentellière and Au Revoir (sold at Christie's Dubai October 2014, price realised: $52,500). Although seemingly naïve in its composition and relatively muted brushstrokes, upon closer inspective the viewer realises that the lady's head is bowed in what appears to be sadness with her back turned towards the viewer. In presenting her in this manner, Kanaan exemplifies further her isolation. What has led her to wander into the field alone, downcast in shame? Kanaan's ambiguity thus gives the viewer two significant realities; the physical reality of the painting and the implied reality of the image, which co-exist exquisitely in an impeccable marriage of unexpected tones.