Shrouded in solitude, misery and poverty, Lebanese artist Farid Aouad was never fully appreciated as an artist during his lifetime, both in his native country and his later adopted residence, France. It was not until it became clear that his ability to impart a rare sense of artistic boldness to his work surfaced after his death that the true genius of his work has been brought to light.
Born in South Lebanon in the village of Meydan, it was Aouad's move to Beirut with his family at the age of ten that was to spark his fascination in street and café culture. Attracted by and in some ways emotionally attached to the Place des Martyrs in the centre of Beirut, he showed a strong affinity to drawing and painting and dedicated himself fully to art when he enrolled at ALBA (Lebanese Fine Arts Academy) from 1943 until 1947. During those years money was scarce and Aouad was thus forced to draw on paper given out for free in the academy pushing him to focus on drawing, which in later years was to be a characteristic of his oeuvre.
Awarded a grant to study in Paris at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in 1948, it was Aouad's exposure to many artists and movements, as well as the ability to finally paint given his access to the right material, that captured his imagination. Particularly inspired by the Fauvists, he worked in the studios of Othon Friesz and André Lhote during this time up until 1951. Although he thought that he was emotionally very attached to Lebanon, his return following his studies in France unsettled him and Aouad became quite depressed and lonely, a sentiment that continued to emanate from his works up until his death.
Returning to Paris indefinitely from 1959 onwards, Aouad was preoccupied with capturing and depicting his urban landscape. He dedicated himself to immortalising the City of Lights and its legendary cafés, bars, bistros and the magical and mythical realm of the Métro.
Homo Flux from the early 1970s is a seminal example from the artist's oeuvre that encapsulates Aouad's ability to capture and describe the emotion and sensations of his surroundings with the characters that peopled them. The largest canvas by the artist to ever come to auction, it depicts a group of an undefined number of men and women standing at a bar. Expressing an overriding sense of solitude, this scene of lonely strangers at the bar is the artist's way to convey his own feeling of loneliness. Tormented by his memories of Beirut, his inability to be integrated into Parisian society and his extreme poverty, Aouad was in some ways a hermit, having never married and spent time locked up in his studio far away from socialising. The painting of these crowds is two-fold; firstly to express his own solitude while attempting to be social and secondly to stay warm from the harsh French winters as these cafés and bars would offer him refuge from his own poverty.
Although Homo Flux shows a French social scene, upon closer view, one realises that in fact the characters are far than social. Congregated together the figures remain solitary barely establishing contact with each other, a metaphor for Aouad's own sentiments. With accentuated brushstrokes that seem hurried and varied in some areas of the composition, overlapping layers of colour as if rubbed away then re painted, Aouad abandons any sense of realism to deconstruct the scene. What results is a feeling of constant flux and movement, a mixture of emotions that range from happiness to anxiety and the characters appear to be flowing shapes that hover above the undefined ground. In this way, Aouad is not seeking to paint a portrait or a simple bar scene, it was his intention to capture the emotions and sensations that he felt while sitting at the bar, exporting the mood onto the viewer to transmit his message.
Although Aouad studied under Lhote and Friesz who were champions of contemporary abstraction, it is more appropriate to highlight the influence of Intimist painter Pierre Bonnard on Aouad's work. Much like Bonnard, Aouad used the Impressionist broken-colour technique of capturing the light and atmosphere of a fleeting moment. But unlike the Impressionists, who derived their colours from precise observation of the visual world, Bonnard and consequently Aouad would exaggerate and distort natural colour to express mood.
In Evening Out of Doors from 1913, Bonnard too captures the scene of a group of people. Although much more jovial in nature, his flowing and undefined brushstrokes clearly show Bonnard's influence on Aouad's oeuvre. In Homo Flux Aouad equally adopts a hazy and blurry use of flat brushstrokes and colour, using the brightness of the neon lights at the top of the composition and their reflection at the bottom to create an expanded spatial environment. Much like Bonnard's work, Aouad achieves a sort of dream-like ambiance creating a floating sensation that goes beyond traditional perspectives of space.
In this sense Aouad, developing Bonnard's style illustrates the metamorphosis of his subjects, their thinking, their feelings and sentiments as an extension of his own onto the canvas. Everything thus seems to surge and drift into each other, creating a relationship that is in constant transition.
Aouad's colour palette in Homo Flux appears to be bright and cheerful, but upon close inspection the viewer realises that his use of rich red, yellow and blue tones instigates a feeling of unease and melancholia. Very much a pessimist who was tormented daily by his memories, Aouad intended to express his anguish and disbelief in Modernity and Modern life. He believed that Modern life erased one's personality, leaving them further and further into solitude and loneliness. For this reason, in most of his later works and particularly in Homo Flux each of his characters features are undefined, devoid of facial traits and expressions with their backs turned to the viewers. The faces are denoted by a singular line and dot for the eyes, even the definition of their figures and clothes are ambiguous in nature. By using his own sense of abstraction, Farid Aouad thus captures this moment in time while powerfully evoking the eternal anguish of waiting, the fear of the unknown and the alienation in contemporary society. Homo Flux in its impressive scale is thus one of the most spectacular pieces by the artist making it a definitive collector's piece.