Retour à la ville
signed 'PAUL.G' (lower left)
oil on canvas
3158 x 2712in. (80.2 x 70cm.)
Painted circa 1983
Private Collection, Lebanon (acquired directly from the artist).
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in the 1980s.
The Paul Guiragossian Foundation, Beirut, has confirmed the authenticity of this work. We would like to thank the Paul Guiragossian Foundation for their assistance in researching this painting.
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Lot Essay

'Facts of existence are the main source of my artistic experience. Art for me starts from the 'real'. At the beginning, an artist paints his surroundings, and like a child, the artist would ask many questions, a true devoted artist never stops questioning. The reality of everything is a question in itself. An artist, who has no answer, stops at limited borders, he will not move forward, does not evolve. I was born in a very modest place, therefore, I paint children, mothers, families, I paint misery, birth, death, and I paint the noise. I paint the tight-knotted groups that are lost, scarred, expelled, not knowing where is their next destination, I paint the neighborhoods which witnessed war, and hunger. Fear, genocide, siege, illness and death, from all of these ingredients I explode and I paint.'
Paul Guiragossian in K. Safieh, 'Entretien avec un artiste arabe, Paul Guiragossian', in La vie de l'art plastique, no. 15, April-June 1984.

A beautiful example of the acclaimed Lebanese modernist Paul Guiragossian’s later works, the present work reveals the artist’s unequalled mastery of colour and line with radiant primary colours of reds, yellows, greens and blues. Its rich figurative references are complemented with its gestural thick application of effervescent colours, showcasing the artist’s subtle appreciation for abstraction, appealing to every facet of the human condition.

The patches of thick impasto embody a sculptural quality, with a contrast in line and form that allows the figures to pop out of the canvas, showcasing an element of playfulness and summer-like quality. Since the late 1970s onwards, the artist liberated himself from producing the discernible human figure, and instead, focused on thick patches of brush strokes producing dense layering of colour in vertical figures such as the present work. It was also during this period that the artist expanded to incorporate vibrant and luminous colours intrinsic to the Mediterranean land, sea and sun. This deep appreciation for the beauty of nature is captivated through the vibrant saturated colour palette. The warm exotic tones, reminiscent of the Fauves artists, and the uniform surfaces of colour known as cloisonné found in Paul Gauguin and Émile Bernard's paintings seem to have had a profound impact on Guiragossian's style, particularly in his early works. In as much as elements of faces, legs and feet are detailed throughout the composition, the work is utterly abstract, our sense of figuration notated through its painterly depth is blurred, the subtle contrasts in form in the foreground juxtaposed against the masses huddled together.

Guiragossian painted this work in the mid-1980's, at a time when his country in Lebanon was undergoing the last years of a raging civil war. Bearing this in mind, the sentiment of an optimistic glow evoked from the work is met with a state of utter bereavement, of the state of solitude felt within the community as a result of the war. Captivating a shared sense of human reality, the figures coalesce and frolic together, sharing a sense of communal struggle amidst a civil war in the hopes for unity and love.

Fleeing the Arab-Israeli conflict following the Nakba, Guiragossian emigrated alongside his family to Lebanon. With access to new and interesting elements of inspiration to work off of, such as Christian Iconography prevalent in the Byzantine history of Lebanon in the late 1950s, Guiragossian was granted a scholarship and travelled to Florence and Paris to pursue his studies in painting. He soon discarded the academicism of his peers and fought for abstraction, liberating himself from the confines of the discernible human figure. Experiencing exile since a very tender age, his background undoubtedly highly influenced his body of work as he responded, through art, to the region’s historical context, while engaging with the postmodern notions of identity and the Other.

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