Beneath the Paint: Body Building Paintings

The body of a body builder is one which can provoke many reactions: we are in awe;  we marvel at the dedication and decision it takes to achieve it;  we think of beauty, of desire, of narcissism;  we wonder at the obsession with a certain body type and ideal – we might even question or disprove of the body type and the motives behind wanting to look that way.

However, no matter what other thoughts might come to mind, the bodybuilder’s body is a living testament, indicating an intense drive, determination and focus. Through diet, sleep, life choices and regulated work outs, the bodybuilder dedicates his or her life to achieving the ultimate goal, the perfection of their body.

I paint the bodybuilding form because of what it represents to me: dedication, commitment, and the wondrous ability of the human being to change and enhance our appearance.

Bodybuilding presented to me the ultimate ideal of what I always wanted. Growing up, I was the baby of the family: not only was I the youngest, I was a thin, frail boy. I was very unhappy with my appearance, and did not like the softer look I had. I was almost ashamed to look in the mirror at my small body; I wanted to raise my body to the level of fitness and health that I saw in bodybuilding. As such, I began to work towards my goal of having the bodybuilder’s body.

The ancient Egyptian pharaohs built temples to the gods, and further adorned the temple walls with iconography, with rich art depicting the gods – all as part of their own deification process, as pharaohs themselves conducted their lives with the belief and desire to become gods in the afterlife.  Like these pharaohs, I began to build my own temple – my body.  Like the pharaohs, I surrounded myself with art work, with representations of the ideal figure. I drew and painted out what I wanted to be like, capturing my ideal figure on canvas. Art allowed me to express my hopes and desires; it was a visual representation of the ideal I had in my mind.

From this process came three acrylic paintings of body builders, now called Blue Night , Red  Night  and White North, respectively. Yet before I renamed them, these paintings went by other titles, titles that were more indicative of my thought process, of the impulse behind the art. I would like to share them with you now, so that you might be able to step into my mind a bit, to step into the process.

Originally, White North was called “The Birth of an Idea”, representing the blank canvas state from which ideas spring. I was unsatisfied with this title, however, as I was also unsure of the state of the painting: was it finished? Was this the final product, or was there more to create with it? It became “The Incomplete Picture” – I could not decide where to take the painting from the white state it was in. Indeed, it remained unsigned for two whole years before I came to the realization that this was the final state – rather than the beginning or birth of an idea, it is the final stage of an idea. It thus became The White North, to indicate the final frontier, the very ends of the earth, the culmination of a journey.

Blue Night was originally titled “The Resurrection”: it represents the body type that I, having shed my former body which I was unhappy with, was able to rise to. It is a celebration of reaching that ideal, of finally being able to achieve happiness and delight in one’s self. This painting represents what hard work can achieve: the ultimate look. The background signifies a perfect summer day, the kind of day where you rejoice in being alive, in being happy and healthy. The vibrant blue is the cloudless blue sky of such a day, a sky with no threat of bad weather – no worries, only celebration.

The red acrylic painting, Red Night, was painted with the same joyful thoughts in mind. It was originally titled “The Reincarnation”: a celebration of rebirth, of lifeblood pulsing, surging through. With the right attitude, you can allow what you dislike in yourself to die – you can find a new body, a new being in which to wake. The longer you work, the longer you do the right things (diet, fitness), the closer you can get to your ideal form or goal, constantly improving, moving forward, leaving what disappoints you far behind in the dust of a former life.

All of these body building paintings were not just a delight in the human body; rather, they were at once my message of hope, of the possibility for change, and my celebration in this fulfillment, in finding an ultimate new state of happiness and self-hood, of finally finding a home for my identity.

Acrylic Paintings : Painting from Memory

My home county, Lebanon, used to be known as the “Switzerland of the Middle East” due to its civility, peace and democracy. This was especially true of the city I grew up in – it was a city of love, understanding and tolerance, where people of different faiths and cultures could peacefully coexist together. Moving about in the happy hustle and bustle of the city, I would encounter people of all sorts of different faiths living, eating, laughing, and enjoying life together in harmony. At this time, differences were a cause for celebration, not violence.

As children, we used to go to the villages and valleys surrounding the city for fun and adventure, as well as serenity. There were endless gardens and valleys stretching out with the abundance of nature for us to play in. I remember waking up at 4:30 in the morning with the other kids to walk for hours in the valley, to reach the orchards and the gardens. We would gather all sorts of fruit – peaches, cherries, pears, grapes – anything that we didn’t have, we would simply wander into the neighbouring gardens to pick, like blackberries and figs. We would spend the whole day picking, and lug home baskets spilling over with fruit. We would arrive home exhausted but entirely happy, rejuvenated by the outdoors. Upon arrival, we’d wash and eat even more fruit, even though our little tummies were full with all the fruit we had stuffed down our throats while picking!

I evoke these happy times in the bright paintings Escape to Affection and Escape to Happiness. However, the time in which they were painted was the complete opposite of this idyllic childhood. Instead, it was a time of great darkness. I had suffered three tremendous blows: the loss of my dear mother, the loss of a great job, and an alarming health scare. I felt completely alone and broken,  as if I was lying shattered on a cold and dark floor after experiencing a long, terrifying free fall. There was no exit, and hope was difficult to find – my thoughts turned morbid, and it seemed that the only escape was death.

But I managed to find another escape: art.  It was painting that helped me escape this period of darkness and that helped me heal – in particular, it was painting images and scenes inspired by my childhood, diving into these happy memories, vividly recalling a time things were easier, brighter, bursting with possibility just as our baskets had burst with fruit. I realized that the happiness of this time could be found once again through painting; art gave me the healing power to collect the pieces, stand up, and move forward to build a better future.

I put my memories to the brush, and translated them into the bright colours, the beaming sun, and the enchanting gardens. These paintings have an air to whimsy to them, particularly in the buildings and shapes; I want the observer to feel, looking at it, as if they are in a wonderful dream from which they almost don’t want to wake up, happily escaping into the colours of memory and imagination.

 

Canadian Landscapes – Vibrant Colours

Since moving to Canada, autumn has become my absolute favourite time of year:  the vibrant colours that abound leave me breathless, and I am often overcome with the beauty of season.  The air is electric with inspiration, ringing out in tones of deep reds, brilliant oranges, and stunning yellows…a chorus of colours.

In Lebanon, fall is completely different. When the season comes, the leaves change to pale yellow (nothing like the depth and shades of yellow here), even beige. It wasn’t until I came to the feast of colour that is the Canadian autumn that I realized how starved for colour the Lebanese autumn was.

It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve watched the seasons come and go: each fall I am still captivated. I will drop anything to go out and wander among the leaves. A few years back, I took a drive from Toronto to Montreal in the height of the season. It was one of those idyllic, perfect days, where every moment seems charged with significance, one of those days where you are acutely aware of the beauty of the world, and you realize, with a start, that you are truly happy in the moment.

The scenery was truly awe-inspiring: I couldn’t get enough! I was drunk on colour, dizzy with the beauty that surrounded me. We pulled over in Kingston, ON, for an hour so that we could truly take it in, and not just through the car window. I took countless photos, over and over, trying to capture the perfection.

It is experiences like this that inspire me to paint works such as Warm Canadian Day. I recall that day with much fondness: painting is a way for me to return to that day, to those feelings of happiness and joy, to the fiesta of autumn. Though I do take pictures, as I mentioned, I cannot paint from photographs. I prefer to draw from memories and mental images: I find the works are then infused with a genuine feeling, tinted and shaded with the authenticity of my own experience.  I find I am more able to make the piece my own.