THE HIDDEN TREASURE : about ALI HASSOUN

and his Crossover exhibition

at Studio Guastalla,  Milano, February 2017

ALI HASSOUN, Coca Cola omaggio a Schifano, 2016 acquarello su carta, 90 x 70 cm Courtesy of the artist and Studio Guastalla

ALI HASSOUN, Coca Cola omaggio a Schifano, 2016, watercolor on paper, 90 x 70 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Studio Guastalla

My country is considered the cradle of the arts. It was not common sense that such a rich humus had been softened and nourished by vagrants stumbling on a long boot lapped by the waves, coming from Mediterranean countries and others far away. Most of the artifacts, from the coast to the mountains, are hidden jewels chopped and washed out by lack of care. Too modest, nameless and without date. Nobody knows how they reached their almost invisible place. Waves of time. In my northern Italian village, a dark wooden figure no taller than a vertical hand has a permanent residence in a small niche of the church, next to the tabernacle, hidden by a little door. Fake marble, painted by artists who are not in the books, covers the inside surfaces of the church and the columns. I know one of the artists: my grandfather Oreste at age 12. The ancient sculpture still emanates the aura of Queen Theodolinda who – so goes the story – gave it as a present to the village. She died in the year 628 of our era. Local children of my generation dreamed about her.

Strangely, in western culture, no authors’ names imply that motherless art doesn’t count, only good for anthropology. Thanks for classifying. As if images needed words to complete them and give them meaning. The printed, verbal universe grew separate from real things, and authority made it into flying balloon. Luckily for us, Roland Barthes walks on our cultural ruins like Jesus dragging the cross: he brings a big panel showing what we have done by binding history with the ropes of time: a modern divinity, prisoner of words. All the mystery, gone. “History is repressive, History forbids us to be out of time. Of the past we tolerate only the ruin, the monument, kitsch, what is amusing: we reduce this past to no more than its signature.” We have a forest of severed heads on pikes in our idealistic, post medieval history, and fingers writing in punta di penna (the pen’s point) ‘truths’ as sharp as razors. But a new world has already started.

ALI HASSOUN, Icons, 2004, olio su tela, 120 x 120 cm Courtesy of the artist and Studio Guastalla, Milano

ALI HASSOUN, Icons, 2004, oil on canvas, 120 x 120 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Studio Guastalla, Milano

We are still the boot in the water that does not kick away refugees risking their lives by crossing il mare nostro, our sea, everybody’s water. Once more, we (most of us) are people of a hospitable land: not a written rule on historical papers, it’s a sacred corner of our soul sheltered by modern and ancient stories. Se we welcome

ALI HASSOUN from Lebanon, PAINTER

ALI HASSOUN, Michelangelo according to Tano according to Ali. 2016, watercolor on paper, 90 x 70 Courtesy of the artist and Studio Guastalla, Milano

ALI HASSOUN, Michelangelo according to Tano according to Ali. 2016, watercolor on paper, 90 x 70
Courtesy of the artist and Studio Guastalla, Milano

ALI HASSOUN, Esso omaggio a Schifano 2, 2016, oil on canvas, 90 x 110 cm Courtesy of the artist and Studio Guastalla, Milano

ALI HASSOUN, Esso omaggio a Schifano 2, 2016, oil on canvas, 90 x 110 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Studio Guastalla, Milano

I want him in this blog because his art is not Italian, not western at all. He dipped his soul into the best springs of Arabic Muslim literature and philosophy. Al-Jahiz, one of the few practicing the art of prose between the eight and the ninth century in Iran, and one of the pearls of Sufi wisdom, sits on a special chair in Ali Hassoun’s mind, opening a space of independent thinking inside a very ancient and refined tradition. Al-Jahiz was born in Basra in 774, only 146 years after queen Theodolinda’s death. Younger or older? Pascal couldn’t tell.

“Irony was born from symbiosis between doubt and certainty,” wrote al-Jahiz,
which made Hassoun’s paintings a garden of questions, in a smiling style.

ALI HASSOUN, Electric Pollock, 2015, oil on canvas, 90 x 70cm Courtesy of the artist and Studio Guastalla, Milano

ALI HASSOUN, Electric Pollock, 2015, oil on canvas, 90 x 70cm
Courtesy of the artist and Studio Guastalla, Milano

ALI HASSOUN, Davide e Golia, 2015, watercolor on paper, 90 x 70 Courtesy of the artist and Studio Guastalla, Milano

ALI HASSOUN, Davide e Golia, 2015, watercolor on paper, 90 x 70
Courtesy of the artist and Studio Guastalla, Milano

I’m trying to bring back a vision from the lower to the higher space: in a metaphysical rather than religious way. Maybe the Westerners lost such vision, as all of us, drunk as we were with all the achievements of this civilization. Yet civilization needs to be fed, and not only by technology and consumerism (that’s why I refer so often to Andy Warhol). Thinking must become complex again, we need philosophers, thinkers able to go beyond the immediate instant, looking afar. We need a collective thinking wondering about this civilization. (ALI HASSOUN in an interview with Silvia Guastalla)

Each painting is a story, entirely contained in the surface, or can we call it a page?
David and Goliath have the faces of Basquiat holding Andy Warhol’s head; they repeat the fiction already created by Caravaggio putting his own head, severed, in one of his assistants’ hands. In Hassoun’s watercolor the two artists belong to the painted landscape around them, Andy’s eternal flowers fading, after so much reproduction. Exhausted. Their faces, their names, their images extend into each other like Thelonious Monk’s melodic twists. The oddest thing is a sense of equal participation of sounds, and images, in the same distortion.

ALI HASSOUN, Campbell Soup n.1, 2013, oil on canvas, 42 x 42 cm Courtesy of the artist and Studio Guastalla, Milano

ALI HASSOUN, Campbell Soup n.1, 2013, oil on canvas, 42 x 42 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Studio Guastalla, Milano

ALI HASSOUN, Campbell Soup n.2, 2013, oil on canvas, 42 x 42 cm Courtesy of the artist and Studio Guastalla, Milano

ALI HASSOUN, Campbell Soup n.2, 2013, oil on canvas, 42 x 42 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Studio Guastalla, Milano

ALI HASSOUN, Omaggio a Capogrossi, 2015, oil on canvas, 72 x 88 cm Courtesy of the artist and Studio Guastalla, Milano

ALI HASSOUN, Omaggio a Capogrossi, 2015, oil on canvas, 72 x 88 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Studio Guastalla, Milano

ALI HASSOUN, Surface 4, 2013, oil on canvas, 42 x 42 cm Courtesy of the artist and Studio Guastalla, Milano

ALI HASSOUN, Surface 4, 2013, oil on canvas, 42 x 42 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Studio Guastalla, Milano

ALI HASSOUN, Chiuso, 2016, oil on canvas, 30 x 30 cm Courtesy of the artist and Studio Guastalla, Milano

ALI HASSOUN, Chiuso, 2016, oil on canvas, 30 x 30 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Studio Guastalla, Milano

The beauty of these paintings is the visual journey they offer, by Vespa! to liberate the art images’ landscape from re-production. The scenes are made in front of us, as if in real time, mostly by African women mixing colors, stirring food, refilling their Vespa with gas, so much to do! Happy when the baby is asleep. Hassoun stops their fingers on the painting they are making for him with him, who cares? He is them we are him and viewers at the same time, he is a viewer as well, taken by the feminine splendor of bodies and dresses reflecting all the mysteries that art preserves for us. There is no why. The internet icons as good as Pollock, Schifano or Capogrossi. Signs are everywhere, objects showing themselves, through their appearance making us sure we are not seeing the whole story, mystery is still there, at the bottom of us, and we don’t know where. That’s not History. It’s living art giving us more life to share, and a hidden treasure.

I don’t know much about Sufism, but I am a reader. This fragment from The Black Book by Orham Pamuk took my western mind away from pikes and razors. The Hurufism’s art of reading us, in the world.

God’s essential attribute was a “hidden treasure” (a kenz-i mahfi), a mystery. The question was to find a way to get to it. The question was to realize that the mystery was reflected in everything, every object, every person. The world was an ocean of clues, every one of its drops had the salt taste that led to the mystery behind it.”

ALI HASSOUN, Just for one day, 2016, oil on canvas, 30 x 30 cm Courtesy of the artist and Studio Guastalla, Milano

ALI HASSOUN, Just for one day, 2016, oil on canvas, 30 x 30 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Studio Guastalla, Milano

HUMAN COLORS

Painter MATSUMI KANEMITSU, nickname MIKE

by Rosanna Albertini

Early 1950s in New York. It seems that Jackson Pollock started to call him Mike. Kanemitsu was one of the artists going to the Greenwich Village Cedar Bar as Pollock did, and Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, de Kooning, Phillip Guston, Joan Mitchell, Gregory Corso, Jack Kerouak, Frank O’Hara, Lee Krasner. Women, I read, were treated like cows. “In 1956 his work was included in a Whitney Annual, and in 1962 Kanemitsu was one of the 14 Americans at the Museum of Modern Art. And yet, his name remains largely absent from most histories of the New York art world in the fifties.” (John Yau)

Please read the beautiful story written by John Yau for The Brooklyn Rail, May 16th, 2008: “Kanemitsu in California during the 1960s and 1970s.”

Why his name disappeared from the New York scene remains a page of unanswered questions. Maybe Mike was tired of New York. Or he was more Japanese than American: although born in Utah in 1922, he grew up near Hiroshima from the age of three. After coming back to the U.S. in 1940 he was drafted in the army (442nd infantry) and had his first one man show on the army. Had he stayed in Japan he would have been drafted in the Japanese army. The place, in time of war, becomes a demanding home. For a double citizen, the war is a splitting knife. Los Angeles had a bigger sky, just in front of Japan. Maybe a less vertical city than New York, a better place for scattered lives keeping two souls, or more, in one body. Mike stepped out of human time in 1992, we can’t ask him.

MATSUMI KANEMITSU, The Hunter, 1960, Oil on canvas Courtesy of Nancy Uyemura

MATSUMI KANEMITSU, The Hunter, 1960  Oil on canvas
Courtesy of Nancy Uyemura

But his work is here, I’ll ask his paintings. They resurfaced from his studio only at the end of last year, 2014, for a double exhibition at The Mistake Room, Los Angeles: Ed Clark—Matsumi Kanemitsu. Exposed to the public for the very first time. Once more, I resist calling them ab-s-tractions as if they were portraits of real fragments, cut out from the space around us, or pulled off the ground like a tree. That’s a pre-neurosciences standpoint. Colors are not qualities of things separate from us.

Artists participate in the sacred dance of nature like everybody else. But their work goes further, disclosing the personal forms of pain, joy, surprise and their difficult conversation. Which could be what happens in The Hunter, Kanemitsu made it in New York in 1960. There were sky and sun and depth somewhere, until a black looking like bitumen floated over a sort of screen bringing flatness, hiding them. Not completely though; figures of light, Proserpina’s hands, push from underneath the edges of blackness. The dark blocks could be bodies (not necessarily human) making love, or uncertain petals of an unknown flower. Time to leave.

MATSUMI KANEMITSU, Hawaii #3, 1973  acrylic on canvas Courtesy of Nancy Uyemura

MATSUMI KANEMITSU, Hawaii #3, 1973  Acrylic on canvas
Courtesy of Nancy Uyemura

Colors are like pain, no one feels pain −and sees colors− in the same way. So it’s a real mystery the way artists go beyond intellectual barriers, the countless ways they manifest the world absorbed and reshaped in playful, unpredictable forms. Hawaii #3,1973, is a fluid dream of bodies with no edges, liquid and impermanent, made with air and water and long necks veined with red, to remind us of blood and all those channels, even in fantasy creatures. In Winterstorm, 1978, we can feel the tension of a mental storm. Yet, I could be completely wrong. It’s hard to be a viewer. Like Ed Clark’s paintings, Mike’s canvasses expel the stiffness of meanings and categories. They are gentle, and free. They are beautiful.

They make me dream of an age (imagined, of course) in which “words and things were not yet separate — different beings adapted to one another, trees connecting to the animals, the earth with the ocean, and humans with everything around them.” (Michel Foucault) In the natural magic, all the figures in the world would relate to each other by similarity: the sky has eyes and the earth has mouths. No need of words.

MATSUMI KANEMITSU, Winterstorm, 1978  acrylic on canvas Courtesy of Nancy Uyemura

MATSUMI KANEMITSU, Winterstorm, 1978  Acrylic on canvas
Courtesy of Nancy Uyemura