The Paintings of Chirine Sayegh Make a Mark and Reconfigure the Lebanese Landscape

Nélida Nassar   04.24.2016

Chirine Sayegh is a trained architect and a talented furniture designer. To these unique abilities, she adds a love of painting, in fact, she cannot live without it. A slim young lady with a beautiful full mane of brown hair who hails from Beirut. She has a presence that is both friendly and yet commands respect. Sayegh who studied at the Académie Libanaise des Beaux Arts (ALBA) graduated from the department of Architecture in 2003.

Her work is been displayed for the first time in a solo exhibition at the Academy’s gallery. She prides herself on not being part of “the system” having shielded herself away from the limelight of Beirut’s art scene and focused on working on her latest series of abstract paintings with an almost hermitic obsession. She is an admirer of the impressionists in particular Renoir for his paintings’ fluidity.

An avid hiker, the undiscovered artist adresses in her practice Lebanon’s rock series entitled “Mineral” she explored through her numerous mountain climbing trips. She invariably starts with a very specific landscape without any sketching, she then moves on to her main medium of acrylic paint. Working with a palette knife only, she begins with the actual lay of the rocks, but eventually develops the composition along abstract lines, even while remaining faithful to its essentials. Her configurations are lyrical expressions of the particular qualities of light in the locations she chooses and remembers, atmospherically accurate and evocative of movement and strength. Yet running alongside their representational qualities are complex attributes that bring her paintings alive in coloristic and tactile terms belonging to the art of painting alone.

Her colors, for example, are not taken directly from nature in any slavishly imitative manner. It is highly doubtful that the streaks of purple-violet, the strident cerrulean blue or the fluorescent green and orange hues would have been present in the actual scene from which the artist worked. However, what they do seem to depict accurately is Sayegh’s emotional response to this particular rock formation or cliff range in the Afqa, Batroun, Feytroun, Sannine or Tannourine mountains. And therein lies its true verisimilitude; for like all artists who make a subject wholly their own, Sayegh puts the singular stamp of her style upon the place, transforming it in purely painterly terms.

Some of the tactile qualities in her paintings are layering, adding and erasing acrylic pigments substances, into which she also scores ridges with her palette knife. She thus creates painted terrains as rich and substantial as those in the compositions on a material presence that can make one think of furrowed ridges, reliefs and summits.

Backgrounds are another major feature of Sayegh’s paintings, and here too, there is an intriguing interaction between the materiality of the pigment and the ethereal nature of what it depicts, particularly in her handling of flat and neutral background creating contrast between its flatness and the image three-dimensional reliefs. Her paintings are neither real or hyper-real nor quite imagined either. They mostly attempt to project the landscape’s emotive impact.

Yet Chirine Sayegh is a unique talent, generally taking 2 days to four weeks on each painting, building its surface with acrylic until it is not so much a representation of the Lebanese mountainous landscape magnificently recreated in her own inimitable manner of energetic marks.

Exhibition at the Académie Libanaise des Beaux Arts
Sin el-Fil, Lebanon
April 23 – April 27, 2016