Painting... that redeeming language
Born in Beirut, in 1972, Annie Kurkdjian lived throughout the painful years of civil war. She had to mourn her massacred childhood, learn to "talk" and eventually "say". Encounter with a Lebanese who became the architect of her own life through painting. (by Molly Mine - AZART, Magazine International de la Peinture Numero 52)
When she was only 12, Annie had to let go of her childhood. Staring at pictures of her father in Beirut newspapers, lying on the ground, his body full of bullets, because his friends betrayed and assassinated him while trying to rob him. Annie recalls these terrible years saying: "I could never describe the blackness. Permanent shortage of electricity and water, we had to run for underground shelters in the dead of night, where we would stay hidden, with the sound of bombs filling our ears. It's the memory of the burnt and torn bodies of our neighbors. It's the irregular years of school and the friends who forsake the country, leaving trails of emptiness behind them.
In this context, it is difficult for a young girl to picture her own life, when torn between what is expected of her and what she wishes to do, an entity among millions of others.
Annie first tried to fit in: she got her masters degree in business administration with high grades to carry on the career of her father. But, she said, "the world of business was smothering me".
At the age of 22, she discovered the art of painting and knew she had found her vocation. "I think it's the sudden absence of my father", she admits "that incited me to work very hard and endeavour to find some sort of language. I needed a kind of pedestal to keep love alive, I acted out of faithfulness. I had to find a language to protect, transform pain, resurrect, not only victims but executioners as well".
Annie Kurkdjian disappointed her family when she turned to arts and acquired new techniques but… "what's tragicomic is that I had graduated, I still wasn't sure what to paint or how", she said in an ironical tone. What choice to make when you're… already 30 ?! Marry her "bourgeois" fiancé and fit in the Lebanese society that she finds "hypocritical"? Facing family pressure, she subscribed to two universities at the same time to study both psychology and theology. Her project scared away her fiancé and worried her family. "They were afraid I would en up in a convent. But, she whispered, "there was a kind of eroticism in me that enabled me to love the Marquis de Sade and Saint Francis of Assisi equally!". The family finally let go and gave her the peace she long needed to (re)build herself: "I studied more and more and found out that, through the little sketches, I was building my own identity, something that resembled me, something amusing".
Painting to write a life.
"So", said Annie with simplicity, "I carried on painting, only this time, I knew what I wanted. Having realized my vocation, I understood that it was time for me to exhibit. In Beirut, then in France too, in order to know whether my language was comprehensible for others".
The word "vocation" is not senseless when it comes from the mouth of an ex-psychology graduate who studied theology as well. Her workshop looks like a holding cell, "a small underground chamber in the poorest district of Beirut", she said. "I have to save money if I want to continue painting. But this poverty suits me well: it gives me a feel of freedom and helps me focus on the essential".
She lives in it like a monk: "I have no couch, and certainly not a bed! Or else I will become lazy - sloth is one of my weaknesses, she smiled. So I trick myself into fighting this weakness and turn it to strength… if possible! Intelligence is educating oneself as one would do with a child".
As a matter of fact, Annie has, just like children, many outlets: "My workshop is called Shitland", she says. I used one of the walls to write my insults: "Shit on Mama", "Shit on Papa", "Shit on Annie", "Shit on God", "Shit on the Moon", “Shit on the Sun“, "Shit on Van Gogh" etc. This is how I unleash my inner aggressiveness. This allows me to remain extremely calm and cheerful, and control my anger".
When we look at Annie's paintings, we are stricken by a humungous generosity of expression, but also by a lot of restraint. Her own story enlightens us: "At first, I was inspired by the drawings of psychotic individuals. During my psychology training, I watched schizophrenic people at work and was fascinated. Their sincerity renders their work utterly respectable. Folly is the wound of the soul, but it can open doors. Speaking of which, I am a devoted admirer of Gilles Deleuze". Obviously, this story reminds of that of the great painter Jean Rustin.
Annie's paintings have recurrent themes. One is stricken by the leitmotiv of the devouring, which could exist in a couple, but it also in the great ogress that is the maternal figure. Another theme would also be that of the self-devouring… or, in other paintings, one can see claws at work, referring to the pain we feel on a daily basis: the gravity of mutilations, like the breast's, or the preconceived diktats of the modern world that impose their standards and bad treatment. However, humor never ceases to exist in Annie's work. It emanates, for instance, from this painting that depicts a skewer of men with tiny genitals!
In fact, Annie's art addresses others. "Today", she admits, "I get my inspiration from everything sincere around me. For art to be a means of communication, probably the sole one, sincerity seems quintessential. Wounds let man know himself better, and this is precisely what interests me. I am very compassionate with those who suffer and I dedicate my work to them". This position contributes to the writing of a life. It is poetry in the etymological sense, which is the property of big artists only, painters, filmmakers and poets alike: "Poets and filmmakers obsess and inspire me much", she says. "In this perspective, I think of Alan Parker, Pasolini, or Agnès Varda. For the poets, it would be Artaud, Apollinaire, the Marquis de Sade. My relationship with Arthur Rimbaud is ancient and intimate. It's a veritable spiritual dialogue.
The series of paintings on devouring you were speaking about come as a reaction to the stanzas of the poem "Hunger" which obsessed me for so many years:
"Under the leaves a wolf is weeping
Beautiful feathers he was spitting
From its meal of gloom
Like him, I chose doom"
I also love to open this kind of dialogue in my works. I may speak of certain things through my paintings, but I know when to cease speaking so that others have their turn to do so".
For this Lebanese artist, it is also of expressing her ill being: "We are oriental in our genes but always seek to imitate the West. Result: queer hysterical phenomena where excessively made-up women wear piercings on their tongues, revealing their skin and accepting sodomy over long years so as not lose their virginity which, alone, lets them find a husband in the future".
Annie reflects her own country, standing on the frontier, living in a no man's land with fluctuating landmarks. Yet she clings to her exigencies as a woman and a painter: the profound sincerity of being oneself.