“Just like choosing an instrument, I select the material that vibrates to each moment in my life. So unconventional materials appear in my work, such as tar, gold sheets, inks, fabric, marble dust…”
~ Sol Halabi, Argentinian figurative painter
here are only two or three human stories,” wrote Willa Cather in O Pioneers! “And they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.” Only a handful of human stories for all of us to experience and share, and yet it is the job of the artist, the musician, the dancer, the writer to tell those stories anew. To tell it as only she or he uniquely can, as the artist personally experienced it ~ this torment, this yearning, anguish, rapture, regret. And sometimes, for the very creative ones, such emotional tales are so deeply entwined with memory and dreams that they require a whole new set of symbols. And each new texture, thickness, and curve of the line, each tone, color, and move of the arm ~ even stillness and emptiness ~ conveys more than one idea, more than its literal translation.
Sol Halabi’s paintings take such a leap into the wild and unchartered. Into places where none but your own travels can assist you in finding the way. For, in the end, there is only feeling. Yours and hers. And so we dive.
INTERVIEW WITH SOL HALABI
(translation by Byron Cisneros)
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Sol, you describe yourself as a Neo-Romantic, and we certainly see great evidence of that in your saturated colors and lush jungle and water landscapes, as well as in the young women themselves, the way they respond to the world you have created for them.
How important is environment for you and your ability to paint?
Sol Halabi: I was born in the city of Córdoba, Argentina, and although I always lived in the city, my parents’ love for the countryside and the mountains created my sweetest memories of childhood: open spaces, the river, vegetation, sky… As an adult, I keep looking there, for my moments of happiness.
It is important for me, yes, the environment where I live. I like to surround myself with beautiful things, my plants, my cats… I live in the city but close to the river.
Sol Halabi: And yet I cannot imagine life without travel, for that is where I find the energy and vibration. I’ve been lucky enough to have visited beautiful places both in my own country and in other Latin American countries as well as in the USA, Europe, and Asia.
And these appear in my paintings.
Sol Halabi: I evoke these paradises, sometimes merely hinting at them, and many times almost in the abstract. I create spaces from an emotional memory, a psychic reality rather than representing it literally.
Sol Halabi: I enter my paintings as if I am wandering through dreams, recognizing people, places, and things, and yet the situations are of such strangeness and intensity that my mind must work to try to interpret and decode what I see. It is in that process where I find the value of my work: not what you see, but what is not. What generates my work internally, and when the painting is done, what it represents to the viewer.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: What myths and stories fed your childhood imagination?
Sol Halabi: Because my parents instilled in me a love of reading, I read a lot as a small girl. I always felt very attracted by the magical and wonderful, so my favorite books were those where everything and anything could happen. Reading made me feel as if I was throwing myself into the sea, where everything became forgotten. It was as if all that which was real…just disappeared. Oh, such wonderful stories!
I read many books but I name as my favorites those which I remember reading over and over again: The Prince, by Saint Exupery; The Arabian Nights; Jungle Tales, by Horacio Quiroga; and Homer’s Odyssey.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: What goes through your mind as you paint? Whom do you create for? Yourself? Or a specific audience you keep in your mind’s eye?
Sol Halabi: Painting is an amazing act of irrationality and rationality. A language that resolves itself in action, the image is formed on the fabric, the result of decisions, ideas that become transformed.
I never know how to end a painting. I begin to paint as if jumping into the sea, only with the intention and willingness to swim. If I thought of a specific recipient, my mind would lose concentration. Also if I were to think of one viewer, that would take away the opportunity of my work becoming universal.
Sol Halabi: It seems contradictory, but forgetting about a future observer as I paint, forgetting myself even and just seeing what is happening in that material before me, well, that allows me to then reach deep issues that join us. No matter where we are, where we have been, our individual and unique history, what has occurred to us specifically, what we felt, who and how we loved, our anger, sadness, joy…we all know how that feels. Because this is our experience of being human.
I often consider why I paint. I’ve thought about it a lot, actually, and I know I could not stop painting. I think we all seek truths in our lives and we each do this in a way that is meaningful to us, that opens unique possibilities. In my case, my medium is painting.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Can you tell me about the young women in your portraits? How different would your pieces be if these were men you painted? What is your definition of “feminine”?
Sol Halabi: The female figure, the face particularly, fascinates me. I have not found another image that creates so many questions as the female figure. I feel it as a portal to an immeasurable world, profound experiences, intimate issues dealing with basic emotions, with mystery, with the unconscious, with the nightlife.
Sol Halabi: Although my characters come from real women (my models are my sisters or my friends) I do not seek to paint a portrait of someone I know in particular. I seek to evoke a representation of the figure in a naturalistic manner. By leaving aside the story, the particulars to the painting of this woman become a symbol.
To paint a man would express other things. The female figure symbolizes the unconscious, the hidden, beauty, youth, night, water, mystery. The male figure expresses other qualities: strength, rationality, consciousness, light, earth, the practical.
Sol Halabi: As with my books, I like to immerse myself in the world of magic, dreams, emotions, water, and intuition.
Sol Halabi: The woman is for me an archetype of the world of excellence.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: There is such a deep sense of serenity throughout your work, Sol. Your paintings positively hum. If I asked you to describe a perfect day, what would that look like?
Sol Halabi: A perfect day could take place anywhere, at any time. It might be me lying on the grass or sand, looking up at the sky and allowing my arms and legs to become so completely relaxed that they would feel as if they could merge with the ground. Or meeting my friends and all of us dancing like children. Petting my cats and feeling them purr. Sinking my feet in a river of sand or the sea and feeling how water passes through my toes. Things like that make it a perfect day for me. I have them quite often so I feel I have a beautiful life.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: And what is for you the most satisfying thing about painting?
Sol Halabi: Painting makes reality multiply, makes it more complex and intense. It teaches that life is unpredictable.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: And the most challenging?
Sol Halabi: Having enough vision to be able to make the image vibrate with intensity. To not permit me to lose the passion. To paint without fear of losing what you have already. To be relaxed enough to let things flow yet attentive enough to know what stays or what does not.
When I paint, I do not start with a sketch. I put everything I can think of directly onto the canvas all at once, so the work is formed from multiple decisions and yet can be experienced as one cohesive unit. As a conversation, the work is having with itself and the audience. Not something haphazard, but pulling together everything meaningful to the idea ~ from stains to shapes, colors, tone, and finally composing one single beautiful melody.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Can you tell me an installation you have done that you found especially satisfying?
Sol Halabi: I performed in 2006 at the Contemporary Art Center in the city of Cordoba in a solo exhibition, an installation without a name. It was a life-size sculpture of a woman made of plaster, and a chair wrapped in grass beside her.
Sol Halabi: It happened in that year that a friend died in tragic circumstances. I would hurt and try not to think about it. Then, while working, I was overcome by the desire to create a figure with her eyes closed, cocooned in white, an armchair close to her, lined in natural grass. In the month-long exhibition, I saw how the grass was drying. When all the grass had died, new grass appeared amid the old and dead. Seeing that, an immutable scene, with nature dying and coming alive again beside her, led me to understand how something as painful as my friend’s departure, though incomprehensible, is part of life and that I had to let her go. Life is the greatest teacher.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: What is your favorite medium to work in? What materials best lend themselves to the feelings you wish to evoke?
Sol Halabi: Definitely my preferred medium is painting. Painting gives me everything, every facet, energy in its canvas, its time, its vibration. Painting is immediate.
Sol Halabi: The practice itself reminds me of the sand on the seashore: you walk and you run and when you look back you see the traces of the movement of that trip. The canvas feels that way also for me: a sensitive recording of a large, complex, and invisible movement which leaves a visible mark. That is painting.
With respect to materials, I envisioned a five-year-old girl with a deep call to music who had to choose an instrument to learn. She was playing all the instruments: piano, flute, guitar, drums. I saw her in a state of rapture, listening to the sounds of each instrument until she got to the piano and did not want to be taken out of there. I could see the happiness on her face. I thought: Yes, this instrument resonates with her inner music. It is the principle of resonance in physics.
I think and feel the same about the elements in a painting. Each day of our lives has internal music.
Just like choosing an instrument, I select the material that vibrates to each moment in my life. So unconventional materials appear in my work, such as tar, gold sheets, inks, fabric, marble dust. Many times I cannot find in the conventional mediums what is resonating in me and so I must look elsewhere.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Where do you wish to take your work next, Sol?
Sol Halabi: It is time for another trip to nourish and carry me into new things. I am about to embark upon a journey to Southeast Asia. It is time.
|Sol Halabi was born in 1977 in Córdoba, Argentina, where she lives and works. She graduated in the School of Fine Arts “Figueroa Alcorta” and in the National University of Córdoba. Sol Halabi has been recognized as an outstanding artist of her generation; she has received painting prizes and was awarded the “University Award” in 2003 and has been distinguished as one of “Top 10 Outstanding Young People of Argentina” in 2011.
She has exhibited her works individually and collectively on several occasions in America, Germany, Panama, and Argentina. Her works have participated in international fairs, such as ArtMiami, SOFA Chicago, SOFA New York in America, and ArteBA in Argentina.
To view more of her work and contact the artist, please visit her website.
Translation for this interview provided by Byron Cisneros, currently residing in Florida and formerly of Ecuador. Look for Mr. Cisneros’ to make an appearance in Combustus again next week as he translates my interview with allegorical figurative painter, Edgar Noe Mendoza Mancillas of Spain.