Cell Division: An Aesthetic View

by Samia A. Halaby

February 1, 1995

I was born in Jerusalem in Palestine in 1936. Losing my country remained painful throughout my life and still does. The attack on Palestine continues and worsens. This is why a tragedy that started over a century ago continues to be painful for Palestinians. Dealing with the reality of Palestine and the pain it inflicts has shaped my sense of what is important.

Pictures have always fascinated me deeply. I spent hours in reverie looking at the little oil paintings my father brought to our home in Yafa before my coming to awareness of the Zionist and imperialist attack on our lives and our culture. During those early years, visual things held my attention deeply and I did not question its effects on my consciousness. Eventually I became a painter. I took that path because my mother encouraged me to study what she had seen over time interested me. My father did not interfere with my education probably because in his sphere of reference, it was more important to guide and influence the education of my two older brothers. That was good for me; it guaranteed a level of freedom. I worked to pay for my education and that expanded the area of freedom fortune had provided.

There have been times when paintings possessed me and times when I remember making them with the relaxed ease of a sunny afternoon. Whenever I found myself bored with them I tried to find new directions. There were times of confusion when my friends would fear coming to my house because at such times I would besiege them with requests for criticism.

Today, flat two dimensional pictures are so numerous, so cheep, and so omnipresent that we forget that only seventy years ago they were rare expensive commodities. I think more pictures were made during the past century than in all previous centuries. We use them for a variety of functions and most of them serve our needs by aiding the production of life's necessities. Pictures are a useful magnificent language.

I try to explore the language of pictures. I do not believe that contemporary symbolist and surrealist tendencies will advance the art of picturing. I think they are an artistic dead end. But they are fashionable and my abstract paintings are very unfashionable now. I know! But, I think that it is in the area of abstraction, the concrete imitation of motion in reality, that new ideas will grow.

In computers I found a medium that caused new developments in my painting. To use this medium for what it can best do and not for imitating older media meant learning to program. I did. Afterward, I wrote programs which produce kinetic paintings with sound. I did this first on the Amiga. I have written a program which allows me to perform paintings live while jamming with musicians.

The computer brought an intellectual cell-division into my thinking on painting. By the end of 1999, all that is gestural and textural had gone into my oil and acrylic paintings while the hard geometry that used to be in my static paintings has migrated to my programmed kinetic paintings.

Throughout my years of painting, the picture plane and organizing within it have been uppermost in my thoughts. After 2000 I explored paintings without a rectangle or a stretcher. They were paintings free of the picture plane; they were put together by stitching pieces of painted and cut pieces of canvas and sometimes paper. After joining Ayyam Gallery, I returned to painting on canvas with a new energy. It feels as though these last years of my long career, I am throwing self consciousness to the winds and just painting and painting freely without thoughts of development and direction. I feel like pouring into these final large canvases all the bottled up energy that should have been flowing more freely throughout my life had I found reasonable acceptance in New York galleries.

Copyright, Samia A. Halaby, 1998, All rights reserved. To request permission to reproduce any part of these words or pictures by clicking here.

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