On a whim, I find it absolutely necessary to share with you the art of one of my favorite artists, David Harouni. I find his paintings to be emotionally explosive and something I can easily identify with.
Born in 1962, Harouni migrated from Iran during the 1978 Revolution. He began his love of figurative painting with the Art Students League of New York before making his way to the French Quarter. From his small but impressively decorated gallery at 500 Royal Street, Harouni has been a pillar of the New Orleans art scene for the past 20 some odd years. Known for his texture and depth, Harouni’s trademark images are of the figure of a man that some say is representative of Harouni himself while others say it represents the every man. Harouni has been known to say that it simply represents ‘the self.’
In his earliest works, the figure is most often rendered with a crown and an unexplained slash of red across the bottom lip. All of his works are untitled. In some, the figures are clearly defined and in some they are blurry, as if beckoning for closer inspection from behind a fog. While some may see his figures as repetitive, I find that it is the architecture of each piece that allows it to stand individually, one from another.
The images are created by a technique of painting the image then scraping the paint off, adding to the painting and scraping it again. It’s a time consuming and laborious work of love. I find this technique similar to the way a person goes through life – building an image of yourself and then shedding away what isn’t needed, then recreating your self-image and again letting go those aspects found unhelpful. However, these layers make an impact on the foundation and over time build up to the tell the story of who you have become at any given time. So too with the painting, it is the layers that add color and texture to the whole.
I first discovered David Harouni’s art during a last minute trip to New Orleans many moons ago. I visited his gallery every day while we were there, overwhelmed and enthralled with the beauty and choices there. Until, on the last day, I settled on the story that spoke most strongly to me. I doubt Harouni remembers me, one of many faces filled with awe and contemplation. During one of my visits, as he was tending to one of his creations, Harouni shared with me that he often reaches a state where his body answers the impulse without thinking about what he’s doing. It does seem evident to me, in the loose brushwork, the explosions of color, and the depth of texture that Harouni does not set out with an inspiration in mind to create something specific. Instead, it would seem he loses himself in a conversation with his art, listening to its story as he negotiates the medium, ultimately allowing the figure to define itself for him.
Harouni is not chained by a method of creation either, rather he is inextricably linked to the need to create. His repertoire includes mixed media, etchings, bronze sculptures and other mediums. His art ranges from the size of ‘fits snuggly on the wall in a regular home’ to an installation of a trio of identical 16 foot tall figures on Veteran’s Memorial Boulevard in New Orleans. These rectangular monoliths are surmounted by 5-foot, 900-pound bronze heads staring off at nothing and everything. One of his artworks even graces the album cover of the band HIM and inspired their song “Venus Doom.”
I hope this brief introduction to David Harouni and his art will inspire you to take a closer look. You can find more of his arresting creations at www.harouni.com or you can even follow him on his FaceBook account.