Paintings / When Reading T.S. ELiot  

Sehnaoui's recent work is primarily inspired by the writings of T.S. Eliot. As Eliot's poems articulate the disillusionment of a younger post-World-War-I generation, with the values and conventions-both literary and social-of the Victorian era, Sehnaoui's work articulates and emotes sardonic and elegiac vignettes of modern life; as well as human consciousness and its aridities. Sehnaoui accomplishes this with a complex intelligence, creating a unique language and vocabulary of observation. Sehnaoui's work conveys the same irony as Eliot's writing. As many, she shares the idea that by understanding Eliot's writing, creating under his influence, in addition to responding to her immediate environment and circumstances, one understands and can create work that depicts an understanding of oneself.



Sehnaoui's work, like Eliot's writing, buts classicism against romanticism.

Similair to Eliot, the artist gets rid of personal elaboration and creates work that is based on the most important elemental aspects of the human condition—the spirit. Eliot believed that the artist must be impersonal in the creative exercise of the craft. Qualities of serenity and religious humility became paramount in his work. He accomplished this in moving verse, a transcendental sense of time. Sehnaoui accomplishes the same by creating spare, clean, focused compositions; often made with materials that are patterned, grid like, acerbic and rarefied. Sometimes using archetypal-like markings or text to present the drama and poetry in her work. Within her compositions she uses the imagery of urban life in a context of poetic intensity. As Eliot, the artist develops pronounced views on literary, religious, and social subjects. The starkness and repetitive quality of her work share the Eliot conception of the sterility of modern society in contrast with societies of the past. Similar to Eliot's work, Sehnaoui's work is often meditative, grave, sorrowful, dry, experienced and harsh. Some of the work has a conversational tone of everyday life to enter into the discussion of the deepest subjects. In the works of, "Reading T.S. Eliot II
and III," each booklet that makes up one integral part of a massive grid like whole, invites the viewer to peep within its contents. Within each booklet the viewer finds a curious, precious, space. Within these spaces are images, symbols and archetypes, conveying or inciting thoughts and feelings about the human condition.

Throughout the artist's artistic journeys she has responded creatively to her environments, particularly that in her war-torn homeland, Lebanon. Some of her imagery is influenced by both the horrors and injustices of war and also the inheritable rights and spirits of man to be both good and bad and how the prevailing majority of spirits of man are good. The beauty of her homeland and of nature inspires her, as well as beauty that provoke spirituality in man that can be unconditional and transcendent. The texts within these intimate spaces have color, space, and texture. They convey something even more whole… meaning and emotion.

Many of the artist works also display her interpretation and response to society, and in some respect also have a religious overtone, not in a dogmatic way, but in philosophical one. In the work, "Legal Violence," the artist rebels the legal family laws in Lebanon, which are still under the power of religious courts, whether Christian or Muslim, that are unfair to women with regards to custody of their children. The work is vividly red, bloodlike, alarming. There is a repetitive line drawn in the center of each of numerous squares, except for one in the right area of the canvas where you see what seems like a figure image within one of the paper squares attached to the canvas. The single figured square, surrounded by numerous other squares, emotes a sense of futility. The work pleads for the particular human condition illustrated within to change.

"Reading T.S. Eliot," "Burnt Norton and T. S. Eliot," and "The Hollow Man" are works that also provoke commentary on the state of man and his condition, their repetitive starkness, emulate the module stanza quality of Eliot's work, the clarity reflects the aridity and sterility of modern life, contrasting the existential romantic with the higher order of purity of form and spirituality. The universal mythic theme of death as a voyage, where one will be miraculously saved, the Christian mythology of walking on water, all suggest that we are somewhat lost in life and hopeful that in death we willll find salvation, peace, and spirituality.

Works such as, "Death by Water," inspired by the poem of the same name, share a similar train of thought: we need to measure life and look at it more in the pure sense of the word, beyond the physical vitality of youth in life, in order to experience a better quality of life in living and in death. In this work the artist has a square canvas, painted a yellowish gold. The repetition of attached booklets of paper, of uniform size, give a feeling of "current under sea…" The rhythmic patterns that these papers make are like, Eliot's Phelbas, rising and falling, passing the stages of his age and youth as in the poem. The artist here appears to provoke the viewer to experience life, to observe and contemplate the true meaning of existence that is beyond the vitality and physicality of life. There is a higher order of things… a spirituality of life that one should observe, absorb and feel. If one does not, life is somewhat meaningless. The lack of spirituality in effect lends us to be soulless.

Denise A. Bibro
Denise Bibro Fine Art
Chelsea, New York City
April 16, 2000