Chaouki CHOUKINI (born in 1946). By Thierry Savatier, August 2021.
Chaouki Choukini was born in Choukine (southern Lebanon) in a modest family, in 1946. After considering medical studies in Egypt, he trained, thanks to a government grant, at the Higher School of Fine Arts in Paris from 1967 to 1972. In 1984, he made a trip to Japan which marked him in his plastic approach, reflected in the choice of sober and refined shapes. There he met his wife’s uncle, the sculptor Fumio Otani ; he taught him the traditional techniques of his discipline which enabled him, using specific tools, to obtain results very different from those with which he had been familiar until then. He taught sculpture at the Lebanese University of Tripoli from 1985 to 1987, then, from 1989 to 1991, at the University of Yarmouk (Jordan). He has lived and worked in France for many years.
During his studies he discovered his favorite materials: clay, but especially wood and stone. The teaching, very academic at the time, should have led him to sculpt on a live model, but he was quickly drawn to abstraction.
Chaouki Choukini’s sculptures bear witness to his singular aesthetic. Abstract, they nevertheless include some mineral or biological details, even anthropomorphic or that can be interpreted as such (Liberté fauve). His strange formal constructions sometimes seem to defy the laws of balance; they present unexpected recesses or projections that plunge the viewer into an imaginary that is both dreamlike and all the more disturbing as the softness of the impeccably polished surfaces contrasts with the sometimes dark character of the whole (Paysage au clair de lune, 1978 ; Lieu, 1978). When we know that the artist works with wood or stone in direct carving, we measure his dexterity in playing with material / light oppositions to make the most of them.
Spirituality and metaphysics mark the plasticity of his works, just as humanity permeates them (Little Prince. Child of Gaza, 2010). However, the artist does not refrain from paying homage to the art of his predecessors, sometimes with a certain surrealist humor (Hommage à Breughel, 2001) or an attraction for tragic allegory, like this very totemic Cheval de Guernica (wood, 2010; bronze, 2011) of which Picasso, no more than of the bull, did not reveal the secret symbolism, leaving the viewer his free interpretation. The figures of Chaouki Choukini, whether they recall landscapes or even satellite views (Les Environs de Damas, 2012) in their horizontality or that they challenge the sky in their verticality (To Beirut, 2020), are striking with their minimalist aesthetic , undoubtedly inherited from his Japanese experience which came to supplement his Eastern and Western sensibilities.
Chaouki Choukini was awarded the Young Sculpture Prize in 1978, the Taylor Foundation Prize in 2010. In 2015, the Academy of Fine Arts awarded him the Pierre Gianadda Prize for Sculpture for his body of work. His work has been the subject of numerous exhibitions, notably at L’IMA (1991, then "Le Corps Découverte", 2012). His works are kept in public collections in France, Qatar, United Arab Emirates. The Institut du monde arabe now holds the largest collection of his sculptures in the world, thanks to the Donation Claude and France Lemand.
Lebanese Sculptor (b. 1946, Choukine). He arrived directly from his native village to study in Paris. Since 1973, he regularly exhibits at the Young Sculpture and in various Salons. Choukini carves wood and stone, particularly wood. He fully masters his technique, by playing with polished and hollow areas as well as with the rhythm of empty and full spaces and by making his carving become a penetration into the material through light. His sculptures appear weightless and seem to be the development of surfaces which only hint to the shapes of objects. Whether lute or card table, piano or weaving loom, these metaphysical machines yet `soberly Baroque’ (Salah Stétié) emerge from the primary light to then come back to it. One can find quotes in his sculpture which contribute to the seduction of post-modern sculpture. If modern sculpture is defined by the paradoxical search for the immaterial then its `madness for light’ makes Choukini one of the sculptors of this century. (Dictionnaire de l’Art moderne et contemporain, Ed. Hazan, Paris, 1992).
Translated from French by Valérie Hess
This Lebanese artist arrived in France directly from his village in South Lebanon. At the time, he carved strange, imaginary and soberly baroque constructions in wood. The formal evidence, on the borderline with fantasy, imposed itself: these sculptures simultaneously appear as irrational monuments, checkerboards for games of chance, figures that are interlocked and involved with a sort of big metaphysical game. Since then, Choukini has divested himself to the advantage of curves and surface planes. He uses the material as a keyboard and extracts from it powerful and delicate formal compositions on which are displayed a figural suggestion, almost at the second degree. The word ‘keyboard’ is even more so appropriate here as it also translates the sought after and achieved effect, that of music, which is simple and pure similar to a melody, yet sometimes more complex and almost like an orchestra. The mute music present in Choukini’s sculptures is a challenge to the absurd canon that fatally shoots here and there to kill, without succeeding, Lebanon’s soul and body, which stands like a strong and tender mountain, just like the sculptures and sculptor I have here mentioned.
After forty years of career as a sculptor, Chaouki Choukini has always remained true to himself. This man who came from Lebanon, a country of rocks and sun, always pays close attention to the sincerity of objects and shapes, sometimes giving priority to the music of the material, other times to objective representation. This ingenious balance makes each and every one of Choukini’s creations quake with emotion. Choukini’s sculpture reveals the poetic, yet often so tragic, strangeness of our condition.
Translated from French by Valérie Hess
National Gallery of Jordan, Amman.
Institut du monde arabe, Paris.
Donation Claude & France Lemand 2018, Museum, Institut du monde arabe, Paris.
FDAC, Val de Marne, France.
The city of La Verrière, Yvelines, France.
Mathaf. Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Qatar.