Lines Let Loose

Lines Let Loose

The artist Sumayyah Samaha is walking better and further than she has done for years. It is perhaps fitting, then, that a new, landmark series of works, in which she uses charcoal and oil together on the same surface for the first time, is both dynamic and free flowing


While a new series of works by the artist Sumayyah Samaha, titled Lines and Forms, is significant on many levels, the apparent emotive contrast with her much earlier pieces may well prove to be one of its biggest talking points among her audience.

Spontaneous, dynamic and free-flowing, the artwork combines lines drawn loosely across a canvas, connecting the rich mix of forms, with a fascinating change of shaded colour from dark to light.

The evident uplifting mood and positivity, I suggest, are very different from the work created many years before, which routinely saw her highlight the suffering experienced by victims of war and occupation across the Middle East and the destruction of their homeland.


Samaha, who was born in Shweir, Lebanon, but has lived in New York for almost five decades, considers this idea carefully before responding. “As an abstract oil artist, my work tends to come out of nowhere, it’s not planned, so it’s difficult for me to explain the reasoning,” she acknowledges. “That said, I think the work of an artist can sometimes reflect where you are at in your life and I’m in a good place right now.”

She explains that after enduring years of health issues which had caused huge discomfort and restricted mobility, she is now celebrating being pain free. “Perhaps that physical pain found its way into my work and now the feelgood sentiment is doing the same,” she mulls. “All I know is that I can now walk for miles, thanks to two hip replacements, which is wonderful!”

Aside from its positivity, Lines and Forms marks another milestone, since it represents Samaha’s first project in which she combines two of her preferred media - charcoal and oil – on one surface.


“As a mixed and multi-media artist, I had long worked with both media on projects, but always separately, using charcoal on paper and oil on canvas,” she explains. Once again, the artist’s “stream of consciousness”, as she likes to describe it, was to the fore.

“This new way of working wasn’t planned, but when I picked up the charcoal and started working on the canvas, it just felt right, as did adding the oil,” she notes. “I think this was because I already had the vocabulary there from years of work, given that I’m an old artist now! I was able to take these motifs and make them into sentences and, in turn, they evolved into a story. The next stage was to let the lines bring these disparate forms together. So far, the marriage is working!”

She admits that the new series brought a great deal of satisfaction, once complete, although putting into words why remains a challenge. “I feel sometimes that as artists, we are in the business of creating magic,” she says. “We try to speak about our art, but there’s an extra dimension that we can’t easily explain.”

All of her projects have brought her the same level of satisfaction, she notes, with the preparation phase, rather than the show itself, her favourite part of the process. “Whether working on a painting of the Catskill Mountains in New York or my installation series of cluster bombs, each project gave me a sense of achievement and wellbeing,” she explains.

Samaha came to the US from Lebanon on a scholarship to study for a Masters at the University of Pittsburgh, after which she moved to New York, where she still lives today. She has held solo shows in both Beirut and New York and participated in a number of collective exhibitions. Her work has been exhibited in many high-profile institutions, including the Kufa Gallery in London (1988), the International Monetary Fund in Washington DC (1990) and the Arab American National Museum in Michigan (2005).


Her inspiration, she explains, comes from feeling that she has something important to say through her work. Similarly, she is a firm believer that the time can come to draw a line under a topic. This, she acknowledges, might have been the case with her much earlier work.

“In my work on the suffering in Palestine, I wanted to make the point that Palestinians are human and that children were dying there,” she says. “As I worked, my art took on a life of its own. But I believe that when she you have nothing new to say, it’s time to move on.”

Looking ahead, Samaha, who is represented by Carter Burden and Skoto Galleries, both in Chelsea, NYC, says she is keen to focus more heavily on one of her other loves; writing. “I might also visit Beirut for a longer stay, perhaps two or three months, something I haven’t done since I left in 1968,” she muses. “I go back regularly, but my visits are rarely longer than a couple of weeks. I love going to Lebanon and spending time in the mountains, where I grew up. I think that’s why I love painting the Catskills – they have an abstract aura, but they also remind me of my youth.”

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