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In New York he was exposed to new artists and styles. Mark Rothko, Hans Hofmann, and Ad Reinhardt were some of his acquaintances in those early days. In fact Reinhardt visited several of Lebanon’s ancient sites, including the town of Baalbek in the Bekaa Valley, and discussed them with Saliba.

But while he associated with and respected many of these New York artists, he did not join or identify himself with any particular group or movement. He remained detached and worked alone in his spacious studio in the loft of the Maronite Church of Our Lady of Lebanon in Brooklyn Heights (New York). It is there that he achieved his unique abstract/minimalist style. He left his signature on the Church, which is now a Cathedral, creating its magnificent stained glass windows and large mural over the altar.

In 1956, he received the medal of High Honor from the president of the Lebanese Republic for art activities in the United States and Mexico, where his work had been exhibited and well-received. By then, he felt that the various avenues of abstract expressionism offered had for him been exhausted. He started to paint flat forms, to apply straight lines to separate and define those forms with hard edges. This was finally the beginning of the movement to his ultimate direction - one for which he had been striving for some time.

The process of distillation and refinement through which Douaihy’s painting evolved was for him a challenging one. Part of the process was, of course, intellectual and, he said, may have been stimulated by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. He read Kant’s work while taking a course in aesthetics under professor Eugen Kollman at the New School for Social Research in New York in 1961. From Kant he derived an impetus to find the sublime, to reduce all elements to their most basic form. This was not a simple concept for him to translate into his paintings. His thorough indoctrination in academic theories and techniques presented a serious obstacle. He found it difficult to free himself immediately from these long-standing habits and to apply paint in one solid colour and as a flat plane. Even in abstract expressionism the spontaneous manipulation of the brush or painting tool was intrinsic to the creative process. It was the work of Josef Albers, he said, and Japanese prints that were the major factors in helping him to arrive at the total flatness he wanted.

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E-mail: salibadouaihy@hotmail.com