Sahar Fakhoury: Asheville Gallery of Art
By Frances Figart
Figurative artist, painter and sculptor Sahar Fakhoury has always been enamored of movement and artistic expression. She has also cultivated a love of weddings and wedding planning.
Born and raised in Kuwait to Palestinian parents, young Sahar was a competitive gymnast and modern dancer who enjoyed her art classes above all other subjects. Her father was an X-ray technician with a penchant for photography and her mother devoted time to knitting and embroidering when not taking care of their five children.
“By the time I was in high school, I knew I wanted to be an artist,” she says. At the time, Kuwait University didn’t have a formal art program so she initially studied computers. “But, I still had the itch to work on art. So I ended up taking classes from professional artists for three years before we moved to the US.”
This move was not planned. Fakhoury was vacationing in the States with her husband, Walid, and three young daughters, Nadine, Diana and Dima, in 1990 when the Gulf War caused instability back home. They made a swift decision to remain here and settled in Asheville.
“I took some time to adjust to the new environment and raise our kids before I went back to creating art,” she says. “As soon as I had the opportunity, I went back to college and got my Bachelors of Fine Arts from UNCA. My oldest daughter, Nadine, was in college by then.”
Appreciating her art as a calling, Walid was one hundred percent behind her decision to focus on it. “He has always been very supportive in me pursuing that path and he encouraged me when I wanted to go back to school.”
The couple has now been married 36 years and daughters Nadine and Diana are married with their own kids. Fakhoury was the designer for their weddings. “I chose the themes, set up decorations and accents and did all the flowers for them,” she says. “I had heard about live wedding paintings and was particularly interested in taking on that challenge.” It didn’t take long to get her first gig, a destination wedding in Asheville. “Because I was already doing figures in motion, that helped a lot,” she says. “I also painted live models for years and years, which made me comfortable to do the job.”
Creating some continuity from her childhood as a gymnast and dancer, Fakhoury’s most recent work is inspired by the human body in motion. The majority of her works are oil paintings on canvas, created with high-quality materials. She also does some watercolors and mixed media, as well as figurative ceramic sculpture.
“Each medium has a different process and technique,” she says. “No matter what the medium is, they all start with the idea; once the idea is there, the process comes. I prep my canvas by painting a thin warm under-color, draw my outlines, and then block my shapes and figures with little details. After this first layer dries, I come back for several layers to get the details and the accuracy that satisfies me, allowing drying time in between layers.”
Not unlike her father with his photography, Fakhoury sees the importance of art as a form of historical documentation. “For my figurative work, I always try to observe people wherever I see them,” she says. “I often have my camera and use several pictures as a reference. For my still life paintings I set up my subject, with a side light to cast dramatic shadows, then I sketch and start my process, continuing until I feel that there is nothing I can do that will further enhance the painting.”
Fakhoury believes that making art is the most satisfying job anyone can have. “To have a white paper or canvas, then transform it to tell a story to record the history of the moment by using shapes, lines and colors is very rewarding to me,” she says. “It is a form of meditation.”
Her greatest influences are female figures who were determined to be artists in a world that was male dominated, artists like Mary Cassatt, Artemisia Gentileschi and Clara Peeters. As she did during and after the war, even today she uses her art “to express myself and dig deep inside me and transform my emotions—be it happiness or frustrations.”
Back when they moved to the US, Sahar and Walid didn’t have money for toys or ornaments. “My children were young at the time, so they were interested in dolls and pretend play,” she says. “One day I set up a table filled with materials I had collected and called them to sit down. Before long we had made several miniature toys and ornaments. We did this for several years, and it became a special time for us. We even included some of their friends who later told me that they always looked forward to our toy-making sessions.”
Now a grandmother, Fakhoury recently started painting still life commissioned work for children, using their toys and wooden blocks to show their names. “This is my expression for kids and it is a great way to personalize a piece of art for children.”
While her artistic interpretations are literal, they can also operate on several metaphorical levels at once. “Often the works have multiple meanings, and I am always happy to hear viewers interpreting them the way they see them.”
Sahar Fakhoury Fine Arts is in Trackside Studios at 375 Depot Street in the River Arts District. Asheville Gallery of Art at 82 Patton Avenue in downtown Asheville has carried her work since 1998 and she will have a show there in April. To learn more, visit sahar-art.com, call 828.242.4708 or follow her work on Facebook.