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Dalloul Art Foundation

NABIL NAHAS, Lebanon (1949)


Written by L’Or Iman Puymartin Lebanese artist Nabil Nahas was born in Beirut in 1949. He spent the first ten years of his life in Cairo for his father’s work, then moved back to Lebanon to...

Written by L’Or Iman Puymartin

Lebanese artist Nabil Nahas was born in Beirut in 1949. He spent the first ten years of his life in Cairo for his father’s work, then moved back to Lebanon to be enrolled in a boarding school near Beirut. He attended university in the United States, completing his BFA at Louisiana State University, followed by an MFA at Yale University, which he earned in 1973. Today, he spends his time between New York and Beirut.

Nahas began painting at the young age of ten; after his elderly piano teacher from boarding school passed away, his only alternative option for an artistic endeavor was to take up painting classes. He became fond of it immediately and decided to dedicate the rest of his life to the craft. Though it was common for young artists of his generation to leave Lebanon and study abroad in Europe, it was less common for them to go to the United States. This being his only desire, he chose the unconventional route and left his home in Lebanon for the States. Nahas’ inspiration comes from several sources, chief among them the Western abstract artists with whom he was surrounded and by whom he was taught. While at Yale, Nahas encountered and familiarized himself with artists like Frank Stella and Larry Poons, finding inspiration in Stella’s large-scale hard-edged geometric paintings and Poons’ detached way of reducing geometric shapes to their essence. Beyond the influences of his American peers, however, Nahas drew inspiration primarily from nature and Islamic visual culture.

Nahas has always expressed an interest in both exploring the countless ways of making images as well as discovering new visual languages through painting. This is directly evident through his work, which displays in its treatment of brushwork and color a style that is constantly evolving. Since acquiring his MFA at Yale, Nahas’s work has gone through several radical stylistic changes, though it has remained within the broad umbrella category of abstraction. His first notable period comprises primarily hard-edged geometric shapes, colorful with bright tonalities and high contrast. His shapes were superimposed on at least three layers in each of these works, and they gave more of an essence of decorative motif than they did simple geometry. The following period was a somber, less geometric approach, where the artist dropped hard edges and bright colors in favor of canvases populated mainly by vast plains of black and brown. This somber period began around the outset of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), and the radical shift can be understood as relating to the war’s emotional impact on the artist. At the same time, this transition should not be reduced to a stylistic translation of the artist’s emotions; it should also be appreciated as an aesthetic development in its own right, evidence of the way the artist re-evaluates and works through his artistic achievements.

Having always been taken by natural beauty, Nahas finds pleasure in scouring the Lebanese mountains for inspiration, and culls source material from the flora and fauna of other places he has visited as well. He has conceived abstract paintings of the tree varieties native to Lebanon and Egypt, such as cedar, olive, and palm. Nahas presents these colossal trees cropped in a way to blur their form and focus on their texture, magnificence and longevity, filling his canvas around them with flowers whose delicacy hints at their ephemerality in contrast to the ancient trees. 

In the early 1990s, Nahas began creating the three-dimensional sea life forms for which he is most known.

This phase began in 1991, when Nahas was walking on the shore of Long Island after a strong hurricane and came across thousands of washed up starfish. He collected some and brought them home, casting them and creating his first starfish piece, which he entitled EUREKA. That moment was a stylistic breakthrough for Nahas, whose marine-inspired mixed media projects have earned critical acclaim. 

These mostly large-scale works begin with casts that he creates from starfish and clams, which he mounts onto a canvas before painting the composition. He also uses pumice to give his works a gritty texture evocative of coral, creating circular, three-dimensional objects that protrude from his canvases.

Most recently, it seems that Nahas has merged his signature styles, combining the forms from his early geometric compositions, fractal paintings, and his trees to create canvases full of color, life and fields of energy. Today, he is one of Lebanon’s most renowned living artists, and works between Beirut and New York.


Katz, Vincent, and Nasser Chammaa. Nabil Nahas works 1970-2010: exhibition, Beirut, Beirut Exhibition Center, from June 22 to August 22. 2010. Beirut: Solidere, 2010.

"Nabil Nahas." Lawrie Shabibi. Accessed December 20, 2017.

Nahas, Nabil, and Joseph Tarrab. Nabil Nahas: works 1970-1980. Dubai: Lawrie Shabibi, 2014.

Ratcliff, Carter, and Nabil Nahas. Nabil Nahas. New York ...: Rizzoli, 2016.

This is a short biography. The full version , along with research, CV and sources will be posted soon. Stay tuned and visit us often or become a member to be notified of our updates.


Selected Solo Exhibitions


Nabil Nahas, Saleh Barakat Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon


Nabil Nahas: Untitled, Ben Brown Fine Arts, Hong Kong


Nabil Nahas: Recent Works, Saleh Barakat Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon


Nabil Nahas: Phoenix Dactylifera, Ben Brown Fine Arts, London, UK
Nabil Nahas, Lawrie Shabibi Gallery, Dubai, UAE


Nabil Nahas, Sperone Westwater Gallery, New York, US


Palms and Stars, Lawrie Shabibi Gallery, Dubai, UAE
Nabil Nahas, Ben Brown Fine Arts, London, UK    


Cedrus Libani: Roots and Memory, FIAF Gallery, New York, US
Nabil Nahas: Works 1970-2010, Beirut Exhibition Center, Beirut, Lebanon


Nabil Nahas: untitled (trees), Galerie Tanit, Munich, Germany


Galerie Xippas, Paris, France


J. Johnson Gallery, Jacksonville Beach, Florida, US


25th Bienniale of Sao Paulo, Brazil


Sperone Westwater Gallery, New York, US


Baumgartner Galleries, Washington, D.C., US
Milleventi, Milan, Italy


Sperone Westwater, New York, US


Baldwin Gallery, Aspen, Colorado, US


Galerie Montenay, Paris, France
Holly Solomon Gallery, New York, US


Holly Solomon Gallery, New York, US


Robert Miller Gallery, New York, US


Robert Miller Gallery, New York, US


Robert Miller Gallery, New York, US


Ohio State University, Ohio, US


Yale University, Connecticut, US

Selected Group Exhibitions


Towards The Sublime, Galerie Tanit, Beirut, Lebanon
BEYOND: Modern and Contemporary Lebanese Art and Design, Phillips, London, UK


A Century in Flux, Sharjah Art Museum, Sharjah, US


Chefs-D’oeuvre de L’Art Moderne Et Contemporain Arabe, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France
TRIO, Vivian Horan Fine art, New York, US


Abu Dhabi Art, UAE
Jardins d’Orient, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France
The Short Century, Sharjah Museum, Sharjah, UAE


Art Dubai Contemporary, Dubai, UAE
The Armory Show, New York City, US
Summer Show, Leila Heller Gallery, New York, US


Art Basel Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
Art Basel Miami Beach, Florida, US
Sky Over The East, Emirates Palace, UAE


Murano>, Merano Arte, Merano South Tyrol
Encounter: Royal Academy in the Middle East, Cultural Village Foundation, Doha, Qatar


New Acquisitions, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, US
Glasstress New York: New Art from the Venice Biennales, Museum of Arts and Design (MAD), New York, US
Glasstress Beirut, Beirut Exhibition Center, Beirut, US


Glasstress 2011: Collateral Event of the 54th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia, Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Venice, Italy


Convergence: New Art from Lebanon, Katzen Arts Center, American University Museum, Washington D.C, US
BARAKAT: The Gift. Contemporary Art from the Middle East and Africa, Stux Gallery, New York, US


American Fractals, Blanden Memorial Art Museum, Fort Dodge, Iowa, US
XXV Bienal de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil
Blobs, Wiggles and Dots, Webs and Crustillations, The Work Space, New York, US
Invitational Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture, American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, US


Painting Abstraction II, New York Studio School, New York, US
Green on Greene, Sperone Westwater, New York, US


Arte Americana; Ultimo Decennio, Museo d’Arte della Citta di Ravenna, Ravenna, Italy
Le Temps Fractal, Galerie Xippas, Paris, France


Souvenirs: Collecting, Memory, and Material Culture, The Museum Guild Hall, New York, US
Group Exhibition, Sperone Westwater Gallery, New York, US


Galerie Tanit, Munich, Germany
What’s Hot, Baumgartner Galleries, Washington, D.C., US


Sperone Westwater Gallery, New York, US


Brian Gross Gallery, San Francisco, US


Edward Thorp Gallery, New York, US


Chicago Art Fair, Chicago, US


American Baroque, Holly Solomon Gallery, New York, US


Razzle Dazzle, SSC&B Worldwide Advertising, New York, US
Art against Aids, Benefit Auction organized by Livet-Reichard, New York, US


Twentieth Century Art From the Metropolitan Museum, Queens Museum, Queens, New York, US


Studio Museum of Harlem, New York, US


Subject Space, Pratt Institute Gallery, New York, US


Paintings on Loan from Private Collections, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, US
New York Now, Phoenix Museum, Arizona, US
Basel Art Fair, Basel, Switzerland


Art on Paper, Weatherspoon Art Gallery, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, US

Awards and Honors


National Order of the Cedar for services to Lebanese culture, Lebanon


National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship Grant


The British Museum, London, UK
Tate Modern, London, UK
The High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia, US
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, US
Vorhees Zimmerli Museum, Rutgers University, New Jersey, US
Colby Museum of Art, Waterville, Maine, US
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Pennsylvania, US
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, US
The Flint Institute of Arts, Flint, Michigan, US
Michigan Museum of Art UMMA, Michigan, US
Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah, UAE
Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Qatar
Ramzi & Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation, Beirut, Lebanon
Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi, UAE



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