Nicolas Moufarrege was born of Lebanese parents in Alexandria, Egypt in 1947.
He died of AIDS-related complications in 1985 in New York city. He was 37.
The works below were organized – Recognize My Sign – by the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston and were on rotational display at the Queen’s Museum, NY in 2019/2020.
The artist was raised in Beirut, Lebanon where his schooling took him to a graduate degree in chemistry.
During a Harvard University assistantship and a Fulbright grant lived in Cambridge, MA, Moufarrege decided to become an artist.
Returning to Beirut, his first exhibition was of needlepoint tapestries in 1973.
The artist’s canvas, throughout, was the needlepoint canvas. He started by creating tableaux with thread on needlepoint canvas.
Later he combined paint (pigment) with thread: pigment on areas of the needlepoint canvas which he left otherwise bald.
The combination of thread and pigment give these works their fragile solidity: like our lives, you think. Also a subtlety, sensuality, mystery, poise, imaginative possibility.
And, in the New York work, a certain insouciant and optimistic disjuncture which is all New York.
These works are fragile because the thread is not basted along its length.
Most threads lie (hang) against the canvas anchored at their two ends only. The threads vary in the length required by the design of the tableaux.
The artist’s worlds are those of the Levant: classical Greek and ancient Roman, Jewish, Christian, Moslem; and the modern history of Arab independence and nationalism.
There is also the influence of French urbanity both from the traces of France’s mandate in Lebanon. And of France herself.
The crescent and shimmering blues of the Mediterranean from Beirut curved towards the bay of Alexandria is in these paintings. The bay of staggering beauty.
And the greens of Lebanon also.
The embroidered paintings of the artist’s Beirut and Paris years are an affirmation of his life lived against the norms: his love of men and of the male body.
The heroic male figure is facing up to the immensity of his history, his native cultures, his own nature; and the immense gorgeousness of his natural environment.
No. 7, 1975, thread on needlepoint canvas and detail
Un Île (An Island), 1975, thread on needlepoint canvas and details
Le Chemin (The Way), 1975, thread on needlepoint canvas and detail
The artist left for Paris at the outbreak of civil war in Lebanon in 1975 and continued his creative work which now he called paintings.
Le Sang du Phénix (The Blood of the Phoenix), 1975, thread and pigment on needlepoint canvas, and details.
The hope of rebirth in the midst of the destruction of the Lebanese civil war.
Title unknown, 1975, thread and pigment on canvas, and details.
The tear in threads of the upper right thigh and fraying in the upper leg and thorax show how fragile these works are.
Nikki, 1976, thread and pigment on canvas, and details
Title unknown, no date. Thread and pigment on canvas, and detail
First Step into the Pyramid, 1979, thread and pigment on needlepoint on canvas, and details
Laocoon Quest, 1980, cotton silk, wool, pigment on needlepoint canvas, and details
The First Time Ever I Saw the Volcano, 1979, thread and pigment on needlepoint canvas, and details
Installation view of The Fifth Day, 1980, thread and pigment on needlepoint canvas. Photo courtesy of the Queens Museum, NY
The Fifth Day, 1980, thread and pigment on needlepoint canvas, and details. Private collection on loan to this exhibition
The Importance of Being Evergreen, 1980, thread and pigment on needlepoint canvas, and details.
The museum notes that this is about nature, landscape and eternity. The Alpha and the Omega denote God and the eternal. “The secrets of a man like me cannot be spoken” in Arabic is thought to refer to the artist’s homosexuality.
In 1981, the artist moved to New York city.
Joining other artists in the East Village arts scene, Nicolas Moufarrege both wrote about the art being made and curated art exhibitions. He himself had two such exhibitions, 1983 and 1985.
And, moving away from the imagery of classical European art, he moved towards the icons of popular, multicultural art and of graffiti.
Until a very early death stopped him in his every track.
Stopped him. It verges on the unbearable. But we bear it and imagine where his talents and the skilled exercise of two ancient human arts might have led him.
Title unknown (Empire), 1983, detail, thread and pigment on needlepoint canvas. Private collection on loan to the exhibition.
Nicolas Moufarrege seems to have lived the lines of the Phil-Hellenic Egyptian poet, C.P. Cavafy, born in 1863 in Alexandria, Egypt where he died in 1933.
I’ve Brought to Art**
I sit in a mood of reverie,
I’ve brought to Art desires and sensations:
faces or lines, certain indistinct memories
of unfulfilled love affairs.
Let me submit to Art:
Art knows how to shape forms of Beauty,
almost imperceptibly completing life,
blending impressions, blending day with day.
**(Collected Poems, C.P. Cavafy, translated by Edumund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, edited by George Savidis, 1980)