On the Edge of Chaos

Jurayj piles on visual cues in handsome new work anchored on his trademark abstraction

John Jurayj is showing a body of handsome new work at Audiello. Known for lush abstractions in tempera, Jurayj has seemingly yanked his aesthetic through the sieve of a particularly harsh childhood memory––the Lebanese Civil War.

In the large works “Untitled (Marine Barracks, 1983, #1)” and “Untitled (Beirut on Fire, 1982, #1),” Jurayj piles on visual cues to build up his images that at first function abstractly, but then resolve into scenes on the edge of chaos. Using stencils in a very juicy way, Jurayj uses these marks, abstractions in themselves, to define and structure his more painterly brushwork and drips. The architectural barracks collapse back into poured paint, while a postcard view of the legendary Lebanese gold coast waterfront explodes out into smeared emulsion. Jurayj mitigates a flavor of printed media and photojournalism by quoting the late works of Francis Bacon; lurid sweet color—maroons, hot pinks, cobalt blue and lavender—ups the pictorial ante.

With “Untitled (Ruin 1995, #1)” and “Untitled (Ruins 1995, #2)”, I felt as though I had found human bones washed up on the beach. Vibrant pink skies backdrop architectural husks that seem to hold themselves vertically upright more out of fatigue than visual power. The defining marks shimmy just a bit, barely keeping the blobby paint stable and in check.

A different sensibility is evident in the three Cedars of Lebanon paintings. Eroded by hindsight, the pastoral “Untitled (Cedars of Lebanon, 1968, #3)” very clearly and successfully hits on the old Van Gogh trope of trees and bushes as flames of paint. A family walk on a wooded hillside in “Untitled (Cedars of Lebanon, 1968, #5)” gets the full Richter “wet brush over” treatment, as trees and figures are morphed and disfigured into abstraction. You can see that Jurayj is deeply attached here; it’s personal––these oils aren’t “cool”–– and he is giving something emotionally real.

With this strong body of work and a freshly minted MFA from Bard, Jurayj is in the right place at the right time, and definitely making his mark.

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