Michel Abboud is an artist and an architect. He lives and works in New York, although born in Lebanon.
He started his career by founding his award-winning architectural practice, SOMA. His designs have attracted critical acclaim for their boundary-pushing nature.
Having earned a Masters in Architecture from the University of Columbia subsequent to graduating from the American University of Beirut, Michel built a reputation for provocative projects. Michel’s defiant no compromise stance, in terms of design, continuously raises the bar in the architecture sphere and has gained him respect among a loyal client base and fellow design professionals. His work is rising around the world today with remarkable offerings of projects that underscore his firm’s cutting edge appeal. He is known for designing the Park 51 Islamic Cultural Center a few blocks from Ground Zero in New York City, which further catapulted him into prominence, with one journalist dubbing him ‘the most controversial architect the US has known.’ Such notoriety has led to a subsequent influx of invites as Speaker and Guest of Honor at prestigious universities across the United States and Europe. Today, after winning numerous international awards, he is known for being one of the youngest architects to have designed a skyscraper in New York, at the age of 36, as well as a groundbreaking tower in Dubai.
In recent years he has begun to combine art and architecture by creating large-scale parametric sculptures which he continues to dream of setting in various urban and rural landscapes around the world. Everything he has created is rooted and linked to his heritage, and his drive to keep going on a daily basis is his lifelong passion- Art.
For him, art is as process-based as his architecture but it does not make it any less of an emotional endeavor. He stated that with architecture, the satisfaction comes with the recognition of others, but with his art it is all about an internal process that involves him and his canvas. No one else. It is simply out of the need to create and embrace the side of himself that he has kept hidden for twenty years, but now has decided to pursue professionally for the first time, at the age of forty, in a sudden shift of career direction.
His work is heavily influenced by his childhood in a war-torn environment. Born in Beirut in 1977, he lived his first thirteen years in a violent civil war that he survived but never disremembered. Daily scenes of bloody explosions, car bombs, artillery attacks were common and left deep wounds that he repressed for over twenty years, until he faced his canvas one day and recognized that the violence of his art was engrained in the scars of his painful memories. This same violence that stirred his emotions now needed to be exorcized by transferring those unfiltered emotions directly on the canvas via the very act of painting. The physical nature of his art making acts as the transferor of an inner turmoil onto the external support, the blank canvas. The act of painting appears to be more of a struggle between man and canvas, but in reality it is a clash between man and man, between one and one’s self. The conflicts he witnessed as a child recurred throughout his life in the form of inner conflicts, conflicts of identity, conflicts in relationships, conflicts between the artist and his body of art. "Am I an architect or an artist, am I Lebanese or a New Yorker, am I a strategist or a nihilist, is it a painting or a sculpture?" The dual conflicting nature of those questions is at the essence of his art process. He often describes his paintings as “non-paintings” because each art piece is not intended to represent anything other than itself. He believes that people have been so conditioned to perceive paint as a means to an end that they forgot to see it for what it really is. Paint is paint, a material, colored matter, just a paste, and certainly not a medium of formal or figural representation. It can be molded, sculpted, layered, embossed, debossed, sanded and scraped. Does it make it a sculpture? What about the fact that it is a paint coated canvas? Doesn’t that defy its reading as a sculpture as well? Can it be both or does it have to be neither? Is this duality another conflict or a resolution of this paradox?
His first public collection is a series of 5x6 feet paintings and 4x4 feet diptychs, entitled the Gemini Series. The Gemini Series is not intended to represent anything other than itself. He uses high viscosity acrylic paint with no brushes and no knives- just his hands, while using the entire body as a tool to cover the large format canvases laid on the ground. With this series, one painting on canvas is created with texture and another canvas is overlaid on top which is then ripped apart to become a sister canvas and a new piece of art. The subsequent sister piece carries the residual scars and traced of the initial outburst. One is a continuation of the other. Even though one is a negative and a positive, neither one is identical. One is an emotional piece and the other is a release piece, which come hand in hand. Both architecture and art are linked, identities are blurred but also merged.
"On the other hand, my diptychs address the dual nature of man. Just like a Rorschach test, the dual piece replicates itself in complementary but non-identical way, the end of one marking the beginning of the other".