BEIRUT: "I knew I wanted to tell a story but I didn't know where it would end," says Nayla Maalouf, an artist with an exhibition of paintings on view at Art Lounge, the lounge, boutique and gallery combo located at the mouth of Corniche al-Nahr in Karantina.
"It's pretty much a selfish exhibition," says Maalouf. "It defines me."
"New World Order" is physically and thematically a show in two parts.
You walk into the first room to find a kind of visual history of humanity - idyllic early days of pleasure, indulgence in desire, the introduction of doubt and anxiety, religion as a remedy for uncertainty, preoccupation with material wealth, the planet devouring itself and a final catastrophe that leads to the near total annihilation of humankind.
Enter the second room and you find a few survivors and a futuristic vision replete with cloned beings and a spaced-out utopia kitted up in lots of chrome. Humanity, it seems, is getting ready to strike out in search of a new planet.
"I don't like the first room," says Maalouf. "The idea for the second room is to live completely away from the first room. It's an abstract feeling. In the idea for this room I feel more comfortable. I wanted to give an impression of serenity. All of this," she says, gesturing around the second room, "it's not that distant. I feel it's about time to start. It's not that futuristic. This room is not that far away. We are able to clone already."
Maalouf has been painting for 12 years and is entirely self-taught. No two pieces at Art Lounge are done in the same style. Some are figurative, others abstract. Some are made from paints applied to canvas, others are drawn in ink and others still use canvas as a a mere support structure for more sculptural objects.
A horizontal piece representing the planet as a post-apocalyptic compost pile is made from a heap of polyurethane packing that Maalouf found in a box of light fixtures. A vertical piece representing the neophyte clones of a new race features flat squares of silver paint beneath a smattering of bulbous shapes that resemble a woman's breast but feature an aperture through which we see tiny peaceful facemasks where the nipple would otherwise be. The final piece in the show, and perhaps the most intriguing, looks like it was cobbled together from kitchen equipment and a set of spare parts from a mechanic's shop.
"I'm a pretty instinctive person," says Maalouf. "I'm not a big thinker." The texts that accompany each work were written after the paintings were complete and in a matter of minutes, she explains. "It comes very fast and I paint very fast. I never sketch beforehand. I've always painted that way."
Maalouf was born in Lebanon and studied journalism and arts management in the US. Including her current show, she has exhibited five times - once at Galerie Janine Rubeiz in Raouche, the rest at private homes in Beirut, Paris and Washington.
For all her speed, Maalouf spent two years creating the works for "New World Order." She says she thought about showing them on her own, but the space at Art Lounge actually added to their meaning. "I just knew that I would definitely not show them in a traditional art gallery. It's too - I don't know. It's not me," she says.
"The idea was to show we are abusing the earth ... Instead of wanting more and more, it might be worth taking a pause."
Wouldn't Al Gore be proud?
When asked why she paints at all, Maalouf says she has no idea. "It's like reading a book but painting is easier than putting a story into words. I had a story in my head. What I'm imagining in the second room is a complete fiction."
As to what she plans to work on next, Maalouf says a third installment is in the offing. "What will happen when we move [to another planet]?" she asks before demurring from divulging further details.
Nayla Maalouf's "New World Order" is on view at Art Lounge through March 31. For more information, please call +961 3 997 676