Looking at life on easel street
CARBONDALE Majid Kahhak is in the moment. Holding three paint brushes and a small spatula in his left hand, he switches from a brush to a spatula with his right. He commands the room’s attention as he adds color and lines to a long, vertical canvas and speaks of his process with passion in his Moroccan accent.For Kahhak, art is an illusion. A relationship. An encounter.”What makes art?” he asks his class of nine.”To find angles and meanings that are unique to you,” he promptly answers.The squeak of a shiny hardwood floor and the strum of a mandolin echo through the Kahhak Fine Arts School gallery in Carbondale.Students watch as Kahhak captures on canvas the image of a bearded man playing a glossy black mandolin against a backdrop of Kahhak’s colorful oil paintings.The musician, Jonathan Copeland of Glenwood Springs, wears worn-out blue jeans and scuffed cowboy boots, stopping the music periodically to take in Kahhak’s words.”He moved, fine by me. I’ve already made my decision,” Kahhak said. “You flow with the model, accept what’s coming. Here’s the big secret – don’t commit early on. Keep the painting in a state of flux, moving.”Suddenly, Kahhak has regrets.
Stepping back from the easel and canvas, he displays a brief look of dissatisfaction. He’s not happy that the oblong-sized canvas he chose won’t accommodate all of the mandolin.
But he quickly goes back to the canvas with earnest.”Subdued colors keep coming to me,” he said.”It’s the same thing with music. … You’re creating,” Copeland said.”You have to give your creativity a context on which to react,” Kahhak adds.Copeland’s voice takes a more melodic form. “I’m sitting here, trying to search my soul,” he sings. “But I know I have to go.”
Kahhak allows the moment to happen.”I’m not going to say much now,” he said, quietly.”I’m sitting here in limbo, like a bird without a song,” Copeland croons.Adding more brush strokes, Kahhak appears pleased with the setting. “So basically, I am responding to what is happening,” he said. “I took a plunge, because I did not commit. Along the way, you have beautiful surprises.” Every few minutes, passersby stroll down Carbondale’s Main Street sidewalk on a Wednesday evening. Two couples hold hands. A man in a wool sweater and cap walks next to his bicycle. Kids laugh over conversation. Nearly all of them peer in the gallery’s window or look in the door to see where the music is coming from, and where students’ eyes are so intently focused.
Almost complete, the portrait of the musical model started with a few broad brushstrokes of red oil paint on a white canvas.”Oh that’s beautiful,” one female student had remarked.The red strokes speak to Kahhak.”Red alone is beautiful,” he remarks. “Gray is beautiful. Black is beautiful.”Copeland begins to play and sing Bruce Springsteen’s song “Atlantic City.” The room is still, as Kahhak makes his last stroke.”Thank you,” he said to Copeland. “That was beautiful. I really responded to that.”
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