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“Sterile Life” – A Pandemic Portrait

Creativity can feel scarce in a pandemic. So Mansour Aoun went after the pandemic itself.

Sterile LIfe

Mansour Aoun had just finished his studies in Paris. He was supposed to go to Lebanon for the holidays.

This was one of many things that didn’t go as planned.

He didn’t plan to go viral on Reddit. He didn’t plan to 3D-render a bottle of hand sanitizer. He didn’t plan on becoming a visual artist to begin with.

Mansour had left Lebanon to study musical composition six years ago. Back then, he had plans. He had ideas about the world, and discrete methods for approaching his work.

You might imagine a similar mind behind “Sterile Life,” a very smooth, delicate still life piece Mansour created while quarantined during the coronavirus pandemic. It follows the seventeenth-century Dutch masters in light and texture.

It has over 22,000 points on Reddit.

For those unfamiliar with still lifes, these typically feature a single, everyday subject. Remember that time you tried to draw an apple? A centuries-old pastime.  

Still lifes date back to around the Middle Ages, in ancient Rome. The artform had its “Golden Age” starting in 1500s in the Netherlands.

In that Golden Age, these paintings often had some underlying religious significance, a message hidden under the layers – maybe how one of the objects is oriented, or how the light strikes it. These were spiritual allegories.

Between then and now, it’s been an extremely formal, classical genre. Hence the nice surprise whenever a contemporary still life is this well-executed.

“Sterile Life” is both relevant and classically beautiful. It’s subversive and pays homage. It rides the tension well.

Mansour admits the intent. “I contemplated the still life paintings from renaissance periods, their lighting, compositions, frames, materials in photos.”

He used to render more abstract photos of still life. But somehow, a very clear, tangible feeling came from being isolated in a pandemic…

How Mansour Found His Style

Visual art was mostly a spare-time hobby for Mansour. And his digital blender art didn’t come along before April 2019.

He was inspired by his father, an oil painter in Lebanon who kept shelves full of art books in their home.

For a long time, as with his music, Mansour approached his work with a formula, maybe like the Dutch masters would have. The art was “an intellectual goal that forced to deliver it,” he says.

Moving to Paris, Mansour picked up some new tricks.

Mansour created music videos for French indie bands like Extraa. These play with a more experiential style, shapes and colors always in flux. It’s a journey for the viewer that matches a gritty-but-catchy soundscape.

He worked on short films. One he made in particular, based on a poem by William Blake, also evokes the still life concept.

Little did he know, this would continue to be a theme over the ensuing weeks.

Once the coronavirus pandemic hit, France followed Italy with some of the more stringent lockdown rules in Europe. Citizens required signed permission forms to leave their homes.

In short, Mansour’s plans changed quickly.

It was a difficult many weeks. It still is. But it was only a matter of time before the lockdown resulted in more art. “Why not record this atmosphere in art?” he said.

And that’s where it gets interesting.

What Makes “Sterile Life” Unique

Typically, when you create a still life, you draw the subject in front of you, and it’s a mundane, plentiful subject – a bouquet or a bowl of lemons.

Mansour wanted to try something different. He says he “wanted to make something random, but in a still life style.”

Sterile LIfe

It was also a different kind of method for Mansour. Instead of defining an “intellectual goal,” before even contemplating what “message” he would convey, he decided to have fun.

He followed the raw, momentary inspiration, “completely out of everyday life,” as he puts it. And a message followed, whether intended or not.

With Mansour’s “Sterile Life,” he explores the subject of scarcity. “Trying different objects like lemon or tissue looked fake and decorative. I noticed limited masks, gloves were limited.”

The impression on the viewer is nostalgic; it touches a place of longing. “I drew as if, ‘what would it be like if I had those things,’” he says.  

Mansour still composes film and music videos.

He’s currently still in his small Paris apartment. “Trying to get back to Lebanon when things resume.”

You can view Mansour’s video projects right here: https://vimeo.com/mansouraoun

Follow Mansour on Instagram at @visualartistatnite 

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