Fredericton-born artist Chantal Khoury has been awarded the prestigious Joe Plaskett Award in Painting.
The daughter of Lebanese immigrants, Khoury was named this year’s recipient in September by the foundation bearing the late artist’s name.
The national accolade worth $65,000 is given annually to an outstanding, emerging Canadian painter who wishes to live, work and learn overseas beyond Europe and the United Kingdom.
“I am profoundly grateful to receive the Joe Plaskett Award,” Khoury told New Canadian Media in an email. “I have unwavering support and I don’t take that for granted.”
Plaskett, who died in 2014, is one of this country’s most talented and established artists.
In a news release, the foundation said a jury of three — Jordan Bennett, a Mi’kmaw visual artist based in Halifax, Meera Sethi, a contemporary Canadian artist in Toronto, and M.E. Sparks, an artist and educator living in Winnipeg — selected Khoury as this year’s recipient because of her “visually striking and beautiful” paintings.
“In her work, she explores cultural loss and presence in a postcolonial condition while questioning the meaning of the mark in abstract painting,” the foundation said. “Drawing inspiration from a diversity of scholars and artists from the Global South, she uses traditional painting techniques to address the diaspora through a contemporary methodology, leveraging paint’s versatility through the lens of abstraction.”
Khoury, whose parents Michael and Nadia Khoury are well established in the New Brunswick arts scene, said her paintings acknowledge loss while seeking to retrieve it — both in material and metaphor.
“Painting is a language I use to explore, express and try to understand ideas I can’t always put in words,” said Khoury, who recently completed her Master of Fine Arts at the University of Guelph.
Khoury’s selection as this year’s Plaskett winner marks the sixth time the distinction has been awarded to a University of Guelph artist since 2015.
In a news release, Dr. Samantha Brennan, Dean of the University of Guelph’s College of Arts, described Khoury’s paintings as a meditation on history and memory, particularly from the artist’s position as part of the Lebanese diaspora.
“The fragile and tenuous resurrection of a culture manifests itself in paintings where what is erased is at least as significant as what is left behind,” Brennan said.
The dispersion of Lebanese people within Canada and New Brunswick was the focus of an exhibit by Khoury in 2020 at Fredericton’s Beaverbrook Art Gallery called Other Peoples Gardens.
John Leroux, the gallery’s manager of collections and exhibitions, said Khoury is “very connected” to things that have a deep cultural meaning and does a great job of focusing her Lebanese heritage with contemporary art exploration.
“Every year, I see her work and it’s increasingly getting better,” Leroux said. “She is gaining a strong command of her medium … She works very hard, very diligent at her craft and that’s why we showed her at the Beaverbrook a [few] years ago.”
Leroux said Khoury has a wonderful sense of colour and a gestural scale.
“She is very dedicated to her art and spends the time that’s needed to do meaningful things.”
Khoury, meanwhile, intends to spend her year abroad in London, Paris, and Lebanon to study various works and explore collections of cultural artifacts.
Part of the overall journey will be to connect with her family’s heritage by visiting culturally and historically relevant places in Lebanon, as well as getting involved in community and scholarly pursuits pertinent to her work.
“I will study pivotal artworks in museum collections across Europe and Lebanon,” Khoury said. “I will have uninterrupted time to deepen my education and, therefore, my research.”
Khoury hasn’t set travel dates yet, opting, instead, to leave when she feels the time is right.
“The award lets me travel for a year, which I’ll divide into different periods,” Khoury said. “I grew up with diverse objects and traditions. I’m eager to explore their origins, learn from artists outside the Western Canon, like Etel Adnan, and critically assess how Western museums present global artists. I’ll find works crucial to my research, many of which I’ve only seen online.”
Khoury, who lives and works between Toronto and Montreal but considers the latter home, said art is something she has pursued since she was six.
“It’s all I ever wanted. From the outside, it seems I have gained great success, or am living a dream, but it comes with many uphill battles and incredible challenges that others don’t see, especially for minorities. I’m grateful to have a family that never questioned my decisions. My parents sacrificed a lot but always gave unwavering support — not everyone is so lucky.”
Khoury, whose professional studio practice is full-time, works with galleries across Canada and the United States. She is also a part-time teacher — sometimes as a sessional lecturer or with workshops at universities — and will on occasion give artists talks.
Her solo exhibitions include Nicodim Gallery (Los Angeles and New York, 2023), Michael Gibson Gallery (London, Ont., 2022), Birch Contemporary (Toronto, 2021), the Beaverbrook Gallery (2020). Collections include the Royal Bank of Canada, the Art Gallery of Guelph, and the University of New Brunswick.
Khoury’s work was available for viewing late last month at Art Toronto in the Joe Plaskett Foundation Booth.
Story and photos are produced in partnership with New Canadian Media and SaltWire.
Michael Staples is a retired daily newspaper reporter from New Brunswick with more than 30 years experience. He has travelled extensively with Canada’s military and has reported from Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia during the Balkans War and from Haiti in 2004 following a three-week bloody rebellion that saw then-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide flee the country. He has also written extensively about Canada's involvement in the Afghanistan War. Michael has considerable experience covering crime, justice and immigration issues. In 1999 he was the lead journalist reporting on the airlift of hundreds of refugees from Kosovo to Canadian Forces Base Gagetown. He has been nominated twice for Atlantic Journalism Awards.