The Artwork of Sari Khoury: biography

Sari Ibrahim Khoury

Birth: 1941 Jerusalem, Palestine.
Death: 1997 Detroit, Michigan, USA


MFA 1965 Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, MI
Major: Painting
BFA 1963 Ohio Wesleyan University, Delaware, OH
Major: Painting, Minor: Sculpture
Other Summer Study of Renaissance Painting with research at National Gallery of Art, American University, Washington DC


My work has developed over the years from a figurative to a non figurative approach. However, certain elements of the figure continue to persist. Symbolic content is more suggested than contrived, and emerges out of a personal warehouse of experiences. My visual vocabulary is rooted in my training in the modern traditions ranging from Cubism, to Surrealism, to Abstract Expressionism.

Influences on my work incorporate the enigmatic paintings of Klee and Gorky, the structural sense of Kandinsky and the spontaneity of Matisse. Hence, my work can be hard edged on one hand, and expressionistic on the other. But in either case the emphasis remains on the spontaneity of shape, line, texture and color. I thrive on experimentation with media, and tools which allow me to create a variety of sensual surfaces achieved through methods of layering.

My cultural roots encompass Arabic writing, Islamic design, as well as Byzantine images such as icons of the Orthodox Church. The Byzantine influence manifests itself mainly through the suspension of images, the sense of design, and a non-objective approach to the human figure. Elements of the Arabic scripts, Naskhi and Kufic, is manifested in my work in the balance of curvilinear configurations and geometricity.


Sari grew up in Jerusalem, the youngest son of an educator in a family of eight children. He knew early on that he wanted to become an artist. Creativity and working with your hands was encouraged in his family. His training began in the Holy City (al-Quds), drawing the sites and images of every day life. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher and other ancient sites influenced his spirituality, his humanity and his mysticism, ever present in his works.

Coming to the United States at the age of 17, he continued his education at Ohio Wesleyan University where he earned a BFA in 1963, and at Cranbrook Academy of Art where he completed his MFA in 1965. After graduation, Sari taught at Berea College in Kentucky for two years, and subsequently accepted a position in the Art Department at Central Michigan University where he continued to teach for thirty years.

It was in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, that Sari and I began our married life and had our family of three sons. As a third generation educator, Sari found he enjoyed teaching. His students benefited from his experience, dedication and guidance. He challenged them to explore and push the boundaries of their art, and, he took great pride when his students achieved recognition through juried exhibits.

The spirit and dynamism with which he pursued his art permeated every aspect of life. During his tenure at Central Michigan University, Sari went through several distinctive periods in his abstract work. He was never one to be satisfied and continued to pursue new directions. He encouraged growth in all of us -- his family as well as his students. His professionalism was not only evident in his work and teaching, but, carried into his academic duties. Sari served the university in many capacities, among them as chairman of the Art Department. He was a man who searched for excellence in every responsibility he accepted.

Sari's work has been exhibited nationally and internationally. His commitment to an equitable political solution in Palestine led to his participation in an exhibit, titled It is Possible in 1988. Sari was invited to show his work along with 24 other Palestinian and Israeli artists for peace. Sari's large abstracts and drawings were on display in Germany, Sweden, Tokyo as well as major sites in the United States .

In 1992, Sari was the recipient of an award for his contributions to the arts in Wayne County, Michigan. In 1995, he was invited to exhibit his paintings at the Detroit Institute of Arts as part of a series on Arab-American Artists. His mural of life in Dearborn, Michigan (6' x 24') hangs in the social services building of the ACCESS Center. His work— much like the WPA artists of the depression years, depicts immigrant life and work in the Ford Rouge Plant area of Dearborn. ACCESS recognized his artistic and creative contributions to their community in early 1997.

Sari loved to travel and visit studios, galleries and museums whenever he had the opportunity. His sabbatical leaves led him to visit sites in England, Germany, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Spain. His research focused on Islamic design and architecture and Byzantine Iconography. During his last sabbatical leave in 1996, Sari researched Arab art and architecture in the Moorish sites in Madrid, Toledo, Seville and Granada. He reserved Barcelona for further study in Modern and Post Modern Art.

Our travel to Spain would be one of Sari's last major trips. In reflection, I think back on our thirty years together and the warmth, joy and sense of adventure we shared. It was his sensitivity, thoughtfulness, strength and passion for life and art that we will miss the most. We, as a family, have embraced his philosophy on life and art. His paintings and drawings surround us and evoke strong memories of long hours spent in his studio. We are filled with a great sense of appreciation and gratitude that he left his spirit on canvas and paper. It is a rare person who knows his life's work early on, but, Sari did, and fulfilled the promise of his extraordinary talent.