"No, I am not going to change my style." Meet Flavia Codsi
I met Flavia at Ginette, one of the more refined coffee places in Gemmayze, a neighborhood of Beirut. She strode in carrying her motorcycle helmet, and I could still feel the wind in her long dark hair. Ah, I love people with a wild heart! Her free yet grounded spirit, deep gaze and warm smile gave me hope that this would be a deep conversation. Exactly what I like!
"Welcome to Beirut," Flavia said, smiling. "How did you end up here?"
This question has always been a stone in my throat... I was intimidated to tell people the truth for fear they might consider me irresponsible, or worse. Oh well, I thought... Since I am no longer at the border dealing with customs, I have nothing to lose.
"Adventure," I said hesitantly.
Flavia smiled warmly. She understood. Uff, a kindred spirit!
Flavia took over la parole (the conversation) and drew me straight into her story... Her self-confidence came through as she told me how she said no to army soldiers who asked her to draw portraits of their commanders during the civil war, how she transitioned from drawing for interior designers (see this work below) to painting and how she's refused to compromise her integrity even in the face of major changes in the art world.
Flavia's stories hit me like a big, inspiring woosh of courage, persistence and trust in life. She was a prime example of how to live your truth, your true life. Suddenly my own journey of how I arrived, and stayed, in Beirut felt less bizarre.
There had been no particular (or, for heavens sake, planned!) reason for me to come to Beirut. I had a vague opportunity to do my workshops there but nothing was guaranteed nor planned. I thought I'd go and see. Why not?
I'd been so hesitant to explain this to people for fear of being considered suspicious. Doesn't everyone these days have a well-orchestrated plan? If anything, my move was a borne from a spontaneous burst of enthusiastic curiosity. (Note to self: pay attention to what lights you up like that!) As soon as I arrived, everything just worked out for me, like riding a smooth wave all the way into shore. My time with Flavia was confirming how right it was for me to be in Beirut.
I want to share with you Flavia's story. Let's start with her experience during the civil war. It's a great example of her character and spirit.
"My clients were still in Hamra, where we used to live. So I would cross the demarcation line (sometimes there would be snipers), go see my clients, take all the information and go back the next morning, crossing over the checkpoints with my portfolio and all these drawings…”
Surreal, right? As I listened to her tell this story, I caught myself flashing back to my childhood in Lithuania. I used to love listening to a radio show where they interviewed interesting and brave people. Some of them traveled the world, while the others were making an impact at home. I used to gaze through my bedroom window toward the horizon, imagining how it would feel to meet these people in person, to talk to them and hear their stories directly…
And here I was - with Flavia - listening to her courageous story while scooters and Beirutis passed by, sprinkling our conversation with an ambient soundtrack.
Flavia went on to tell me about the period when the art scene started to change in the West, with many artists delving into installations and conceptual art. Some of her painter friends were getting scared about these new trends and wondering if they'd need to change their style to stay relevant - or maybe change professions altogether. Not Flavia. Even if it creates logistical problems for the Sursock Museum (which has her painting “Les trois Mounira”) and the galleries that exhibit her work, Flavia still loves painting on big canvases. With an unshakable belief in herself, she declared:
“No, I am not going to change my style. I am satisfied with what I am doing. I am doing it first for myself and thank God people are loving it. There will always be people who want paintings on their walls.”
Have a listen to this:
Such a strong personality, isn't it? Her words reminded me once again that living life in accordance with our intuition rather than being swayed by the opinions of the others is what enables us to live authentically while still driving on our own highway. I do realize that this route is not for everyone as it's not always easy. But those who dare embark on it can create a liberating and interesting life.
Once we finished our coffees, we walked to Flavia’s apartment so I could see her work. It was my first time in a traditional Lebanese home - I had only admired windows from below. "I wonder how it is inside," I often mused, while getting lost in the streets of Beirut.
Stepping into Flavia's home, I felt like I had entered another universe! I was welcomed by high ceilings, top-to-bottom arch-shaped windows, traditional mosaic-tiled flooring and a curtain dancing with the wind.
And now, Beirut was looking at us from the other side.
Here is Flavia's triptych of her self-portrait...
One of the side walls was home to another self-portrait that included her husband. I found this painting very intense and moving...
The shelves housed books, photos and mementos... I love that signage, by the way...
After we spend some time in the salon, Flavia opened a side door that led to her studio, which was filled with huge paintings. The characters within those canvases stopped my breathing on the spot. They were so intense and alive, piercing deeply into my soul and saying: "I've got you now." Suddenly I felt like there were so many of us in that space.
Here is one of Flavia's earlier works - illustration design for a book for children about the Lebanese old houses called Houses of Beirut:
I found Flavia’s work to be nothing short of sacred. Not in a strictly religious sense, but in a spiritual, meditative way. I can only imagine the countless hours Flavia spends with her cast of characters. First imagining them, then breathing life into them, and finally letting them rest on her canvases.
I always feel so blessed whenever I'm allowed to enter someone's creative space or home. They're the most intimate environments, and they possess a special energy that can be transformative to an outsider. Flavia's world was no exception.
Thank you, Flavia, for sharing that afternoon and for letting me have a glimpse into your world.