The first time I saw Omar Onsi was in the Emergency Room at
Berbir Hospital, 30 years ago. A 66 year old man, slight build, ashen face, dry skin,
sunken eyes and cheeks, hugely distended, on the verge of shock. He has suffered an acute
large intestinal occlusion. Little did I know, then, who Omar Onsi was; all I knew, the
man needed urgent surgery. After the necessary preparations, I operated on him to relieve
Onsi was of great charm. keen sensibility, and prodigious intelligence. He had something devout and kindly, an air "near holiness". He committed himself entirely to his work; art was his "raison d'etre", his life, his paintings a substitute for the children he never had. He would not depart with his children easily.
The Onsis lived in almost complete isolation, seldom went out: a vernissage, an occasional theater, a visit to a very intimate friend, and on the 14th of July.
Onsi lived from his work, "having no other patrimony than his brushes". He worked alone and had no pupils; sometimes he, even, fashioned his own frames. His wife was at the same time, housewife, manager, and "vendeuse". Once, on a buying spree, I asked Mrs. Onsi to show me some water-colors; while slowly unfolding those beauties, she suddenly stopped before the "Rocks at Meyrouba" and announced: "Il est la"; he is there, alluding of course to her husband's artistic ammunitions; I smiled approvingly, and she made a sale.
Onsi returned home in 1930: return to the roots, return to earth, source of all esthetic laws, return to the motherland, with a French wife and dreams. His mood suddenly released, bounded forward. Lebanon the scared soil of vigorous sap and delicate growth, that bountiful earth, awakened Onsi's instinctive poetic imagination, and he, with inventiveness, translated into line and color its immemorial values. He traveled to neighboring Syria and brought back the Druses series, and evocation of a mood, the artist had left, after the loss of his first love. For the rest of his life Onsi will passionately working hard, in the ravishing act of painting.
When I knew Omar Onsi, he had been painting for more than 45 years. Though sympathetic with oil, pastel, "ancre de chine", he had the taste and passion for that light, feathery, plastic expression, the water-color.
The last I saw of my friend, a thinned out, slightly hunchbacked, aging gentleman of solemn grace, with resplendent inner grandeur. The eyes now deep, the luster gone, looked far and beyond this ephemeral world. I never told him what he had; he never asked; he certainly never knew, he had a short time to live.