The first institutional retrospective of the late Lebanese artist Aref El Rayess (1928 – 2005) organized by Sharjah Museums Authority (SMA) in partnership with Sharjah Arts Foundation, presented more than five decades of artworks that reveal the rich and complex artistic practice during the artist’s travels to West Africa, the USA, and Europe.
Considered one of the acclaimed symbols in Lebanese and Arab arts and sculpting, his body of works has been exhibited in several countries around the world, including, Lebanon, Venezuela, Mexico, the US and Italy.
The exhibition, was home to more than a 100 paintings, drawings, sculptures and collages chronologically displayed in a manner that reflects the career and travels of the prolific Arab modernist that spans over 50 years.
Since it opened its door to the public on February 26, the exhibition welcomed more than 12,000 visitors, including renowned artists, budding amateurs, and young talents looking to study and analyze the artist’s distinctive works and unique style in arts and sculptures.
Held at the Sharjah Arts Museum, the exhibition chronicles the artist’s travels and inspirations throughout his decades of practice from when he travelled to Africa to help with the family business but was instead deeply moved by the stunning visuals and contrast in life and society.
This marked the beginning of El Rayess’s artistic journey which began in the late 1940s.
Having lived in Africa, Europe and the USA, the artist was introduced to new elements and impacts that he incorporated in his works from being influenced by European artists in the 50s and 60s, to changing styles and moving to abstract forms during his time in the USA.
But despite the years he spent away from home, he did not forget his roots and closely followed the developing political events in the Arab world, mainly the Lebanese civil war and the struggle for independence for many nations during that time.
This was reflected in his works including a series of sketches that were on display at the exhibition and were produced by the artist as an attempt to document the Lebanese civil war.
The profoundly political artist's work featured at the exhibition also includes one of his prominent works, Blood and Freedom, which portrays his sadness after the defeat in the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War of June 1967
Another important body of work featured as part of the exhibition are large size collages made from newspaper and magazine cut-outs to highlight the major influences of the 90s.
Other works from his time spent in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which were also on display show a significant change in the artist’s style and colors through mainly painting scenes from the desert devoid of any people or existence.
More works on oil paintings, photographs, and sculptures documenting important parts of human history.
Manal Ataya, Director General of SMA, stressed that the exhibition shines light on the unique Journey, accumulative experience and various artforms works of one of the most influential Arab artists, noting that such events play a pivotal role in enriching visitor’s artistic knowledge and stimulating their senses and sensibilities.
She noted that the success of the El Rayess exhibition is a key indicator for the authority to continue its mission to give more access to the works of renowned artists from around the world with focus on local and Arab artists who left their creative mark through distinguished works.
The Director General expressed her gratitude to the Sharjah Art Foundation for their continued support and partnership, adding that SMA is keen on enriching Sharjah's culture and art movement through its activities and events.