Undoubtedly one of the leading figures in Lebanese art history, Aref El-Rayess’ eclectic upbringing between Lebanon, Dakar and Paris have in turn allowed him to develop one of most eclectic and stylistic varying body of work. A multi-disciplinary artist and thinker, who expressed himself in sculpture as well as painting, he was fast to switch between distinct styles in different periods of his artistic career that embrace expressive realism and symbolism whilst reaching some form of abstraction. Very much influenced by the doctrine of the Druze, El-Rayess' works and thought processes imply a deep-rooted belief in notions of mysticism, reincarnation and the symbiosis of man and universe. A key theme that runs through all his works denotes the plasticity of a thought where mysticism rests on an experience of a vision.
In 1980, in the midst of the Civil War in Lebanon, Aref El-Rayess relocated temporarily to Saudi Arabia at the request of the Mayor of Jeddah at the time, Dr. Mohammed Said Farsi, and was commissioned to produce seven beautiful stone and aluminium sculptures that were placed in Jeddah's open-air museum, along with five other monuments in the city of Tabuk. Travelling within Saudi Arabia to source marble and stone for these commissions, El-Rayess was heavily drawn to the spirituality and serenity of the landscape of the desert and the long beach shores of Jeddah. He was inspired by the purity of the light, which he considered to be blessed and sacred and was compelled to capture in his works the essence of the mysticism and spirituality in which he so fervently believed. The present work from the 1980s is a captivating example from this Saudi Arabian period and captures the artist's deep-rooted liberation of mind and soul.
Depicting an impending and overwhelming cliff scene with a distinct reference to a hazy blue shore, it is clear that El-Rayess' intention is to open a new gateway into his soul, longing for a simplicity in form where nature and man are united. Captivated by the simplicity of nature El-Rayess uses abstraction and malleability of the elements to create his own lines and shape formations. On closer inspection of the cliffs jagged yet soft edges, it appears almost figurative, and these figures appear to be dancing and embracing the beauty of Mother Nature.
Heavily inspired by the Lebanese philosopher Mikhael Nouaymeh, El-Rayess deeply believed in the mysticism that joined man and universe and thus in turn, this spirituality becomes the fundamental base of this spectacular work. With a sense of lightheartedness, the artist plays on this note through nuances in his depiction of the rocks. As if to signify the full circle in which man and earth become one, there is a clear sense of a holistic approach that is a vital characteristic of El-Rayess' philosophy and thus emanates a sense of serenity and implicit happiness.