‘[Kayyali] seemed to have encapsulated all his force at the height of his health status, and finally his use of the Masonite medium took its place as a great signature, so as we see in the picture of ‘Al Shakikatan’ the red pigment plays a striking role, and we are confronted with a very anatomical approach pushed to other dimensions, showing the humane as well as the expressionist side. We can see this clearly in the positioning of the relaxed hand of the sister of the right, on the shoulder of the sister of the left. Wrapped in a very rare tenderness. However, the bottom part of the composition becomes sculptural with harsh details, balancing in a positive contrast the shy flowers on her hands...’
(S. Mohammed, quoted in “Critical Study”, S. Maksoud, Louay Kayyali, Damascus 1999, translated from Arabic).
Christie’s Dubai is proud to be entrusted with two very important works by the Syrian artist Louay Kayyali. Who is internationally acclaimed as Syria’s finest modernist painter. He produced an extensive oeuvre in his short-lived life documenting people of various social standing. By age twenty-six Kayyali was already an established and sought after artist for his series of flowers, still lives, fine commissioned portraits and his street vendors’ series. After completing his art degree at the Academy of fine arts of Rome in the early 1960s, he returned to Damascus during its golden era, a time of zeal and fervour that followed Syria’s independence. Brought up in a bourgeois family from Aleppo, he was welcomed with open arms by the elite social circles of both major cities, Damascus and Aleppo. However Kayyali’s real interest lay somewhere else, his heart and mind was occupied with the ideologies of freedom and with the political activists which witnessing a parallel rebellious movement subjecting the miseries in the streets of his nation. As a result, Kayyali sought to uncover and reveal the harsh socio-economical reality of 1960s Syria which contrasted with the seeming reality of the country’s burgeoning cultural art scene.
This season, Christie’s is offering two very distinct works from two different periods and moods from the enigmatic artist’s life. These two seminal works are particularly special as they are two of the most documented and critically referenced works from the artist’s oeuvre which were later used as visual tributes to his life and work posthumously. The first of this exception works entitled Al Shakikatan is undeniably one of the most intriguing and important compositions from Kayyali’s golden period. In his turbulent life, Kayyali’s temper fluctuated from extreme moments of content and acceptance to dark moments of self-criticism and sadness. The following work could be listed as one of his happiest works depicting figures. It was of such particular personal importance to the artist that in 1974, he chose to present it with four other distinct works; Azef al Oud, Amam Bab Al Makk’ha, Al Hammel and Al Murdi’a at the major exhibition of Aleppine artists in Aleppo club.
Usually depicting single figures in his works, in Al Shakikatan, Kayyali surprised the art community with the introduction of a second figure in this unusual composition. Shaking the usual perfect balance of the lone and solitary figures he was mostly known to depict, by painting these two anonymous mysterious sisters, Kayyali reinvigorated his aesthetic with a subtle change. In this composition, the sisters dominate the canvas, their slender bodies covered in modest yet colourful clothing while their hair is worn in a simple fashion of those days.
The colour of their garments are contrasting, yet similar in style, thus creating harmony and balance between the two characters. His use of Masonite, which at the time was a new choice of medium for the artist, offers a rich texture in its simplicity that highlights Kayyali’s command of spatial composition.
The significance of this composition lies in the depiction of the close sisterly bond shared by the figures, wrapping each other in a tenderness embrace. One sister extends her arm around her sibling in a demonstrative and affectionate gesture while the other nurses the bouquet of flowers, like a baby. Kayyali has delicately painted the elegant features and gestures of the two sisters to highlight their pleasant personas and presence. This tantalising composition is reinforced by the bouquet of daisies, which both lovingly caress. The daisies are a symbol for the loving, protective and caring bond the sister’s share - a touching tribute to a beautiful, yet intimate relationship. This peculiar composition is demonstrative of an underlying sense of warmth, which is argued by many to be a visual metaphor for an illicit relation between Kayyali and a lover, personified in the bodies of two women. In this sense, Al Shakikatan holds particular importance in the context of the artist’s body of works and is undeniably a collector’s piece.