Lebanese acclaimed artist Willy Aractingi had an international profile form his early age, as he was born in the USA and raised in Cairo, before settling in Lebanon in the late 1940s. A self-taught artist, Aractingi was very young when he committed himself to painting. In the early 1970s, he opened a modern art gallery, showcasing the works of international Western artists such as Alan Davie, Alekos Fassianos and Niki De St Phalle to Beirut elitists. It was then that the artist was inspired to begin sketching and painting.
The artist is known for his vibrant and bold use of colours. While his techniques and colours are reminiscent of Douanier Rousseau and Paul Gauguin, Aractinigi’s works stand uniquely different with a quality very much to its own. He introduced a new way to look at art in the Middle East. His mastery in dealing with shades and colours coupled with a subtle way of telling his stories is uncommon to artist’s within the region.
The works of Willy Aractingi are not that innocent, as they portray naïve and vulnerable looking cartoon figures. Upon further investigation one finds a clandestine rebellion underneath the innocent first impressions. Aractingi‘s art is highly symbolic and carries strong references to morality.
He is the only known artist to have interpreted oil on canvas in the 244 Jean de la Fontaine (French, 1621-1695) Fables, becoming one of his most important achievements. Much less significant are his paintings irrelated to any tale but his own.
Following the artist’s death, his family Estate donated 230 of his works to the Sursock Museum in Beirut. In 2017, the museum dedicated a retrospective curated by Yasmine Chemali who gathered some 120 works under the title Les Mondes de Willy Aractingi (1930-2003), shedding a light on his work from 1973 until his death. It is important to note that the subjects reflected in his oeuvre are not derived from the famous popular culture tales from the Levant as well as from La Fontaine, but more so they are derived from his wild imagination.
He is known to invite folkloric characters such as Antar, Abla, Geha, Tarzan, Adam and Eve as well as animals of all kinds onto his canvases and place them within rich compositions where reality and imagination intertwine. Lions, foxes and monkeys, come together with doves and birds painted in magical and optimistic colours.
Aractingi ‘gardens’ his canvas in the present lot that comes from his cosmic Flower series. One feels looking at Willy’s painting that the highest human experience is being alone and at peace with the land and the universe.
With his fun imagination as well as his love of nature, we feel we are in the presence of a master gardener connoisseur in flora. Just by observing the juxtaposition of lively colours, a wild yellow large flower is presented like a happy sun in a daylight composition.
His representations mostly still unknown to the wide public whether taken from his own stories, the fables, tales or the cosmic flowers series have the power to stop instantly the viewer opening the door wide for a free spirit to take an instant magical mystery trip into his dream-like floating world.
Aractingi has showed his work in numerous one man shows and group exhibitions, and his works are found in private collections in Lebanon, France, the United Kingdom and the USA.