Christie's is delighted to present a selection of works by one of the most eclectic Lebanese artists of the twentieth century Aref El-Rayess. As one of the most fascinating Modern painters of his generation, his stunning oeuvre consists of beautifully painted shapes and colours which harmonise to form both innovative and thought provoking canvases. Having lived in Lebanon, Dakar and Paris, the artist was exposed to a plethora of cultural and visual stimuli such as theatre, mime, African textiles and to the artistic feats of Fernand Léger and André Lhote. It is therefore unsurprising that his artistic practice transcended the elements of painting and explored a diverse set of material experimentation, including sculpture. There is a strong sense of spirituality laced into El-Rayess' oeuvre. The vibrancy of his works are undoubtedly influenced by a sense of spirituality.
The artist's legacy leaves behind a rich body of works that embrace expressive realism, vibrancy and a beautiful visual language. The artist plays close attention to the elements which make up his artistic compositions. Though they visually create a sense of organic and colourful spontaneity, each facet of the canvas is uniquely placed as the result of an intellectual thought process. The artist drew a great source of inspiration from Arabic calligraphy, its boldness and unique lines and shapes were of particular significance to him not only visually, but also symbolically.
Christie's is proud to offer this season three works that explore different periods of time and different stages of Aref El-Rayess' artistic process. The first work (lot 20 in the present sale) dated circa 1960s was painted during a decade in which the artist spent a great deal of time travelling; journeying between Italy, greater Europe and the United States, it was undoubted that there were numerous sources of influence to this period of his artistic production. However, typical to his Florence period of works, the early 1960s were a time when the artist was largely based in Italy on scholarship from the Italian Cultural Centre in Beirut. The present work adopts a unique artistic language that revolves around the harder edges of geometric pattern and design. The artist provides a unique medley of straight-edged shapes harmonised by a warm, almost earthy sense of colour. Marrying the ideas of simplicity and complexity, El-Rayess' work is a beautifully orchestrated composition.
The second work (lot 21) commonly entitled Martha's Belly is a work that carries a strong personal and emotional significance. Painted during the time that his wife, Martha, was pregnant with his daughter Hala, this captivating work is nuanced with an undoubted sense of vibrancy, unique combination of shapes and overall cheerfulness. Inscribed in Arabic on the reverse of the canvas by the artist a few years after he painted the work, it is a touching homage to his love for his wife and daughter. The dynamism and lighthearted nuances of his strokes on this canvas are evident of a very happy father-to-be. Its elongated lines and unusually swirled shapes seem more distant from the distinct geometrically focused technique that the artist usually employs as the painting seems guided by an emotive hand, rather than one that is potentially thought-out through artistic process.
The third work (lot 22) was painted in 1996 and stands as an evidence of a much later period in the artist's career. Through the use of a greater contrast of colours, the artist shows a distinct juxtaposition of colour and shape to formulate each element of the canvas. Through the combination of circles and variations of line El-Rayess creates a more contemporary composition that is nuanced with the sense of a greater artistic maturity as both his colours and shapes become bolder and more pronounced.
Christie's is enthusiastic to present such a diversity of works from the artist's collection. Spanning from his earliest technique to his most mature methodology, this body of works traces significant moments throughout the artist's life - both personally and artistically. As the essence of El-Rayess' oeuvre, these works provide an insight into the evolution of the artist's style and the way significant events in his life manifested through his artistic career. The three works in the present sale are a testimony to the artist's status as one of the
pioneers of Modern Arab art.