Fisherman in Arwad, with fishing boats in the afternoon sun, was created by Kayyali during a very short stay on Arwad island on the outskirts of Tartous. Features of this small fishing village included a small harbour and a few remaining old stone walls from the time of the cavalry. As such, it became a popular fishing destination and place of relaxation on the road from Damascus to Aleppo. Even today Arwad is still relatively unknown as a tourist destination, but rather a domestic hidden gem. Kayyali often passed through during periods of convalescence. It was during this time that his figures took on a more monumental appearance.
This particular work depicts a silenced figure, concentrating on his fishing thread and turning his back to the sea. Oversized, he fills almost the entire space of the canvas, with no freedom to move. The effect is almost architectural, the figure large and heavily poised resting on a strong base, with two fishing boats lined up along the shore in front of the port of Tartous. Historical photographs on postcards allow us to compare Kayyali's depiction with the real appearance of the harbour at around the same time. What is lacking in these photographs, of course, is colour and artistic imagination and the simplicity of the lines in Kayyali's perfect flow.
Kayyali's 'happy' periods tended to be quite rare, but during such moments he took joy in exaggerating the colour contrasts in his work and added an exaggerated light of deep yellows and orange, set in the hot afternoon of the day. He used bright tones of blue and yellow, orange and ochre, juxtaposed with the help of some dark contours which heightened the sense of flatness. The small fishing boats, simplified in their forms, appear in the background, the upper part of the work dominated by the subtle tone of a green blue sky which wraps this composition in a peaceful rendering of a calm summer afternoon.
Kayyali had been fascinated by simple lines in depicting his subjects. He had always been fascinated by people and labourers, like the peasants from his earlier paintings in the cotton fields near Aleppo, to the sellers in the streets of Damascus. The fishermen series is an equally important subject matter for Kayyali which he revisited throughout a number of periods in his career. When asked to produce the large canvas for the national museum of Damascus, his choice was that of the fishermen at work.