Dalloul Art Foundation

Dalloul Art Foundation

AREF RAYESS AREF RAYESS

AREF RAYESS, Lebanon (1928 - 2005)

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Bio

Written by Wafa Roz

Aref Rayess was a Lebanese painter, sculptor, and thinker who played a significant role in the history of Lebanese modern art. Born in Aley, Mount Lebanon, in 1928, he started drawing and painting at the tender age of eleven. The nomadic artist, who toured Africa, Europe, North America, and the Gulf, learned from his travels in developing his unique style but never had a formal art education. Although he was self-taught, he collaborated with Nicolas Nammar to found the Institute of Fine Arts at the Lebanese University in 1963, and taught there from 1966 until 1980. In 1969, he was elected chairman of the Lebanese Association of Artists and Sculptors, a position he held until 1977. Rayess was not only a multidisciplinary painter, sculptor, and illustrator, and he was also an astute thinker and keen observer. Influenced by the Druze doctrine and its esoteric notions of mysticism, he believed in the interconnectivity of the universe, man, and time. His works revolved around humanity, identity, and nature, denouncing injustice, materialism, and the superficiality of nationalism in the Global South. 

Rayess’s artistic talents manifested at an early age, as did his lifelong interest in the political subject matter. 

When he was only seventeen, Rayess completed a charcoal drawing depicting Hiroshima’s atomic bomb tragedy that caught the eye of Arlette Levi, a reporter for L’Orient,who happened to be visiting Rayess’s mother in Aley. Fascinated by his drawing, Levi returned the next day with the artist Georges Cyr, who was impressed and insisted that Rayess must show his work.

In Autumn of 1948, Rayess held his first exhibition in the West Hall of the American University of Beirut. He later traveled to Senegal, working merely to survive, painting scenes from his new surroundings with relish. He moved to Paris in the spring of 1948, where he trained in a variety of media with several prominent artists, including Fernand Léger and André Lhoté. While studying at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Montmartre, Rayess learned Etching with Johnny Friedlaender and sculpture with Ossip Zadkine and learned the art of corporeal mime under the tutelage of Etienne Decroux and Marcel Marceau. Rayess was first exposed to the pantomime in Senegal and found that grasping the art of corporeal movement nurtured his expressive abilities and enhanced the aesthetic level of his works. Between 1954 and 1956, Rayess spent his time touring West Africa, exploring the religious and cultural milieu of various ethnic groups there. His work during this time depicted the built environment, landscape, and theatrical practices he encountered in his travels, and took on an expressionistic style inspired by the bold colors, patterns, and motifs of West African visual traditions. 

Rayess returned to Lebanon in 1957,where he studied the elements of Phoenician, Assyrian, Sumerian, and Pharaonic art before moving to Florence on a scholarship from the Italian government. There, he studied sculpture under the mentorship of Antonio Berti, then moved to Rome, where he trained with Lionello Vantouri and Alberto Giacometti between 1960 and 1963. Influenced by Arte Povera, he produced works mixing oil paint with sand, comprising geometrical shapes, quirky lines, and circles resembling ancient mythical lands. The skills and interests he developed in Lebanon and Italy are apparent in two important commissions from the Lebanese government during this period. The first, a tapestry entitled The Signs of Cadmus (1958), was commissioned for presentation at the UNESCO Palace in Paris, and vibrantly depicts a hippocampus surrounded by letters from the Phoenician alphabet. For the second, Rayess produced two large Phoenician-style sculptures to represent Lebanon at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. 

The artist returned to Lebanon in 1963 and established himself amongst the capital’s artists and cultural workers. During this time, he worked with Janine Rubeiz to found Dar El Fan, a cultural space that was destined to play a major role in the artistic life of Beirut. Though he had hoped to settle down in Beirut, his commission for the 1964 World’s Fair ultimately won him a scholarship to the United States, where he spent two years traveling between several different states.

The political valances that had appeared in Rayess’s work from the time of his Hiroshima drawing developed sharper edges following the Arab defeat of 1967. During the 1970s, his paintings often focused on the decadence of nations, the tyranny of leaders, and tragedies of war, as is  evident in a series of dramatic and cynical paintings entitled Blood and Freedom (1971). In 1976, while in Algeria, he produced a remarkable collection of 37 etchings from charcoal drawings entitled The Road to Peace. These juxtaposed the dreadful events of the Lebanese Civil War with jarring figures and morbid backgrounds associated with the Algerian revolution. Rayess reflected on controversial social matters too, such as in a series of works entitled The Flowers of Rue Al Moutanabbi (1971-1973), in which he depicted scenes from a brothel in old downtown Beirut in colorful representational paintings. He never associated his work with a specific movement and considered his repertoire to be a vocabulary of images meaningful to himself. His work juggles diverse styles, deploying figuration, expressionism, symbolism, and geometrical abstraction across a variety of different media. His canvases voiced an endless dialogue between shape, form, color, and texture, often yielding to elaborately patterned surfaces in sober colors. 

In the 1980s, Rayess traveled to Saudi Arabia, where he was appointed as the Art Consultant for the city of Jeddah. Commissioned by Mohammad Said Farsi, the mayor of Jeddah, he produced several monumental public sculptures in marble and metal. The most significant of these is a twenty-seven-meter-high aluminum sculpture, a geometrical abstraction of the name Allah, which stands in Palestine Square. Captivated by the serenity of the desert and the extended seashores of Jeddah, he painted landscapes in artificial hues with rocks lying before surreal hazy backgrounds, maintaining a high level of plasticity in his works and depicting the desert light with a sense of purity and mysticism. 

Rayess spent his later years working in his homeland. Starting in 1999, he organized the annual Symposia of Painting and Sculpture, which invited Lebanese sculptorsto use a piece of land belonging to the municipality of Aley as an open-air studio. After the artist passed away in 2005, Wajdi Murad, Mayor of Aley, announced the opening of an outdoor museum, a garden, and an artspace in homage to the late Aref Rayess.

Sources

Abillama, Nour Salamé, Marie Tomb, Gregory Buchakjian, Sylvia Agémian, Tamara Zantout, and Pia Bou Khater. Art from Lebanon: modern and contemporary artists 1880-1975. Beirut, Lebanon: Wonderfuleditions, 2012.

Nammour, Cesar, and Gabriela Schaub. Resonances, 82 Lebanese artists reviewed by Helen Khal. Beirut: Fine Arts Publishing, 2011.

THE UNESCO WORKS OF ART COLLECTION. Accessed January 10, 2018. http://www.unesco.org/artcolle... 

Mokbel Art Collection - Collection. Accessed January 10, 2018. http://www.mokbelartcollection... 

"Aref El-Rayess." The Park Gallery. May 12, 2016. Accessed January 10, 2018. http://theparkgallery.com/arti... 

"Aref El-Rayess (Lebanese, 1928-2005) , Untitled." , Untitled | Christie's. Accessed January 10, 2018. http://www.christies.com/lotfi... 

"Aref El-Rayess (Lebanese, 1928-2005) , Untitled." , Untitled | Christie's. Accessed January 10, 2018. http://www.christies.com/lotfi... 

"Artistic research Practices." Catherine David - AREF RAYESS, ET LES ANNÉES 60 ET 70 À BEYROUTH - Archives - Artistic research Practices - Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts (ALBA) - Balamand University. Accessed January 10, 2018. http://www.alba.edu.lb/english...

"CommemoratingAref El Rayess (1928-2005)." Cloud of Lace. August 14, 2015. Accessed January 10, 2018. http://cloudoflace.com/commemorating-aref-el-rayess/.

Matar, William. One Fine Art | Artists - Sculptors / Aref El Rayess. Accessed January 10, 2018. https://www.onefineart.com/artists/sculptors/Aref-El-Rayess.

Nammour, Cesar, and Gabriela Schaub. Resonances, 82 Lebanese artists reviewed by Helen Khal. Beirut: Fine Arts Publishing, 2011.

Haddad, Reem. "Sculpting symposium nurtures Aley's dream to be 'bride of villages' again." The Daily Star Newspaper - Lebanon. Accessed January 12, 2018. http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Culture/Art/2000/Aug-29/104838-sculpting-symposium-nurtures-aleys-dream-to-be-bride-of-villages-again.ashx.

حديقة الفنان عارف الريس في عاليهAref Al Rayess
AghaniAghani. YouTube. November 28, 2013. Accessed January 12, 2018.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I56KmGGrfkM.

رحلة داخل الذات، عارف الريس في حوارات مع الصحافة. بيروت، لبنان: دار الجديد, ١٩٩٩   

A Selection of Interviews, Rehlah Dakhel al-Zat” (A journey within myself). Beirut, Lebanon: Dar AlJadeed Publishing, 1999.

Al Qobayssi, Omran. Aref Al Rayess. Beirut, Lebanon: Al Mohtaraf.

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CV

Selected Solo Exhibitions

2002

Noir et Blanc - Temps et Homme d'Aref Rayess, Espace SD, Beirut, 2002

2001

Chants du carré, Galerie Janine Rubeiz, Beirut, Lebanon

1997

Gallery World Of Art, Beirut, Lebanon

1996

Galerie Janine Rubeiz, Beirut, Lebanon

1995

Centre Culturel Français, Beirut, Lebanon

1993

Hommage au petit prince, French Cultural Center, Beirut

1979

Galerie Epreuve d’Artiste, Beirut, Lebanon

1978

Exposition Caracas, Venezuela

1976

Galerie Racim, Algeria

1975

Gallery Le Point, Beirut, Lebanon

1974

Ornina Gallery, Damascus

1973

The Flowers of Rue Al Moutanabbi, Galerie Contact, Beirut, Lebanon

1972

Gallery One, Beirut,Lebanon

1971

Galerie Manoug, Beirut, Lebanon

1970

Dar El Fan, Beirut, Lebanon

1969

Dar El Fan, Beirut, Lebanon
National Museum of Damascus

1968

L’Orient-le Jour, Beirut, Lebanon

1967

Gallery One, Beirut, Lebanon

1966

Rodin Museum, Paris,France

1964

Galerie Excelsior, Mexico
D’Arcy Galleries, New York, USA
Galerie La Licorne, Beirut, Lebanon

1963

Galerie La Licorne, Beirut, Lebanon

1961

Galerie La Licorne, Beirut, Lebanon

1959

Poliani Gallery, Rome, Italy
Numero Gallery, Florance, Italy

1958

Galerie Alecco Saab, Beirut, Lebanon

1957

Italian Cultural Center, Beirut, Lebanon

1954

Dakar, Senegal, Africa

1948

American University of Beirut, West Hall, Lebanon

Selected Group Exhibitions

2020

Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950-1980s, Grey Art Gallery, New York University; Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, Illinois; Herbert F. Johnson Museum, Cornell University, New York; McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College; University of Michigan Museum of Art; US

2019

At the still point of the turning world, there is the dance, Sursock Museum, Beirut, Lebanon

2013

Tajreed,CAP Kuwait, Kuwait

2012

Art from Lebanon, Beirut Exhibition Center, Beirut, Lebanon

1980

UNESCO, Lebanon

1979

Ministry of Tourism, Lebanon

1974

1ere Biennale des Artistes Arabes, Baghdad, Iraq

1968

International Exposition, New York, USA

1967

Biennale Musée Rodin, Paris, France

1966

Sursock Museum, Lebanon

1964

New York World Fair, USA

1961

Sursock Museum, Lebanon

1960

Biennale São Paulo, Brazil

1957

Ministry of Education, Lebanon

1955

Ministry of Education, Lebanon

1948

UNESCO, Beirut, Lebanon

Awards and Honors

1982

The Tarua Europe’s Award in Rome

1967

First Prize at the Sursock Museum’s Award for Painting in the Salon D'Automne

1966

Ministry of Tourism First and Second Prizes for Sculpture
Sursock Museum Grand Prix de Sculpture

1965

Sursock Museum Grand Prix de Sculpture

1963

Ministry of Public Works First and Second Prize for Sculpture 

1957

UNESCO Prize for the Spring Salon

1955

Lebanese Ministry of National Education Award for the spring exhibition

Publications

2004

Rayess, Aref. Al Layl Al Tṭawīl Wa’al Kalimah. (The Long Night and The Word) 

2003

Rayess, Aref. Al Ayyām Al Ramādīyah: Alwān, Aḥruf, Suwar" (The Gray Days: Colors, Letters, Pictures). Riad El Rayess Books

2001

Rayess, Aref. A Dedication to his daughter "Hodourak Fi Ghiyab Al Thol" (Your presence in the absence of the shadow)

2000

Rayess, Aref. Matahat Jamila (Beautiful Maze). Nawfal Publishing

1999

Rayess, Aref. A Selection of Interviews "Rehlah Dakhel al-Zat" (A journey within myself). Dar AlJadeed Publishing

1976

Rayess, Aref. Tāriq Al-Silm (The Road to Peace). Illustration of the 1975 War in Lebanon

1972

Rayess, Aref. A Manifesto by Rayess "Maa’ Man, Wa Dud Man" (With Who, and Against Whom)

Collections

Sursock museum, Beirut, Lebanon
Ramzi and Saeda Dalloul art foundation, Beirut, Lebanon
Saradar Collection, Beirut, Lebanon
KA collection, Beirut, Lebanon
Mokbel art collection, Beirut, Lebanon
Lebanese Ministry of Culture collection
Musée d’Art Contemporain, Syria
Musée National, Algeria
The UNESCO works of art collection
Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah, UAE

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Videos

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Exhibitions

AREF RAYESS Artwork