MOHAMMAD EL RAWAS, Lebanon (1951)
Written by Wafa Roz
Pioneering Lebanese painter, sculptor, and printmaker, Mohammad El Rawas was born in Beirut in 1951. He earned his degree in painting from the Institute of Fine Art at the Lebanese University in 1975. Escaping the Lebanese civil war, he fled with his family to Damascus, and later to Morocco in 1976, where he worked as an art instructor at the École Normale Supérieure de l’Enseignement Technique de Rabat before moving back to Beirut in 1979. Granted a scholarship from the Lebanese University, he pursued his MFA in printmaking at The Slade School of Fine Art, University College London, and graduated in 1981, after which he returned to Lebanon. He taught at the Institute of Fine Arts of the Lebanese University in Beirut from 1982 to 2009, during which time he also taught in the Department of Architecture and Design of the American University of Beirut (1992-2004). El Rawas served as the Secretary-General of the Association of Lebanese Artists from 1982 to 1992 and is a founding member of the Syndicate of Lebanese Artists.
El Rawas’s artistic talents emerged from the unusual circumstances of his childhood.
As a small boy, he was prohibited from playing with the neighborhood children or from going out with friends. As an alternative, his overprotective father offered him tools to paint and draw. El Rawas became fond of the activity and kept his artwork in a little box, which he would open every other day to “allow his drawings to breathe.”
El Rawas started with a conventional approach to painting, taught by several renowned Lebanese modernists such as Munir Eido, Chafic Abboud, Aref El Rayess, Yvette Ashkar, and Halim Jurdak. He painted still life, nudes, and city life, favoring techniques gleaned from studying impressionism, cubism, and abstract expressionism. Devastated by the war, he stopped painting for nearly two years but resumed his artistic endeavors once he settled in Morocco in 1976. Here, he started questioning the definition of a work of art and the role of an artist, beginning to experiment and striving to create intellectually stimulating works. During this time, he abandoned the visible, gestural brushstroke in favor of an airbrush technique that did not convey the hand of the artist in the same emotional way. His work during this period took a turn for the political and incorporated illustrations, graphics, and texts as both expressive and compositional elements. Building on the work of Neo-Dada and Pop artists, El Rawas introduced collage into his work, appropriating and re-contextualizing existing photographs only to undermine their original meaning. In addition to collaging, El Rawas incorporated readymade images into his work using a solvent transfer technique, by which a chemical, such as acetone or paint thinner, soaks through the original image and reprints it onto the surface below.
It was not until he moved to London in 1981 that the artist was introduced to more advanced printing technologies. Under the tutelage of Bartolomeo Dos Santos, El Rawas studied printmaking techniques such as etching, lithography, and silk screening. Though he proved adept at these methods and took to them eagerly, he was unable to continue his lithography or silkscreen practices upon his return to Beirut because there were no suitably equipped workshops in the city at the time. As a result, he resumed oil and acrylic painting, producing photorealistic portraits juxtaposed with abstract forms in grid compositions.
When he started teaching at the Lebanese University, he developed an etching studio and started producing his works there, accomplishing his first fine art print in Lebanon, A Childhood Moment, in 1982. He established another etching, engraving and silkscreen studio at the American University of Beirut in 1990 in the Department of Architecture and Design.
El Rawas’s eclectic style seems to draw self-consciously from many twentieth-century art movements, evoking elements of works by Dadaist Hannah Höch, assemblage artist Joseph Cornell, abstract expressionist Robert Rauschenberg, and pop artist Peter Blake. Indeed, El Rawas often makes explicit reference to art history through his work: as seen in The Lady Who Descended the Staircase (1987), an assemblage that references Marcel Duchamp’s 1912 Nude Descending a Staircase. It also reveals in the artist revisiting Las Meninas (2009), which incorporates imagery from the famous 1656 Velasquez painting, and Circe’s Assistant (2014), which appropriates the central figure in John William Waterhouse’s Circe Offering the Cup to Ulysses (1891). Each of El Rawas’s compositions is a layered assemblage of genres, styles, media, and references, borrowing from sources as diverse as Italian Renaissance painting, architectural magazines, and comics. The artist’s three-dimensional works equally arise from an amalgam of sources and materials, making use of metal, encaustic, balsa wood, and plastic; in 2013, he created a series of small sculptures that incorporated plastic figurines of Japanese comic book characters known as “Manga girls.” Juxtaposing “high” and “low” culture in ways that clash uncomfortably, El Rawas creates an imaginary world that mirrors the absurdity of our own.
The artist currently lives and works in Lebanon.
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.
Rawas, Mohammad, Nāzik Sābā. Yārid, and Heather Reyes. The art of Rawas:. London: Saqi, 2004.
Rawas, Mohammad, and Antoine Boulad. Mohammasd El Rawas, oeuvres récentes 2005-2007. Beyrouth: Aida Cherfan Fine Art, 2007.
"Profiles and Features." Maymanah Farhat. September 06, 2017. Accessed January 02, 2018. https://maymanahfarhat.com/essays-on-artists/.
Ammoun, Camille. "Stroobia." Mohammad El Rawas: A Comfortable Discomfort. Accessed January 02, 2018. http://www.stroobia.com/2016/06/mohammad-el-rawas-comfortable-discomfort.html.
Matar, William. One Fine Art | Artists - Modern Graphic Artists / Mohommad Rawas. Accessed January 02, 2018. https://www.onefineart.com/art...
"Exhibitions – El Rawas." El Rawas. Accessed January 02, 2018. http://www.elrawas.net/exhibit...
Mohammad Rawas, Sculptures
Published on Jan 12, 2015
YouTube. January 12, 2015. Accessed January 02, 2018.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ruvhYwNsNpQ.
Words on Works: Mohammad El Rawas
Published on Sep 13, 2017
YouTube. September 13, 2017. Accessed January 02, 2018.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mcHYy2CREOo&t=566s.
COMMENTARIES by MOHAMMAD EL RAWAS "Art Sawa"
Published on Sep 23, 2012 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LXR8suqOBR4&t=44s
Selected Solo Exhibitions
Saleh Barakat Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon
Agial Art Gallery, Beirut
Art Sawa Gallery DIFC, Dubai
Art Sawa Gallery, Dubai
Aida Cherfan Fine Art, Beirut
Janine Rubeiz Gallery, Beirut
Janine Rubeiz Gallery, Beirut
Janine Rubeiz Gallery, Beirut
Janine Rubeiz Gallery, Beirut
Platform Gallery, Beirut
Kufa Gallery, London
Rencontre Art Gallery, Beirut
Selected Group Exhibitions
Bitasarrof, 55 Artistes libanais à l’appel du livre, Bibliothèque Nationale, Beirut
Tajreed, CAP Kuwait, Kuwait
Le corps découvert, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France
Rebirth, Lebanon 21 Century Contemporary Art, Beirut Exhibition Art Center, Beirut, Lebanon
Convergence, New Art from Lebanon, The American University Museum, Katzen Arts Center, Washington DC, USA
The road to peace, Painting in times of war(19751991), Beirut Art Center, Beirut, Lebanon
Virtuellement réèl-Reflection, in contemporary painting and photography, Alice Mogabgab Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon
Contemporary Lebanese Artists, ESCWA 35th Anniversary, UNESCO Palace, Beirut, Lebanon
The Responsive Hand, Drawings 1, Maqam Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon
Exhibition of Lebanese Art,Algeria the Cultural City of the Arab World, Algeria
24th Alexandria Biennale of the Mediterranean Countries. Alexandria, Egypt. (Prize of the Biennale)
Word into Art, Artists of the Modern Middle East, The British Museum, London, UK
First Beijing International Art Biennale, China
Tokyo Mini Print Biennale, Japan
Southern Graphic Council Conference, New Orleans, USA
93e Salon de la Société Internationale des BeauxArts (SIBA), La Mairie de Paris, France
Art Beyond Borders, UNESCO and TIMOTCA (The International Museum of Twentieth Century Art)UNESCO Headquarters, Las Vegas Art Museum, USA
Nine International Graphic Artists, Trondheim Art Center, Trondheim, NorwayArt Beyond Borders, UNESCO and TIMOTCA (The International Museum of Twentieth Century Art)UNESCO Headquarters, Paris, France, and Mitra Municipal Gallery, Lisbon, Portugal
Eighth Asian Art Biennale, Dacca, Bangladesh
Krakow International Print Triennial, Cracow Poland
Nineteenth International Independent Exhibition of Prints, Kanagawa, Japan
Contemporary Lebanese Artists, Sharjah Art Museum, UAE
Second Egyptian International Print Triennale, Cairo, Egypt
Second Qarin Cultural Festival, Kuwait
Eleventh Norwegian International Print Triennale, Fredriskstad, Norway
Eighteenth Alexandria Biennale, Egypt
First Egyptian International Print Triennale, Cairo, Egypt
First International Print Biennale, Maastricht, Holland
Tenth Norwegian International Print Triennale, Fredriskstad, Norway
Liban, Le Regard des Peintres, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France
Lebanon, The Artist's View, Concourse Gallery, Barbican Center, London, UK
Ninth Norwegian International Print Triennale, Fredrikstad, Norway (Honorable Mention)
Présence de la Gravure, Centre d’Art Vivant de la Ville de Tunis, Tunisia
Contemporary Lebanese Artists, Kufa Gallery, London, UK
Contemporary Arab Art, The Mall Galleries, London, UK
Ninth British International Print Biennale, Bradford, UK
Arab Art Biennale of Kuwait, Kuwait
Eleventh International Independent Exhibition of Prints, Kanagawa, Japan
Cabo Frio International Print Biennale, Brazil (Prize of Honor)
The First Contemporary Arab Art Exhibition, Centre d’Art Vivant de la Ville de Tunis, Tunisia (Third Prize)
Eighth British International Print Biennale, Bradford, UK
Seventh Norwegian International Print Biennale, Fredrikstad, Norway
World Print Four, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, USA
Contemporary Arab Graphics and Works on Paper, Graffiti Gallery, London, UK
Sixth Norwegian International Print Biennale, Fredrikstad, Norway
Contemporary Arab Graphics, Graffiti Gallery, London, UK
Slade Folio Show, Greenwich Theatre Art Gallery, London, UK
Third World Biennale of Graphic Art, Iraqi Cultural Center, London, UK (Honorable Mention)
Sursock Museum, Beirut, Lebanon
The National Museum of Modern Art, Baghdad, Iraq
Centre d’Art Vivant de la Ville de Tunis, Tunisia
The British Museum, London, UK
Trondheim Kunstmuseum, Norway
The International Museum of Twentieth Century Art Collection
Sharjah Museum of Contemporary Arab Art, UAE
American University of Beirut Art Center Collection, Lebanon
The Khalid Shoman Foundation Collection: Darat alFunun, Amman, Jordan
Ramzi and Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation, Beirut, Lebanon