Lot 5
  • 5

Aref el Rayess

35,000 - 50,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Aref el Rayess
  • Untitled 
  • signed and dated A. Rayess '88
  • oil on canvas 
  • 76 by 122cm.; 30 by 48in.


Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in 1990

Catalogue Note

Aref El-Rayess was born in Aley, Beirut in 1928. Displaying talent at a young age, this self-taught artist would later be regarded as a pioneer and an avant-garde Lebanese Modernist. Having experienced first-hand success whilst studying at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere, Paris, the maturing artist was invited to exhibit his works at the American Academy of Beirut, which led to six of the works being sold to UNESCO and hung in the “Imaginary Roaming Exhibition”, whilst the remaining works were displayed at the UNESCO Palace in Paris. 

Between 1954 and 1956, El-Rayess travelled to West Africa. This move had a strong influence on the artist, with Western African folkloric and mystical motifs becoming reoccurring themes in works of this period. On his return to Paris, the artist continued to explore his experiences of Africa through his artwork, but this time through the practice of etching. In the years 1957 to 1960, El-Rayess worked between Lebanon, Florence and Rome whilst studying Phoenician, Assyrian, Sumerian and Pharaonic art, and his interest in the ancient Semitic art forms began to emerge in his oeuvre. This would come to be known as his ‘Sand Period’. 

It wasn’t until 1980, with Lebanon in the midst of Civil War, that Aref El-Rayess relocated temporarily to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. This move was under the instruction of Dr. Mohammed Said Farsi - Mayor of Jeddah at the time - for whom El-Rayess became an art consultant. El-Rayess regarded this relocation more as an exile than a means of protection from the war which threatened his cherished homeland, predominantly due to his absolute attachment to Lebanon. Now in Jeddah, the artist was set to the task of sculpting seven works in stone and aluminium to be installed in the city’s open-air museum. These sculptures provided a new platform for abstraction in his art; henceforth, the success of their form led to another five works being placed in the city of Tabuk. Perhaps the most iconic piece from this series of monumental sculptures is the 27 meter high aluminium work titled Allah, which adopts the elements of calligraphy typical of Islamic texts with its decorative lines, circles and curves. The marble and stone used for these commissions were sourced by the artist during multiple excursions across Saudi Arabia. These excursions exposed El-Rayess to the tranquility and spirituality of the Arabian desert and coast-land, and provided an escape from the distress and corruption of his homeland. He was particularly inspired by the sanctity of light, its beauty and mysticism, which he sought to reproduce in his art.

In the present work the artist’s brush expertly captures the details of overlapping perspectives, inspiring purity in its overall scope. A purity devised at the heart of the work as it becomes an embodiment of El-Rayess’ abolition of consciousness in favour of a new-found spiritual freedom, whereby ‘in peace you find peace.’ Untitled depicts a hazy pink desert sunset scene; its flowing lines and almost figurative shapes create simplicity of form to bring together man and nature. Here the sky dominates the canvas, reiterating El-Rayess’ attraction to light, his fluid strokes of soft whites on a background of shadowy pink tonal gradation evoking a spiritual presence within a natural setting. Untitled is a quintessential example of El-Rayess’ Desert series from the 1980s. Sharing the belief that mysticism connects the man to the natural world, in the words of Lebanese philosopher Mikhael Nouaymeh who had been an inspiration for El-Rayess, the present work radiates in this sense of serenity and sanctity of nature and the stunning beauty it brings about.