Aref El-Rayess

Aref El-Rayess (or Aref Rayess), Lebanese artist, painter and sculptor was born in Aley, a town in the hills above Beirut in 1928. He began to draw and paint at the age of eleven, initially using his mother’s paints and brushes and later learnt to draw with charcoal during vacations on his visits to his cousins’ home in Choweifat, a suburb of Beirut. A self-taught artist, Rayess first exhibited his work publically in 1948, having dedicated his time fully to art since the previous year.

In 1945 Rayess completed a charcoal and pastel drawing entitled Horror, depicting Hiroshima’s atomic bomb, an event that resonated deeply with the artist. The French painter Georges Cyr, architect Antoine Tabet and art critic Victor Hakim came to view the work at the advice of Arlette Levi, a reporter for L’Orient newspaper who had seen the work during a visit she paid to Rayess’ mother. Having been impressed by the young Rayess, Cyr, Tabet and Hakim held an exhibition for him in the West Hall of the American University of Beirut (AUB) in the autumn of 1948.

Sir Julian Sorell Huxley, the first Director-General of UNESCO, and Peter Belew the chairman of UNESCO’s arts section, saw Rayess’ exhibition at the AUB and decided to take six paintings from the exhibition to hang them in the “Imaginary Roaming Exhibition”, held during the Second UNESCO International Conference in Beirut. The remaining thirty-six paintings were exhibited at the UNESCO Palace. The artist moved to Paris in the spring of 1948, where he studied painting in the studios of Fernand Léger and André Lhote, etching with Friedlander and sculpture with Ossip Zadkine amongst others while studying at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière.

Between 1954 and 1956, Rayess travelled in West Africa, spending time exploring the jungles and living with local tribes. During this period he was deeply influenced by the cultural primitivism of the region and African stylization and motifs would become a notable feature of his work at this time, as well as for a large portion of his career. Returning to Paris in 1956, he spent his time attending exhibitions, mixing in artistic circles and concentrating primarily on the skill of etching. He returned to Lebanon between 1957 and 1958 and commenced studies on Phoenician, Assyrian, Sumarite and Pharaonic art. He moved to Florence in 1959 after the Italian Government offered him a one-year scholarship, before he went on to live in Rome from 1960 to 1963, all the while maintaining studios in both cities. It was in Italy that his studies of ancient Semitic art forms manifested themselves in his work through the exploration of symbolism, leading to a large exhibition of works attributed to his ‘Sand Period’, an époque comprising the early 1960s. He presented these works first at Galeria Pogliani in Rome, and then at La Licorne, Beirut, in November 1963, in an exhibition entitled ‘Temps et Murs’.

In 1963, Rayess returned to Beirut and won first prizes in sculpture and tapestry at the national contest of sculpture for the Palace of Justice. In 1969 he was elected chairman of Lebanese Association of Artists and Sculptors, a position he held until 1977. He also taught fine art at the Lebanese University. He counted a number of high profile and respected artists and figures from the art world amongst his friends, including Salwa Raouda Choucair, Michel Basbous and Chafic Abboud. His opinions were also sought and respected by people such as Joseph Abou-Rizk, the director of the Fine Arts department of the National Ministry of Education and he was instrumental in building the Lebanese arts and gallery scene, which was lacking in the 1960s. In 1976 he produced an illustrated book entitled ‘Road to Peace’, that dealt with the theme of the Civil War in Lebanon, something which had affected him greatly.

In the 1980s, Rayess travelled regularly to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, spending time living in the country at the beginning of the decade after the outbreak of civil war in Lebanon. He was appointed as the Art Consultant for the city of Jeddah and was commissioned to produce a number of public sculptures for the country, the most ambitious of which is a twenty-seven metre high sculpture of the stylized name of ‘Allah’ that stands in Palestine Square in Jeddah. He travelled to London in 1990 and worked on a number of projects including private commissions around England. In 1999 he held an exhibition of introspective works – produced during the years he spent caring for his ill father, a time of loneliness and anxiety relieved only by the time he found to paint after his father would fall asleep – entitled ‘Labyrinthes 2000’ at the UNESCO Palace.

Rayess spent his latter years working in his native Lebanon and organising the annual Symposia of Painting and Sculpture – the first of which was in 1999 – before he died in 2005. He is fondly remembered and respected not only for his artistic legacy, but also for the influence he had on the development of art in Lebanon in the 20th Century.

Abdulaziz Ashour

Abdulaziz Ashour was born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 1963 where he still lives and works. Like many Saudi artists, he began exploring his interest in fine art whilst still engaged in full time work at the Ministry of Energy but since 2009 has devoted all his time to his artistic practice. A highly regarded and innovative artist, writer, commentator and arts administrator, Ashour has carefully documented the work of Modern and Contemporary Saudi artists as they have progressed fitfully over the last fifty years. Director of the Arts Committee of the Jeddah Arts & Culture Organisation between 1994-98, acted as the arts consultant to the Ministry of Culture and Education in Saudi and responsible for establishing a cultural forum in Jeddah, Ashour has himself held numerous solo exhibitions in Jeddah, Riyadh, Cairo and Sharjah and participated in many international exhibitions including the Biennales of Sharjah, Cairo, Dacca and Muscat and shows in Mexico, the USA, Tunisia, Kuwait and Jordan that have resulted in many awards including the Golden Palm award in Kuwait.

His work is represented in many important international collections and has proved an important influence for many Saudi artists working today. His iconic ‘Newspaper Series’ deals with the subject of the reporting and documentation of art in Saudi, subject matter that he continues to re-visit to this day. Showing a masterful handling of simple media and colour, the tones of which subtly convey the artist’s message, Ashour creates thought-provoking yet aesthetically enthralling works of art.

Adel Al-Quraishi

Adel Al Quraishi (Adel Quraishi) is a Saudi Arabian photographer, born in Al Khobar in 1968. He grew up fascinated by the photographic medium and experimented with various cameras from a young age and into adulthood. In 1991 he decided to concentrate more seriously on photography after encouragement from his friend and mentor, the Brazilian photographer Humberto da Silveira, who helped to nurture his talent. Quraishi photographs a range of subjects and is accomplished in capturing stunning landscapes, but his true passion lies in photographing people. He finds portraiture to be an especially deep discipline: there being always more to the subject that what you first see. He enjoys the challenge of diving into this process of documentation. Quraishi photographs both with analogue large format cameras and with Canon digital cameras.

Adel Quraishi was asked to produce photographic portraits of the eight remaining ‘Guardians’ of the Prophet’s Mosque (Al-Masjid al-Nabaw) by the current Governor of Medina, to be exhibited in the February 2014 exhibition entitled ‘Letters and Illumination’ in Medina (an exhibition depicting the history of the city through calligraphy and photographs dating back to the 19th Century). He is the only man to have been permitted to photograph these subjects, three of whom have since passed away. At the time of the photographs, these eight men were the last of their generation, a tradition that once numbered in the hundreds. As they are the last of the Guardians – and are not to be replaced – the photographs are unique. The history of the Guardians or eunuch servants of the Prophet’s mosque in Medina is recorded as dating back to the mid-12th century; in the present capacity they are the keepers of the keys to the Prophet Muhammad’s burial chamber in addition to the keys to the minbar (the mosque’s pulpit). This group of men hail from Abysynnia. They wear traditional formal wear with embellishments, outfits usually reserved for state occasions. Quraishi’s sensitive handling of his subjects is evident in the emotion that is conveyed by his sitters, while his technicality shines through in the radiant composition of the photographs. Rendered on a large scale, it is impossible not to be moved by the connection between viewer and subject when confronted by the works.

Hanaa Malallah

Regarded as one of Iraq’s leading and most innovative contemporary artists, Hanaa Malallah has reached international acclaim through her profoundly visceral, mixed-media compositions which are the embodiment of three decades of war and violence in Iraq. Her latest works generate poignant reflections upon the destruction and devastation of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq.

Born in 1958 in the Thi Qar Province of Iraq, where the ancient city of Ur was located, Malallah moved to Baghdad with her family when she was just five years old. As a child, she assisted her mother with embroidery work, a creative skill that would carry through to her own adult artistic production in the stitching of her canvases. At the age of 14, Malallah was one of twelve students selected for admission to the Baghdad Institute of Fine Arts, where she studied painting and graphic design under the guidance of Iraq’s “Pioneer” generation of artists, including Faik Hassan and Shakir Hassan al Said, who were instrumental in bringing western modernism to the country. Al Said, a co-founder of the Baghdad Modern Art group, became a life-long friend and mentor of Malallah and his destructive style of painting, which included burning and piercing canvases, greatly influenced Malallah’s own art.

The turmoil of the 1980’s in Iraq was fundamental to the development of Mallah’s practice, who along with ten other prominent artists, collectively known as the Eighties Generation, chose to stay in the country during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) and the Gulf War (1990-1991). Severe travel restrictions, economic hardship and social instability, not to mention the horror that accompanies war, radically affected the creative output of these artists. Isolated from the rest of the art world, the Eighties Generation artists reflected upon the current state of Iraqi society while incorporating the cultural history of Mesopotamia in their practices, often drawing inspiration from the relics in the Iraq Archeological Museum, which was only a few steps away from the Baghdad Institute of Fine Arts.

This turbulent period for Malallah culminated in her first exhibition in 1991 at Saddam Hussein’s Center for Modern Art, which was a government initiative to cultivate new cultural life and strong nationalist feelings upon the heels of the end of the first Gulf war. Soon thereafter, Malallah began to teach, lecturing at both the Istitute of Fine Arts and the University in Baghdad. She also became the director of the Graphics Department in Baghdad’s Academy of Fine Arts and remained in that post until she left Iraq in 2006. Furthermore, Malallah is noted for her scholarly research into Mesopotamian drawing, the basis of her doctoral thesis, for which she was awarded a PhD in the Philosophy of Painting from the University of Baghdad in 2005.

Malallah’s reluctant departure from Iraq occurred after receiving death threats from militias, groups who had already murdered two of her colleagues. Malallah recalled, “…They started to kill a lot of academics. I was a woman without a headscarf, teaching in the University and I received threats, so I had to leave…” Malallah began an artist residency at l’Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, after which she was awarded a fellowship by S.O.A.S. in London in 2008. She currently holds a fellowship at the Chelsea College of Art in London.

Since her exile from Iraq Malallah had focused on developing a new aesthetic mode of production, which she terms the “Ruins technique”:

“ To physically taste war is completely different than to experience it second-hand. The first lesson taught by physically tasting war is that ruination is the essence of all being. Death has no meaning and anything solid can be reduced to noting in seconds. The learning of this process of vanishing, this morphing of matter to dust, of something into nothing, has led me to conclude that ruination, or destruction, is hidden de facto in the phenomenon of figuration. Thus, for the last five years I have explored the space located between figuration and abstraction, between existing and vanishing, a concept which for me also holds deep spiritual meaning”

Paul Guiragossian

Paul Guiragossian was born to Armenian parents in Jerusalem in 1926 and raised by his mother, Rahel. Rahel worked for a number of boarding schools, which provided education for Paul and his brother. At the age of 7 Paul returned home to live with his mother, often working during the summers to help support his family. Despite his mother’s concerns about his passion for drawing he enrolled at the Studio Yarkon in 1942 and began his studies. By the late 40’s his charcoal drawings showed an instinctive talent for capturing the faces of friends and family whilst his outlined but confidently sketched figurative drawings in ink, show a tendency towards the modernist works of Matisse and Picasso.

These simple compositions were to develop into groups of figures, sometimes appearing conspiratorially close together, heralding the subject matter of his later works in oils.Guiragossian eventually moved to Beirut, later gaining Lebanese citizenship. There he met his wife, Juliette Hindian, who was also a young painter and his first student. They married in 1953, and a year later Paul had his first solo-exhibition at Galerie La Palette in Beirut. The early half of the 1950’s saw Guiragossian continue experimenting with style and subject-matter, sometimes using blocks of colour to form abstract landscapes, whilst always returning to his figurative sketches drawn in ink. Broad and confident brushstrokes in his oil painting allied with an exceptional eye for colour began to emerge as did his portrayal of mother and child in much of the work from the mid ‘50’s.

Paul and Juliette remained in Lebanon until 1957, when Paul received a scholarship to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence. Upon his graduation from the Academy, he spent a number of years engaged in further study and painting in Paris and later New York, after which he returned to Lebanon. Guiragossian eventually moved back to Paris from 1989-1991, resulting in a solo exhibition at l’Institut du Monde Arabe in 1992.His wife Juliette is often cited as his primary support. In addition to being his wife and the mother of his six children, she was his muse, managed his many exhibitions and acted as his studio assistant undertaking tasks such as the stretching and preparation of his canvases. In the ‘80s his eldest son Emmanuel returned from Germany to work with his father and took over most of these responsibilities.Guiragossian emerged as one of the most important modern Middle Eastern painters of his generation, and received a state funeral when he passed away in Beirut in 1993. His frescoes, sculptures, stained glass windows, mosaics, illustrations, and of course his paintings, primarily centre around renderings of the human condition and form.