Mohammad El Rawas’ (b. 1951) latest exhibition showcases a new body of work and highlights some older paintings, including two monumental works which were produced forty years apart, Train I and Train II. The former was the artist’s final-year project at the Lebanese University’s Institute of Fine Arts, from which he graduated thereafter in 1975 with honors. Having not seen this painting again until 2015, El Rawas produced Train II as a reflection on the earlier work.
The year of El Rawas’ graduation marked the beginning of the civil war in Lebanon, leading the artist to stop painting and to leave his country for Rabat, Morocco where he remained for two years, teaching art and eventually resuming painting. He returned to Beirut in 1979 to hold his first solo show, before joining the Slade School of Fine Art in London in the same year on scholarship from the Lebanese University. Upon his return to Beirut in 1981 with a Masters Degree in printmaking, he started his academic career at the Lebanese University and the American University of Beirut, which lasted for 27 years. Since 1979, El Rawas has held 11 individual exhibitions in Beirut, London and Dubai and has participated in more than 40 international art biennials and exhibitions in the UK, USA, Norway, Tunisia, Brazil, Japan, Kuwait, France, Netherlands, Egypt, UAE, Poland and China. In these international shows he won five prizes and honorable mentions including, in 2007, the award of the Alexandria Biennale for Mediterranean Countries,
8 March - 23 April, 2019
18 April - 25 May, 2019
In Mazen Rifai’s small-scale paintings, thick brushstrokes traverse the horizontal axis of the canvas, often interrupted midway by more abundant planes of color ranging from pastel to night blue. A thin powdery white line, moving in parallel, marks the skyline. Rifai produces anti-illusionistic abstract works, but they are also landscapes of the Bekaa Valley. His move away from illusionism in the landscape is indebted to a modernist legacy of Lebanese painting in this genre, whose high point is often considered to be the artwork of Saliba Douaihy. Rifai’s landscapes are morphologically distinct from Douaihy’s, but a similar operation is at play in both, in which the move toward abstraction denaturalizes, and yet maintains, the referent.