A retrospective of works by the Beirut-based artist Mohammad El Rawas is not intended for visitors who aspire to look at visually mild artworks, nor for viewers who prefer their art experience to be an easily digestible one.
The show, Mohammad El Rawas: Recent Works, is the retrospective of an artist who serves his art in a style that visually and intellectually challenges viewers, asking them to confront notions of portraiture and composition and ostensibly the very history of the global art canon.
El Rawas is a technically adroit painter, sculptor and graphic artist. The retrospective, at Saleh Barakat Gallery in Beirut, contains numerous works which are a testament to his lifelong commitment to teaching visual arts and exploring the deeper theoretical parameters of the field in his own artwork. The exhibition highlights his skills of construction and technique in addition to his keen eye for color with works that were made as early as his school days.
The exhibition encompasses four different stages of the artist’s oeuvre. The first chapter on display includes black crayon and ink drawings of sculptures and still lifes executed while El Rawas was still in middle school. These works highlight a continuity of themes that reappear in his recent compositions. In addition, pencil and charcoal sketches reveal an artist who was forming the technical skills of strong draftsmanship, and a keen eye to unearth intriguing subjects.
The second stage of El Rawas’s career is represented by his art-school graduation project: a painting titled Train I, executed during his final year at the Lebanese University’s Institute of Fine Arts in 1975. This large painting of abstract female figures was recovered in recent years after it disappeared and was thought to have been destroyed during the Lebanese Civil War, which lasted from 1975 to 1990. For decades, the only proof of the painting’s existence was a grainy photograph of the young artist standing next to it upon completion.
“Had it not been for my colleague who had offered to take a picture, the work might have disappeared forever,” says the artist.