Friday, June 30, 2017

Willy Aractingi's older work shines at Sursock Museum

Apparently, the "Les Mondes de Willy Aractingi" show came to be after the Aractingi family gifted the Sursock Museum 224 oil on canvas works which represent the totality of the self-taught artist (originally a perfumer) rendering of the famous La Fontaine Fables. On a parallel lane, Aractingi also explored the famous story of Antar and Abla (the lovers' tale of the Midde East) and the Geha anecdotes (usually derogatory towards the character's intelligence). Sursock Museum which holds the colorful extravaganza displays a great scenography to display the naif painter's works, if to give credit where credit is due.
But for all the emphasis on the works associated with the fables, it is actually Aractingi's older, simple, straightforward works which takes the mantle. I am one of the lucky ones who were able to see a solo show for Aractingi at the Epreuve d'Artiste gallery back then in the early 90s. And it is still those works - ranging from the mid-70s to the early 90s which showcase the artist at his best, least technically capable, side.
Aractingi is not immune to his surroundings, there is even a work entitled "Syrian Army Under the Moonlight", where obviously, we see no helmets, no camouflage but simply a field with tall plants and a breathtaking night sky. I feel it is a pity the curator went and emphasized more complex works, when these straightforward, human and emotionally touching works deserve more credits than the several versions of the same fable (which, whereas technically interesting, lose the edge of the passion which the earlier works truly show). It is a little like doing a Khalil Zgheib retrospective (a very naif painter the museum owns several works for) but to try to stress his technical side rather than his childish renderings.
Please do not understand that I did not enjoy the show, I did - and immensely so. And even the Antar and Abla, or Geha stories (piled up in the same room) keep their resonance and wit. And it is only understandable that the La Fontaine works were the magnum opus of the artist, but maybe a lot more earlier works would have been right at home there with their visceral emotional force and their tender, colorful, technical incapacity (which is actually a plus rather than a minus for Aractingi).
A must-see show, which is running through September 18th.