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Samir Abi Rached's Splendid Visionary Paintings

Like all exceptional painters, Samir Abi Rached is hard to define. It’s even more difficult at first sight, even if we were tempted, to consider him a surrealistic painter. From the surrealism, he has all the characteristics: the spontaneity of “writing”, the unusual aspect of sight, freedom left according to the chances of associations. This artist was born in Beirut in 1947 and with the cultural background of the time painting was one of the few Christian crafts still possible. There was a complete break as the historical chain connecting eastern Christendom with the theology underlying images being interrupted. Abi Rached received his basic instruction in the studio of Alexandre Kalomitzeff, producing at first chromos which however gave little satisfaction. The painter has to paint as he can in his ambient society, but he also wants to work for an ideal in his imagination. Abi Rached wanted to return to a figurative style of painting, following the influence exerted by surrealism. To express what he saw, Abi Rached felt he could do without surrealist exaggeration and its great detail, forgetting that by definition the unconscious is a lure. So rather than one with a vision he appears simply as a skilled craftsman on account of his basic formation, his understanding of surrealism and his way of placing himself in the socio-cultural context of painting in Lebanon. He worked as best he could in the mystical surrealism of the review Plan├Ęte, as other forms of realism could do little to ensure his reputation. Rather than from the history of art, his personal surrealism came from his own interpretation of an interior world, with realism born of precision that gave pictorial value. Each element of his vision has its own independent particularity, and one is drawn towards details whose disparity often stands in the way of the global view.
His designs show great technical precision as literary presentations and paintings which apparently are his only way of following the European surrealist current of the ‘sixties. An element in French-speaking Lebanese society echoed this, leading to a wave of photo-lithographs of Salvador Dali representing a revolt which seemed to correspond to the beginning of the liberation of Lebanese society, even though it might seem too easy to analyze the work of Abi-Rached through a lack of coordination of references and of history. Speaking of an arbitrary choice of influences would mean further retreat into the illusion of an ideal image supposed to serve as a model, whereas in fact the artist must be accepted for what he is. By its technique for representing and figuring, surrealism in fact was for Abi-Rached’s generation a final echo of an understanding of the image freed from the weight or the incidents of culture. It failed to understand that Breton was a faithful disciple of Gustave Moreau, and that for him the marvel came from the accumulated jewels on the neck of Herodiade. By its literary element, surrealist imagery became a common rhetoric and sent back the echo of its fine detail and technical ability. The greatest irony lay in that visual strangeness proved the difficulty of a precise existence that could not be realized in Lebanese culture.
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