The writings of Andalusian Sufi mystic and philosopher Ibn Arabi consume Elias Zayat’s octogenarian mind.
“I don’t know how his work will reflect in my art,” says the Syrian master, 80, whose solo show, After the Deluge, is running at Dubai’s Green Art Gallery. “But I have a feeling it’s going to take me back to abstraction.”
Sufist thought, Byzantine heritage and Christian iconography continue to influence Zayat’s practice. After studying for degrees in fine art and art restoration in Sofia, Cairo and Budapest, he returned to Damascus in the mid-1970s and became part of a pioneering group of artists, including late masters Fateh Moudarres, Louay Kayali and Mahmoud Hammad, who established the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Damascus.
Zayat taught for more than two decades, retiring in 2000 to focus on his art. Still living and painting in Damascus, he is archiving his work in preparation for a 2016 Skira-published monograph edited by art historian Salwa Mikdadi.
After The Deluge, a 13-piece exhibition, is a sequel to the exhibition of paintings shown this year at Art Dubai through Atassi Gallery. From a historically rich Syria to a country now ravaged by war, Zayat takes viewers on a journey that begins in the ancient city of Palmyra, where ISIS has destroyed some of the region’s – and world’s – most cherished cultural sites.