As a mentor to many artists in the Syrian art scene, and acclaimed throughout the Arab world, Elias Zayyat’s oeuvrelinks academic discourse, Arab heritage and modernist techniques. Depicting historical, religious and mythological subjects, his work is rich in symbology. He talks about the evolution of the styles in his career by explaining: “The truth is, in art there is no before or after. For example, I started with abstraction but then abandoned it from the 1960s until the 1970s, and went back to figurative art. It was constructive abstraction. Now I want to go back to abstraction but not in a constructivist form.”
Born in Damascus, Elias Zayyat (1935) graduated from the Department of Painting, Fine Arts Academy in Sofia, Bulgaria in 1960 and continued his studies at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Cairo. In 1973, he graduated in the field of art restoration from the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest. Eventually moving back to Syria, he taught in the Faculty of Fine Arts, Damascus University from 1980–2000, during which time he published essays on art and restoration.
Zayyat has also decorated many churches in Syria with icons and murals, drawing on his studies in stained glass and the traditional techniques used to depict biblical stories. Zayyat presents a variety of ways of showing the central figure in a work, at times appearing concentrated and layered, floating or engaged in a narrative scene. In much of his work, he references early Christian icons in Byzantine mosaics through the rendering of faces with long noses and large eyes.
Zayyat’s work has been acquired by institutions such as American University of Beirut; Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris; British Museum; Syrian Ministry of Culture; the National Museum in Damascus; Dummar Museum; Republican Palace and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, all in Damascus; the Palmyra Museum; and within private collections.