Regarded as one of Syria’s most influential artists, Louay Kayyali’s work addresses social issues and scenes from daily life, including merchants, landscapes and still lifes that mix realism and expressionism. Working mostly in oil paint on wood or pencil on paper, his work is characterised by a simplicity in colour and shape.
Born in Aleppo, Louay Kayyali (1934–1978) studied painting in the Accademia di Belle Arti in Rome after receiving a scholarship from the Ministry of Education. At this time, he mingled with many artists, including Fateh Moudarres, who exhibited with him at numerous shows – including the Venice Biennale in 1960. When Kayyali returned to Syria from Italy in 1961, he taught for two years at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Damascus University and took part in exhibitions where his work was highly praised. In the mid-1960s, he began to show signs of serious depression, which was reflected in his art through dark and mournful charcoal works. This psychological state would plague him on and off for the rest of his life, affecting his ability to paint. In 1977, he travelled to Rome in an attempt to revive his interest in painting and battle his ongoing depression, only to return a few months later defeated and addicted to tranquilisers. Kayyali died in 1978, after suffering severe burns, allegedly from a cigarette that set fire to his bed.
During his life, Kayyali exhibited in Rome, Milan, Montreal, Damascus and Beirut. Posthumously, there have been numerous retrospective exhibitions of his work, which has been acquired by public institutions such as Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha; National Museum of Aleppo; National Museum of Damascus; the Jalanbo Collection, Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah and the British Museum.