Fayez Barakat is best known as one of the world’s most important dealers and collectors of ancient art. His gallery in London is a treasure trove, filled to the brim with every age and culture ranging from Maya crystal skulls to Mogul statuary and Egyptian jewellery. However, whilst Barakat’s extensive knowledge has helped shape key private and public collections, another side to him that is fast becoming apparent: he is a prolific and highly accomplished painter who has managed over the last few years to establish an eclectic and allusive body of work.
Employing an astonishingly wide range of techniques, Fayez Barakat paints like other artists sketch; that is, he paints restlessly, loosely, energetically and gives over free rein to the flow of ideas going through him. The paintings, partly triggered by visions and ideas the arts has (he calls them "concerts of ideas, colours and themes"), are mostly executed at night between 2am and 5am or in any other free time he has from running and managing his galleries across three separate time zones. Other ideas come from the environment in which he paints, ranging as they do from his studios in Jordan, Los Angeles, Seoul, Marrekech, Hong Kong and London. The themes of his paintings are likewise varied and allusive, encompassing ideas such as fantasy, meditation, ecstasy and nirvana. These works not only embody his visions and feelings though, they often engage him in a process of what can be only called transcendence. In one recent interview he has spoken about the inner energies driving him and the sense that he becomes a "medium" of sorts channelling ideas and techniques in a manner that even surprises him. As the artist has noted, with a look of slight bewilderment, it is for him "beyond belief" that he should be so obsessed (if not possessed) by the need to paint every day.
So what, we may ask, is going on here: an expert in the field of ancient art and a respected collector in his own right emerges as an artist whose seemingly insatiable appetite for making paintings shows no sign of abating. Is this unusual or are we seeing a natural progression from collector to producer, the end effect of many years spent nit acting upon a desire to make work whilst at the same time being surrounded by some of the highest quality art and artefacts in the world? Is this the story of a man destined to focus on collecting and the day-to-day running of his galleries at the expense of that which gave him most pleasure: painting? And if this is the visual manifestation of all that pent up creative energy, what then are we witnessing here?
Before those questions can be more fully answered, it is interesting that Barakat has not just arrived at painting but was an accomplished painter as a young man, garnering plaudits for his works and numerous invitations to show them. Trained at the Bezalel Academy of Art in Jerusalem, he mastered an array of formal skills but nevertheless felt somehow constrained by their rigid discipline. Something else was needed. We should also note here the fact that as a young man Barakat worked alongside the world-famous British archaeologist Dr. Kathleen Kenyon, a leading archaeologist of Neolithic culture who is best known for her Jericho excavations between 1952 and 1958. It was with Kenyon that Barakat sorted and identified shards from her work in Jerusalem and it was at this time that he became an expert in both pottery classification and the principles of field archaeology. However, due to his career as a collector and dealer in antiquities and personal reasons, this youthful creative promise was put aside until relatively recently. The archaeological inclination, however, when viewed alongside his pursuit of formal painting skills, can be still seen in Barakat's work in the manner in which ideas on the canvas seem to be constantly in the process of coming to the fore but, somewhat paradoxically, are being unearthed through a process of accretion and addition of paint.
Taking up a paintbrush again after so many years of not painting was therefore a transcendental if not ecstatic in its force for the artist, returning him to a time when it seemed he would take a different path in life and yet reconnecting a number of passions for archaeology, ideas, art history, and the sheer force of being creative. Working like a sleepwalker through the night, he paints as if is completely absorbed in the creative process and legacy of the art and artefacts he has lived with for so long.