BEIRUT — The opening of artist Khaled Takreti’s new show in Beirut has all the hallmarks of a see-and-be-seen event in the Lebanese capital. There’s location, with a gallery tucked behind the Four Seasons. There’s money, with paintings starting at $30,000. There’s people-watching, with a number of impossibly beautiful women gliding around the slick white space on improbably high heels.
Arabic, French and English are all being spoken interchangeably, though frequently with the elongated syllables of the Syrian drawl. Yes, Paris-based Takreti is himself Syrian — but his talent is revered far beyond Syria or the Middle East, a transcendence that means he can draw a crowd from anywhere.
But even with Syria’s war decimating everything in its path, including the nation’s great ancient artistic heritage, its contemporary art scene is thriving here. The galleries, patrons and many Syrian artists themselves — like at least 2 million other Syrians — have found refuge here in Lebanon.
Even in a new country, they have been working hard to build on the momentum they had been rapidly gaining in the immediate years before Syria began to come apart. In this exile, Syria’s artists — mostly unknown to the world — are having greater access to markets, buyers and renown than ever before.
While Takreti’s first two collections after the war were, as he describes, “very dark,’’ the new show, titled “LOL,’’ is anything but. The canvases are deceptively cheery, their bright pop-style camouflaging a scathing social critique of vanity, consumerism, gluttony and, even if not readily apparent, the Syrian conflagration.
Takreti’s satirical paintings, which have the exactness of photography or digital art, burst with neon-colored exuberance. This new palette is intentional, as the war has gone on longer than most wanted to believe was possible.
“From when the problems started, the colors left me and my work became white and black and very sad. I became depressed,” says the 50-year-old artist.
The colors in “LOL,’’ he says, were an attempt to “to allow happiness into my heart.”