Interview: Badr Ali

Central Saint Martins BA Fine Art student Badr Ali uses classical motifs in his oil paintings and composes them in unique custom canvases. He has already been in quite a few exhibitions, successful for a 2 year student, and even featured on The John Langan Band's album cover. What I like most about his pieces are the contrasting practicalities of the work. You have the tediousness of creating the custom canvases alongside the patience needed to paint with oil to light an explosion of textural elements. Tied in with the non-traditional rectangles canvases, Badr Ali's captivating pieces allows the viewer to escape the norms of the white cube. 

You explore artists materials and use them to their limits. You reject the rectangle canvases and create new shapes to frame your pieces, achieving what most create with digital software translating that into the physical, are you creating a comment between digital and traditional tools?
 Initially, it was not my intention. My choice or preference of not to using traditional shaped surfaces (rectangles or squares) stem from my own personal observation as to how overused I think they are. You go to galleries and exhibitions and you look at what’s around you, taking the art out of the environment and really observing the forms in your surroundings, you’ll notice that in most cases you are in a rectangular shaped space, surrounded by rectangular shaped objects hanging on rectangular shaped walls. So I made it a personal decision to make my own shaped surfaces in order to break out and element of the routine. It just so happens that in doing so, it brought up questions and discussions about the “graphic” nature or quality that came along with it.

Could you explain the process of creating a customized canvas?
 Firstly, I decide on the subject matter I am going to paint, because in most cases I use the shaped canvases as a sort of “cropping” tool. I would have the whole planned painting first, and then generate the shape in which I am going to strategically place and crop the painting. After that, I simply cut the board in the shape I decided to use, and build the frame from the back to support it. Some complicated shapes require automated laser-cutting, but most of the time I like to make them from scratch by myself.

How much thought goes into creating a final piece?
 I would say it’s a crucial process before even thinking of getting the materials to “make”. I’m a firm believer in planning before acting, however I do not dismiss any sudden developments in the process of making that could gear me away from what I’ve planned to create, so I keep an open mind. But most likely you’ll see me carrying around multiple sketches and potential plans and annotations before I actually start making anything.

What is the reaction you wish to gain from the viewer?
 That’s a tricky one, mainly because I am in the process in transitioning into a new practice that focuses on the materiality of the work, so I have no yet experienced an audience’s reaction. I have no expectations in the type of reactions I get for my work, but previously, my practice was more based on the objectivity of appeal. I re-created classical Victorian paintings that were very skill-based and were essentially created in the 17th-18th century for them to be bought, however I re-used them and re-purposed them for the mere quality they had in which they were universally and objectively accepted as “beautiful”. I attempted to interpret them in my shaped canvases that really changed their purpose. The reactions I got was that I brought what was valuable then to what is valuable now, and that to me is a big compliment.

How would you describe the difference between the art industry in Saudi Arabia and in London?
The art industry in London is one of first to be established, as it’s considered a capital for the scene. In a recent discussion with the director of Whitechapel gallery Iwona Blazwick at Central Saint Martins, she said that London is definitely “the place to be” when it comes to art, but I can proudly say that the art industry in Saudi Arabia is now thriving. Although it is still in it’s early stages, it is definitely booming. And we’ve got to thank organizations such as Athr Gallery and Edge of Arabia for this, because they give Saudi artists a valuable platform to express through art. Recently there was the Jeddah Art Week event that displayed an enormous amount of Middle Eastern talent that I am so envious to not have been able to take part of, but from what I seen through social media I am very impressed.

What would you say is your most defining moment as a young artist?I would have to say it was the feedback and outcome after my first independent exhibition. The response was beyond what I have ever imagined I would get.
I’ve had multiple interviews, sold work, got published in a couple of magazines which in turn gave me new opportunities to exhibit my work. I got photographed by the awesome Chris Brock who has heard about my work, I even got recognition from a few big names back in Saudi, and so on – it was all so hard to digest. It was only then that I realized “oh wow… I’m actually an artist.” I still can’t get over it.

Do you feel any pressure being a Saudi Arabian artist?
Not really. I’ve had a very diverse upbringing. And I have been brought up to always consider the implications of my actions based on my own logic and morals, which I think are a part of my identity. I stand up for what I believe in and make sure that my execution in expression is neutral and unbiased. While I acknowledge that the country I’m representing follows a particular cultural rubric, I do believe there are multiple ways of expressing anything you want, the only “pressure” per se, is finding the “appropriate” method.

Who are your favorite contemporary artists?
Although I’m primarily a sucker for classical painters like Von Dyke, Cabanel and John Martin, I recently went to a Richard Hamilton exhibition at Tate modern, I think he’s currently my new favorite. Chuck Close and John Currin are up there as well :P

Badr Ali has kindly given me a sneak peak of his works in progress and cosy studio space!

Catherine Colaw

The combination of nudity, landscape and architecture makes Catherine Colaw's pieces eye catching and stunning. Colaw's nude portraits explore the relationship between nature and the vulnerable human body and being able to intertwine the two - physically with her own body. She cleverly disfigures her body, making herself become almost animal-like. She becomes as organic as the landscape its self. The mixture of contortion and flexibility highlights the human body's capability of athletics and sexuality. In some of the photographs, her poses are dynamic rather than still, creating a kind of living landscape piece of work. Colaw's allowance of space in her compositions emphasizes the natural beauty of the earth and the human figure.

Interview: Ammar Al Attar

Sibeel Water & Prayer series       2013

Ammar Al Attar photographs the UAE and makes it his goal to capture the real essence of UAE's culture. I first found his Prayer Room series which I really admired. Al Attar has an eye for composition, featuring stunning geometric shapes in his photographs. He strays away from the shiny rich cities, which everyone is familiar with, and portrays an older, simple, real version of the UAE. In this particular series Sibeel Water & Prayer, Al Attar has drawn attention to the charitable and kind nature of the Islamic religion. Water fountains are present throughout the city, usually hidden, although always available with cold clean water. 

How do you feel about the UAE's growing art industry today?
The UAE art market is still very young and they are working hard in doing programs and events however, I see lack of care to the artists and giving them the time to work on their art, it is good to do education programs and fellowships however if the artists don't have time to spend in making art then no use and these programs will be just for the sake of telling we did this and initiated this!

Do you feel any pressure from being an Emirati artist?
Sometimes I wish I was not Emirati as an artist, because most of organizations and government entities wants you to make free work for them under the umbrella of being a national. However, we spend time and lots of money to produce art so we need something back for our effort that we spend, like any other job they make and they get paid. On another hand, if an artist or photographer is from a different country, they get what they want! Although as an Emirati, we need to show different parts of our country and the spirit of it to the people, also the rituals that is happening without forgetting the contemporary life that we are living.

Do you have any thoughts on the negative effects of UAE's rapid growth?
Well unfortunately the rapid growth made us forget the past and current life sometimes :)

Do you think that the UAE still has its original culture or do you think its being lost?

Some parts yes, but most of the parts it lost it's spirit, honestly, specially when the cultural and historical places go away and replaced with modern business places with very limited place for art and culture then I believe the place will lose its spirituality.

I noticed that you took Business courses in university, does this effect your art life? 
It helps a lot in managing my art from a business side, especially these days where I have to market my art and take care of the business side with the representation of a gallery who sell my work. Unfortunately most artists lack the business part which is essential, especially in this part of the world.

Do you have to search far to find the perfect shot?
Yes sure, sometimes I spend months or sometimes a year in finishing a project. I do lots of research and ask a lot of questions before I have final body of work.

What camera do you shoot with?
I usually use analogue cameras, but unfortunately the analogue films in term of processing and printing is really hard to do hear in UAE specially with labs closing this part of business because they dont do much profit out of it. Thus I need to send all my films outside UAE and that cost allot monthly especially with shipment costs. But on the positive side that makes me more slow when taking photos and think more about my subject.

Who are your favourite artists that you receive inspiration from?
Locally I like the work of the pioneer photographer Jassim Al Awadi. From the fine art side I like Mohammed Kazim, and Nasir Nasrallah, in the region I like the work of Saudi artists such as Abdulnasir Gharim, Manal Al Dowayan and Ahmed Mater, internationally I'm really inspired by the two photographers Stephen Shore and William Eaggelston.

Pascal Marlin

Pascal Marlin definitely tunes his inner Bacon in his work. French artist Marlin creates flat, mutated portraits that give off an eerie feeling but also a humorous aspect. Some are sat in a room, only referenced by the lines that separate the floor from the walls. I love these works so much, not only because I'm a massive fan of Bacon but also because Marlin really explores his materials. You can identify many textures giving off impressionist and pop art vibes, as well as shapes while still being able to distinguish a face or figure.

I also love his use of the muted canary yellow that he seems to favorite. The neutral color helps pop out the other elements as well as just bind everything together. The figure might be very chaotic however the it is still very composed.  Marlin explores drawing, painting and collage work, some being still lives but mostly are 'portraits' if you want to call them that!

Frances Berry

I can't even view these photos fully on my small laptop screen, which makes me wonder how astounding they would be displayed on a gallery wall or even in a home! Obviously the most noticeable feature is this elongated, dragged, distorted photograph, making your eyes just following the line down (or across!) to the figures sitting in a nostalgic setting. The tones accommodate to the characteristics of an analogue practice however, alongside the digital technique of 'scan distortion' brings a whole different element! 

American photographer Frances Berry explores nostalgia throughout her work. We see a lot of photographers explore this theme because as the learning of photography is still growing and moving towards the future, the photographs that have been taken are existing and sometimes left forgotten. Berry brings them back to life by taking old generation photographs and repurposes them - extending the memory as her series titled Memory Extended hints. Also featured here are some pieces from other projects that deal with the same theme are Crumpled and Mistypology. 

Have fun scrolling down!

Crumpled series

무나씨 moonassi (Daehyun Kim)