What goes on in the minds of painters

Soha Elsirgany, Wednesday 4 Feb 2015

After exploring the minds of classical musicians, ballet dancers and opera directors in previous articles, Ahram Online visits the minds of Egypt’s established painters

Khaled Hafez
Artist Khaled Hafez in his studio (Photo: the artist's blog)

While a major struggle for performance artists involves being alert in front of an audience, a painter’s performance happens mostly behind the scenes.

For artist Hend El-Falafly, ideas come from the storage of observations and emotions that build up over time.

“The concepts for my work don’t come suddenly, they are the result of so many cumulative things,” shares El-Falafly.

El-Falafly has chosen a long-term subject- women- and uses them as a medium through which she can express different emotional states and themes.

It is not always subjects that touch her personally that she is interested in tackling. Often, it is the observations of others behaviors and emotions that drives her work.

What happens on the journey between her thoughts and the canvas is sometimes an expansion of thoughts, while other times a zoom-in on them.

“The most discovery happens while I’m sketching,” adding that the initial sketching process allows her to refine her thoughts, and very often brings up new things from her subconscious she was unaware of.

Another artist, Shaymaa Kamel, shares how her relationship with creating paintings has evolved over the years.

“At first, it was very personal and emotionally driven. But with time, more universal themes interest me, because of how the modern world links us all together,” Kamel says.

“There is a lot of work in the world, and a lot of it looks similar. What I’m always thinking of is how to express my ideas as simply as possible, and offer something different,” says Kamel.

“The way I take in life is very visual,” she says, constantly weaving contrasts and irony through her works.

Khaled Hafez denounces the myth that painting is a medium that solely reflects emotions. The established artist and twice curator of Cairo’s Youth Salon, Hafez points to the “unique mind prints” which make each artist a unique creative personality.

“Though painting is the most basic form of expression, there’s a constant process of sophisticated formulation of ideas that happens in the artists' minds,” Hafez tells Ahram Online.

On experiencing a creative block, Hafez thinks of creativity in relation to the 12 months in the annual calendar, with seasonal waves that ebb and flow throughout the year.

“With experience, I’ve learned to expect these waves, generally three or four showers of creativity during the year,” Hafez says.

“The trick is to be ready for them, I put other life activities on hold, and get everything I can out of them while they last.”

After the wave ends is when Hafez starts to produce his paintings, using the material and research he has gathered.

And it is when he gets stuck that Hafez resorts to his pet hobby- photography and restoring ancient cameras- which allows him to refresh his thoughts and remain in the creative zone. He also walks Minolta and Leica, his two dogs, named after the camera brands.

To a painter, dealing with the audience comes at a later stage, when the work is ready to be exhibited in galleries.

Unlike musicians and dancers who present to an audience in real time, a painter’s relationship with their followers differs.

“If you think of the audience too much, you can compromise a lot,” Hafez says.

Hafez observes that the audience tends to want the familiar, the paintings created yesterday that have proven successful and gained admiration, those with no risks.

Yet, he adds, “if the work is not accessible to people, it fails to communicate.”

Kamel also doesn’t think of the audience too early in her process.

“I just work on subjects I care about and I find relevant, and when people react in any way to my paintings, be it a question or a spark for a conversation, that is a success,” Kamel says.

El-Falafly insightfully relates, saying “The emotions that the artist is experiencing while making art are not necessarily the same feelings that are evoked in the final piece. But as long as the work comes from an honest place, it shows through this work.”

She also mentions how the process of making art is meditative and therapeutic in itself.

Kamel brings up the value of coincidence and allowing it space to thrive.

Known for her collage and mixed media, with often integrating images and cloths alongside acrylic paint, Kamel’s process leaves much room for new connections to arise in her work, rendering coincidence a welcome guest.

For El-Falafly, a careful choice of colours is central to her pieces, and is for the most part an emotional decision.

“I follow the mood of the piece when I pick my colours. For instance, red can be indicative of love and warm emotions, purple is also romantic, whereas I would use white to give off a peaceful quality.”

She also makes purely visual decisions. “Because I work with pencil alongside paint, I mostly use muted shades so that they don’t overshadow the pencil work,” El-Falafly says.

Read also:
What goes on in the minds of classical musicians
What goes on in the minds of ballet dancers
What goes on in the minds of opera directors


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