Art beyond the canvas

Sarah Elhosary , Tuesday 27 Feb 2024

Brushes and paint are all some artists need to turn furniture, walls, and even clothing into inspiring works of art, writes Sarah Elhosary

photo: Hossam Osama


Breaking away from the traditional form of art that focuses on painting on canvas, more and more young artists are viewing art as an essential component of multiple aspects of life. This has led some of them to integrate it seamlessly into everyday objects, including those that surround them.

Interior designer Sally Elbardesy explains how she transitioned from working in interior and furniture design to designing artistic furniture. “I felt that simply designing furniture wasn’t enough. I wanted to include my passion for art in every piece of furniture I created. I have enjoyed sketching since I was a child and have always thought that painting on canvas was the real test of art.”

“But then I wanted to introduce art into everyday life and see more of it everywhere. I figured that if I combined art with furniture, people could experience art anywhere in their homes. Although artistic furniture is more difficult to make, it is better because it is an art that we can use and enjoy.”

At first, it was not easy for Elbardesy to implement her ideas. “While artistic furniture appears to rely purely on its visual appeal, in fact it requires a great deal of effort and experience,” she commented. 

Before painting and varnishing the furniture, there is the challenge of working with carpenters and artisans to obtain flawlessly sized pieces and produce them without faults. Then comes the stage of sanding the furniture and applying an insulating layer, followed by getting the desired colour tones, which may require several attempts to master. 

Finally, there is checking the furniture’s final form, she added.

Elbardesy began applying her idea to small-sized pieces such as tables, drawer units, and clothing hangers. “I originally worked on smaller pieces, the largest being around 40 cm in size, but now I’ve worked on cabinets and bookcases measuring up to three metres as well,” she said.

“My earlier designs were intended to introduce people to the concept of blending art with furniture. They were mostly simple and relied on a harmonious colour palette. There was a great deal of appreciation for them.”

Gradually, she included a broader range of artistic inspirations in her designs. “With experience, I’ve come to realise the appropriate artistic approach to showcase the beauty of each item,” Elbardesy said. 

“My team and I have begun to use a variety of artistic styles, including classical and Bohemian, among others. The merging of patterns, styles, and the use of various elements in our creations distinguishes us from competitors. We use a variety of paints, including acrylic and oils. We also draw on all the available materials, from wood and fabric to glass and even masonry in an attempt to give them the desired harmonious and artistic spirit.”

Elbardesy trusts her instincts, seeking furniture pieces that ignite her creativity and then transforming them into captivating works of art. “Once, I saw some people on the street carrying an antique bed frame, meaning to discard it. I took it, reshaped it, and repainted it to create a wonderful art piece.” 

When Elbardesy first started painting furniture, she focused entirely on new items. However, during the Covid-19 pandemic, many of her clients wanted her to restore their existing furniture. As a result, she began repairing older furniture, giving it a new appearance with her artistic touch.

Noran Elbannan, who also uses art to renew and recycle older pieces, produces artistic designs on used clothing before renovating it for resale. A former student of fine arts and graphic design at the College of Fine Arts, she has used her enthusiasm for painting to revitalise clothing, purses, and shoes. 

“Initially, I cooperated with a local clothing brand that recruited women from Siwa and Upper Egypt to handcraft various items. They wanted me to provide designs for their clothes, and this piqued my interest, motivating me to begin a more personal project.”

Elbannan started to go to second-hand markets and buy clothes that might have stains or defects. She returned home and painted over these spots, changing them into handmade artworks and increasing their worth. 

“I started by buying trousers for myself and painting on them, and then I started making outfits for my friends. Eventually, I began to purchase clothes, purses, and shoes, paint them, and then resell them. People were sceptical at first, but after I had shared images on Instagram exhibiting the transformed apparel, they began to engage with it, even sending their own clothes to me to be painted.”  

Elbannan cites famous artists like Spaniard Francisco Goya and French artist Odilon Redon as influences on her work, and she draws inspiration from European artistic movements like Expressionism and Romanticism, which she combines to create her unique style that she shares with her followers. 

“The goal of art is to share it with others and to engage them in it. That’s why I wanted to share my passion for art by giving workshops on clothes painting,” she said.

Architect Hossam Osama posts videos of his drawings on walls and other objects as a way of stimulating interest among viewers. “Nowadays, everything in our lives is evaluated using pragmatic standards. Thus, if we do not tie art to real world projects and products, it will gradually fade away from our lives. By adopting art and incorporating it into our daily lives, we can ensure its longevity,” Osama said.

Working as a freelance artist, Osama has created over 50 murals for public places, offices, and homes. He strives to fulfil his passion for painting on unusual materials of diverse sizes and forms. Chairs, phone cases, and even earphones can serve as canvases for his art.

“While I don’t stick to a single style, I enjoy being seen as an artist who will paint anything to express his art. I believe that art can contribute considerable emotional and material value to our lives.” 

Osama does not just draw, however. He also aims to combine art with innovation by employing mixed media. 

“For one of my projects, I illustrated a book about magic using different materials, colours, and effects to give the book a mysterious appearance. In another project, I experimented with using the floor as an unusual canvas. Another time, I painted on a gigantic barrel, making it into a massive beverage container,” he said.

“But murals continue to be the most difficult. Depending on the space and design of each mural, the process can take between four and 15 days from concept to implementation. It’s important to draft the design digitally first, then to prepare the wall layers, outline the steps in pencil, and then execute the painting’s final look in colour.”

* A version of this article appears in print in the 29 February, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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