Interview with The Artist
artBahrain visits the studio of emerging Bahrain artist
Adel Al AbassiHow long have you been an artist and how did you become one?
Well, it’s difficult to answer this question as I always loved art and had the ability to draw and paint since my childhood; however, I can say that I had the ability to draw but I was not thinking like an artist until I met a colleague who happened to be an art collector and intellectually well informed about art and especially art in the Arab world.
He introduced me to the Abstract Expressionism school of art and gave me a book called, “Concerning the Spiritual in Art” by Wassily Kandinsky, an influential Russian painter and art theorist.
From this book, I learned that there are spiritual forces in art and that the artist’s mission and task is to lead others to these forces.
The book also taught me that art should not only have a physical effect on the eye, but it should have a deeper effect, touching the inner feelings and the soul. Besides that, I had the opportunity to go through his art collection and get ideas about real art and the trends. I think this was the turning point in my art life to start thinking like an artist.
How has your art work changed over the years, would you say you have grown in slow measured steps, or have there been radical shifts in your art making over the years?
Regardless of the big shift in my art thoughts and knowledge, I am very aware of the development of my style. I refuse to follow the market trend or the collectors taste.
Having a good career on which you can live gave me an advantage not to drift into commercial art or to jump from one style to another just to satisfy my target market. I have always said that I live for art and not from art! Back to your question, my style has gradually evolved over the years from realism and surrealism to expressionism.
I am not sure where I am heading in terms of style and would like to leave it for the time so it matures organically or as Arabs say, is cooked on a slow fire! I have always been very critical of those artists who jump from one style to another without developing that style gradually.
To me, an artist’s development is like a mystical journey in which one has to go through different spiritual stations or developmental levels. One cannot just jump from one state of consciousness to another or from one mood to another to attain enlightenment.
So, similarly, in order to transform from one style (station) to another, one has to earn it by his/her self’s own efforts and labor.
You were trained in painting, but your recent works all seem to be sculptural. What made you make the transition?
Art is not my Academic background. I went to technical high school where I studied casting, welding, and mainly Diesel Engineering.
I did my Bachelor and Masters(MBA) degrees in Business Management in the USA. Nevertheless, I have taken courses in art appreciation, movie studies, and art related to advertisement and mass communication.
On top of that I have attended some workshops on traditional Japanese art like Ikebana and Shodo while studying in Tokyo. In spite of all of this background, I always had
a passion for sculpture, but it was not easy as you need equipment, place, space, and of course money! The easiest was to draw and paint since you can do it almost everywhere. Nevertheless, I have always kept my ideas and doodlings for sculpture in small notes or margins of my books.
I am still waiting to implement most of them although some no longer match my taste and style! As a matter of fact, the first award winning (Al Daneh) sculpture last year (water taps) was first implanted in my mind around 15 years ago while
studying in Japan.
It took too long to bloom! I have hundreds of sketches for sculptures that are waiting to be made.
Can you tell us your biggest influences in art and how they have affected your work? Are there any current artists who you really
Looking back on my art life, there are many factors that had an impact on me as an artist. When I was a child, I remember my uncles and some relatives were good painters but they never pursued art or participated in art exhibitions. I also had good art teachers at school who encouraged me to draw and participate in school art competitions.
Studying at technical high school helped me a lot in learning engineering perspective and technical drawings in addition to technical skills like welding, carpentry, and casting. While a teenager, my father owned a carpentry shop where I learnt carving and engraving small traditional crafts like boats and pearl chests.
Later, when I studied in the US, travels to Europe, and studies for 6 months in Japan I got exposure to both Eastern and Western traditional and contemporary fine arts.
But I would say that the wrap up of my art life was when I met a colleague who introduced me to modern fine arts after which I could integrate all my academic backgrounds and experiences for art.
What are some of your favourite materials to work with?
My favorite material to work with is, of course, acrylic for painting. I think Oil colors are beautiful but a bit messy especially when you have kids! As for sculpting, I love to play with clay and adore the flexibility & friendliness of its nature.
Working with clay has its own spiritual feelings; perhaps, because we were created from an extract of clay!!
How long does it take to complete a sculpture?
Well, it’s relative and depends on the size and medium. The last sculpture of the pregnant woman that I participated with took around 45 days of working around 6 hours a day. It was a very difficult one and gave me a hard time. In addition to the steel work, I had to do the knotting, which took a longer time than I ever expected. However, the elation was great!
When you first started being active in the art circle, did that change your work?
Although I am in the art circle, I don’t have any inner circle that I hang out with or associate myself with. As I said earlier, I try not to be influenced by others’ style, but love to learn techniques and tips from them. In art, I like to be independent so I can grow gradually and form my own identity and signature.
Could you tell us about your winning entry at the 38th Annual Artists Exhibition?
My winning sculpture was called “Fertility, Knots & Locks of Love”. It’s a 2.2 meter steel structure sculpture of a pregnant woman.
I tied fabrics (knots) and padlocks to the sculpture’s surface. As you know, the theme this year was “Woman”. So, I thought nothing differentiates women from men more than the ability to give birth.
Pregnancy is also a major factor in the continuity and survival of human beings. Basically, I wanted to show that a pregnant woman is beautiful regardless of the physical changes that she goes through. It’s very feminine and fine looking especially the curved shapes (Lines of Beauty) as depicted by English artist and writer, William Hogarth.
I used two mythological concepts (knots and locks of love) in the sculpture to convey the message of love, marriage, and pregnancy. Locks are used in both the East and the West to emphasise the love of two.
You can see locks put by lovers on chains on two sides of The Great Wall of China and the key thrown in the valley. The same idea exists in Rome or Paris where lovers fix locks on the bridge fence symbolizing their eternal love. They throw the keys into the river and say we are locked together forever.
This is called ‘Love Locks’. Similarly ribbons or a piece of fabric ‘knots’ can be seen in Japanese shrines, some Western and South American weddings or even in some Middle Eastern countries symbolizing connection, engagement and tying together. It’s called
‘Love Knots’. I employed these two concepts to show that the baby or child is going to lock and tie the parents together forever regardless of their marital status – even if they get divorced!
What has been the most interesting response you have received from an audience member after they’ve seen your works?
I heard many comments from different people. One of them was “You are a banker and you come up with these great works, what would have been if you were a full time artist?”
I also like when I hear from people that my artworks are original and different.
When I meet people, they remember my different works and I hear them talking about it even after long time. It shows that my works affected
them somehow and had an impact on them otherwise they would not remember them in such details.
Usually, if you go to an exhibition, the work that you remember after a while is supposed to be a good work and had an impact on you. In this year’s exhibition, I saw a little girl, nagging her father to buy my 2.2 meters steel sculpture of a pregnant woman!! It seems my works has appeals to both kids and mature audience. As an artist, I love to see this kind of feedback from all ages.
What ideas or issues do you feel are currently influencing your work?
I am inspired usually by Mythology symbols that are often found in religions, cultures, or traditions. It’s nice to convert those concepts into an artwork. These concepts can be made easy for ordinary people once they are in different form of art. In addition, it’s nice to transfer a metaphysical concept into a physical one that can occupy a space, be seen and touched.
Are you a part of any artists groups or organizations that have been beneficial to your work as an artist?
I am a member of the Bahrain Arts Society. In general, there is no art movement that you can benefit from as there is no philosophical or ideological movement behind art in the region. However, we have some kind of art activities nowadays which give you more exposure to different styles and techniques.
As an artist, what has been your greatest resource?
As I stated earlier, usually my greatest resources come from mysticism and mythological concepts. I also love to paint major novels story on canvas after reading them. I did that in the 90’s, but did not finish my series of novels and books read. I painted novels like
“Animal Farm” forGeorge Orwell and “The Conference of the Birds” by Farid al-Din Attar and some other novels.
And finally, what are you currently working on?
I am currently working on an exhibition for my doodling that was done at work. Throughout my work career, since graduation, I have dated and kept my doodling notes which come directly from my subconscious while my mind is busy and occupied with something else like engaging in a telephone conversation. I think the concept of exhibiting such a work will be new.
I am also planning to have an ‘Open Air’ life-size sculpture exhibition in a public area like a park or corniche. I have already discussed the plan with a friend and he is joining me in the exhibition as he is a steel sculptor. I believe that we need to have such public art in Bahrain. In fact, we lack modern urban sculptures in the public.
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