By Sekka Editorial
Earlier this month, the Khaleeji Art Museum unveiled its second solo exhibition of the year, Representing Culture Differently. The digital exhibition showcases 19 paintings by 26-year-old emerging Saudi artist Faisal Alkheriji that present Saudi and wider Arab culture in a new light.
Amongst the artworks on display in the artist’s first digital solo gallery are REEMALisa and The Men of Saudi Arabia, which were inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Pablo Picasso’s Women of Algiers, respectively, and which showcase the influence great artists have had on Faisal from childhood, and his talent in creating art that speaks across different cultures. For instance, hisREEMALisa depicts a Saudi woman named Reema dressed in traditional Hijazi dress, and The Men of Saudi Arabia depicts Saudi men camping in a tent in the desert, a leisurely practice known in the Kingdom as a kashta.
Though he pursued a degree in management and marketing, and works in the field, the artist is also deeply passionate about the arts, and has showcased his paintings across different exhibitions and events in Boston, London and Jeddah. He also has a permanent gallery in the basement of his home in Saudi Arabia.
We speak with the young artist about his beginnings, his art style and routine, his digital exhibition at the Khaleeji Art Museum and his future plans. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
When and how did your art journey begin? And how did you learn how to paint?
Faisal Alkheriji: It began when I was six years old, when I started going to an art class for a year. [Painting] grew with me as a hobby, and I was self-taught after that. But my real journey began when I studied abroad because that’s when I started spending much more time on painting and trying new techniques and styles.
What inspires your paintings?
Faisal Alkheriji: I get inspired by my culture, patterns related to my culture and I also get inspired by other artists, globally and locally.
Who are some of the artists you look up to?
Faisal Alkheriji: My top two artists are Pablo Picasso and George Condo, both for their exceptional talent in the styles of cubism and surrealism, respectively. I try to study their work and learn from it as much as I can.
Your artworks frequently depict Saudi and wider Arab culture, and some are also inspired by paintings of the artists you look up to, but which you give a local twist to. Tell us more about the reasons behind that.
Faisal Alkheriji: Originally, I started painting when I was young by copying other artists and imitating their artworks. Then, as I grew, my style started to shift to paintings that reflect my culture. I’m still inspired by other artists, but that’s part of the journey, and as an artist grows, their style will change and evolve with them.
Tell us about the artworks you have selected to be showcased at the Khaleeji Art Museum, and the inspiration behind the theme Representing Culture Differently.
Faisal Alkheriji: Mostly they are of surreal characters painted in a cubism style, but you will always find something in them or their outfits that represents my culture. And that’s the point of representing culture differently: to present elements of my culture with a twist and in a different way.
We noticed that all the paintings that are currently being showcased in the Khaleeji Art Museum are acrylic on canvas. Why acrylic on canvas?
Faisal Alkheriji: It’s just how I started, but I’m trying to learn how to paint with oil as well as I believe it could provide better results. But I’m still very new to it and I’m learning as I go.
Tell us about the basement gallery in your house.
Faisal Alkheriji: I would call it a mini gallery. I have many of my pieces hanging there for display mostly for my own enjoyment, and the enjoyment of my friends and family when they come over. However, I’ve also had many guests who have requested to see my paintings come over and see them there.
What is the role of an artist, in your opinion?
Faisal Alkheriji: To express and show their talent, and enjoy the process of doing so. I refuse to say that artists’ work must have meaning. I believe art shouldn’t always be meaningful and sometimes artists can do things that don’t have any purpose, as long as they feel good when they do them.
What is your art routine like?
Faisal Alkheriji: Usually I paint at night. After a long day of work, I use painting as therapy. I got so used to painting late night that it’s now hard for me to do it during the day. It has to be at the end of the day, when I have nothing on my mind other than art. And I always need music to focus and I need to be alone; I don’t like painting when others are around.
Which painting(s) of yours are you most proud of and why?
Faisal Alkheriji: I would say my latest artwork, Men of Saudi Arabia, is the one I’m proud of the most because of how much it shows of my culture rather than just in the outfits of the characters I usually paint. But I’m also proud of all my other works.
What are your thoughts on the art scene in the Gulf and wider Arab world today?
Faisal Alkheriji: It’s definitely gaining more attention and becoming more popular. But I still think there is a long way to go, especially when it comes to art education and what art means, as I think today there isn’t proper understanding of what art is.
In your opinion, what more could be done to better support artists in the Gulf and wider Arab region?
Faisal Alkheriji: We need more galleries and more attention to be paid to artists, similar to what you are doing with this magazine and this feature, which I’m very thankful for.
What advice would you give to emerging artists in the Gulf and wider Arab world?
Faisal Alkheriji: My advice is for them to ignore what others describe as art, and just try to learn and do whatever they like, and not what they think other people will like.
What message would you like viewers to get from your gallery at the Khaleeji Art Museum? Or what message would you like to send them?
Faisal Alkheriji: I would like to send a message about the beauty of our culture and emphasize that we need to embrace it and show it to the world. We have a very rich and historical culture that I don’t feel we do justice, and it is our job to show it to the world and keep our culture alive in any way possible. Art is one of those ways, and I’m sure there are amazing artists or designers who will be able to show our culture very beautifully.
What are your future plans?
Faisal Alkheriji: My future plans are to shape my style a bit more, practice other mediums, try new painting styles, participate in more galleries locally and globally and hopefully be able to represent my culture and represent the local talent we have in the region.
To see Faisal Alkheriji’s first solo digital exhibition in the Khaleeji Art Museum visit www.khaleejiartmuseum.com .
To find out more about Faisal, visit his website.
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