Journalist Rabi’ah.M meets prominent contemporary Bahraini artist Sheikh Rashid Al Khalifa during his recent exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in London, and discusses his art, his artistic journey and his advise to up-and-coming new artists.
“One of the most prominent contemporary artists in the Middle East, Sheikh Rashid Al Khalifa has earned a reputation for experimenting with different art forms, gaining him exposure at prominent art events worldwide. While keeping a contemporary approach to his work, he ensures the themes he explores are deeply rooted in tradition yet created to embrace the modern world.”
When I met Sheikh Rashid Khalifa Al Khalifa at the Saatchi Gallery in London last month, I could not help but notice his down-to-earth attitude, despite belonging to the Royal family of Bahrain. Born in Bahrain in 1952, his love affair with the arts goes back to the age of 16, when his first solo exhibition took place at the Dilmun Hotel in Bahrain, in 1970. This was a stepping stone for Sheikh Rashid, which led him to attend an arts and design course at the Brighton & Hastings Art College in Sussex, U.K. With his vigour and passion for the arts remaining strong ever since, they are clearly visible in the way he has kept a flexible approach to educating himself with different art concepts, genres, and expressing his willingness to experiment with them. For example: in Bahrain he took his cues from European masters illustrating his admiration for painting landscapes, as well as illustrating the beautiful radiance and enigmatic spatial effects of the desert.
During the 1980s it was his decision to integrate components of his metaphors and landscape into his art, which he defines as a completely conscious one resulting in him portraying self-expression in a stunning manner. Sheikh Rashid likes to define himself as a contemporary artist, "The journey of my art, and of me as an artist, has been quite interesting and which has gone through different phases; but there has always been a certain linkage between these phases, mainly the colours, the subtleness in choosing the finishes and the materials which can be merged with them."
By 2011, Sheikh Rashid decided it was time to progress towards the perfection of expressing his contemporary compositions in the form of mirror-like chrome plate convex surfaces, which has resulted in his work being exhibited at events, exhibitions and prominent arts platforms in Bahrain and around the world, including the U.S, the U.A.E, the U.K and many others. One could describe Sheikh Rashid as a global art ambassador, who believes art is a universal language.
At the Saatchi Gallery, London, Sheikh Rashid talked openly about his recent exhibition Penumbra which took place during October 2018. The central theme was to revive the traditional structure of Mashrabiya. The idea behind this exhibition was derived from Mashrabiya, a wooden screen with openable windows that has been used in across the Gulf on windows and doors in houses for the purpose of ventilation and keeping the sun-rays out, while maintaining privacy indoors. "This was a triggering point for me. I wanted the inspiration to make it contemporary, not literal.” At the beginning of the year prior to the exhibition, Sheikh Rashid visited the Saatchi Gallery and gave his ideas for the presentation of his art, especially for the large maze piece. He customized the pieces as per their size, and the size and space of the exhibition space, and visualized his pieces suspended, free-standing and wall mounted. All of Sheikh Rashid's work were tailor-made to fit the size of the available gallery space, with everything needing to be in exact proportion. He did not want any of his choices of colours to be minor - for example the lilac in the centre of one of the pieces - but he wanted everything to stand out through contrast.
Most of Sheikh Rashid's working day is producing work for international exhibitions. “For example, after London, I have been asked to move my Mashrabiya exhibition to Tbilisi in Georgia and Moscow, Russia. I also have an exhibition planned at the Biennale in Venice in May 2019, as well as working on other projects.”
When I asked about the art scene in the GCC he says: “It is very good; we have some very talented artists and a number of prestigious international events which brings an important focus and attention to the region. Tthe art scene here is not competitive but encouraging, and provides an excellent platform and opportunity for artists to exhibit their work. I see a lot of emerging artists coming up in Bahrain, the UAE, Saudi Arabia as well as in other countries across the GCC.”
What makes a good artist? “All artists are good, depends on how you see things. You cannot say this person is a bad artist or that person is a good artist, I don’t think so, it is just how an individual visualizes art; it all comes down to choice and it purely depends on a person's individual taste. But there are some fundamentals which artists must possess; knowledge, composition and their choice of materials and colours, a good artist must know these in great detail.” And does he have any tips for up-and-coming artists? “Yes, most importantly continue making art, do not give up. Do not wait for success, success will come to you. And look around; your eyes play an important role in paying attention to detail. If you are not happy with something do it again, and again, even if it means doing it 20 to 30 times. Use different brushes, change your mediums, find out what suits you best and experiment, because without experimenting and trying different techniques and materials you would never achieve anything new and will never develop as an artist.”
Sheikh Rashid Al Khalifa