'I'm positive about the future of artists from the Gulf': Rashid Al Khalifa
Few Bahraini artists have been as consistent and prolific as Rashid Al Khalifa. Holding his first exhibition at the age of 18, he continued to use his art to express concepts that were important to him. Today, he says he continues to explore these themes - the Bahraini landscape, traditional architecture and the universal free-flowing shimmer of water - despite changes in the manner in which he chooses to render them. In his early years, Rashid Al Khalifa had a keen interest in representational landscape painting. However, over time, he veered towards abstraction and large-scale installations - a natural progression towards more sensory and interactive work. And yet, his latest installations are still suggestive of the heritage and landscape of his native country. Held at Muscat's Bait Muzna Gallery, In Parallel, his latest exhibition showcased a selection of his works from 1987 to the present day, displaying the diversity of styles the artist has adopted over the decades. In an email chat with WKND, Rashid Al Khalifa discusses his themes, methods and why he believes in the thriving art scene in the Gulf.
In Parallel takes viewers through a vast range of your artistic output. Which is to say, it's a good place for new viewers to see your work and the experimentations accompanying it in the last decade. How do you look at the show?
I'm pleased to see this particular selection of works exhibited, some of which have never been seen before. My decision to showcase them for the first time in Oman, a country that is also inherent of such rich cultural heritage, was not unintentional. The combination of these works that present Bahraini heritage, our natural landscape and the general development of my work really allows the totality of my artistic output to be seen in a different light. In many ways, it speaks about the longstanding relationship between Oman and Bahrain and the deep connection we have, as a people, to the land of the Gulf region. I'm also grateful to see such a positive response to the exhibition. In Parallel considers various themes that I have chosen to focus on over the years, although I have used different means in which to express them.
What are these themes and why do they recur?
The natural landscape of Bahrain, water and the seascape, the symbolic feminine form, traditional architecture of Bahrain and symmetry. I think that each of these topics somehow represents a facet of my individuality.
What's your process like?
I begin by considering a certain topic of importance to me. I tend to go back to themes related to my heritage or the natural landscape of Bahrain. I would then begin to consider ways in which to best express that particular concept. This would also depend on the time in which I am creating them. My means of expression has changed over the years and this comes naturally. In life, we often find that we may have so many experiences and our attention is diverted because of these experiences. And yet, we still return to our roots or that which we have a deep spiritual connection to. Therefore, although our relationship towards that particular thing may have changed, our feeling remains the same. For example, in the 1980s, I may have painted a representational landscape of the desert of Bahrain and in the 2000s, I still create landscapes, I just choose to express them differently.
When one looks at your recent mirror-like chrome and high-gloss lacquer artworks, it strikes one as visually attractive. Beneath the outer beauty, what's the message?
Many of these works were created around 2014. The manner in which these works reflect the environment around them, means that the environment in which the work is placed, is key. They react to their environment and are constantly alive. They don't just create the illusion of movement but are actually moving and changing. My decision to paint over sections is my contribution to the work - my signature, so to speak. Furthermore, they are in many ways suggestive of water, which is also constantly moving and changing and is a key theme that recurs in my work.
Do you still do landscape paintings that made you popular in the 1970s?
From time to time, I continue to paint representational landscape paintings. However, I believe that in many ways, my recent installation works are also landscapes as they are inherent of the same sense of colour and light.
FLOWING LIKE WATER: Rashid Al Khalifa's works explore landscape, light, architecture and minimalism. In Parallel, his recent exhibition in Muscat, Oman, presented a selection of his works from 1987 until the present day, giving viewers the opportunity to experience the diversity of the artist's oeuvre
What draws you to abstractions and installations?
I am drawn to not only traditional forms of architecture, but also to contemporary forms of design and feel that the best way to express their functionality is through large scale installations. For example, my latest works, which I call my Parametrics, are created out of steel mesh with flaps inserted into each of the openings. These works were inspired by my interest in the mashrabiya, a traditional form of Bahraini architecture. In many ways, they emanate the same sentiment of the mashrabiya and the effect of light and shadow on these works creates a beautiful illusion of movement. Parametrics were exhibited in my recent exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in London as were large scale hanging mobiles created out of steel grids. These works combine the idea of traditional architecture and its effect of light and colour with contemporary architectural design.
You had your first solo at the tender age of 18. How would you say your journey into art began?
I always felt connected to art and the process of creation and expression through a visual means.
How has the art scene in the Gulf evolved?
There is so much potential for artists in this region and an infinite amount of inspiration if we choose to see it. I feel very positively about what the future will hold for artists in and from the Gulf. It's very important that we consider topics related to preservation of our heritage and natural environment.
Your thoughts on the burgeoning culture of art fairs and festivals.
I think that each country in the Gulf has so much potential with regard to the arts and fairs. Festivals are very important but not necessarily something that is needed for each of us. Workshops, residencies and educational programmes are also necessary and once we are able to determine which we should tackle and focus on as a country, we will be able to see the artistic synergy between us as a region and we will realise our infinite potential.