The toy story by the artist who loves chocolate eggs

The toy story by the artist who loves chocolate eggs

Rachel Koleilat, winner of the best international solo artist at the recently concluded World Art Dubai 2017, believes toys, magic, and colours are for both kids and adults

Published: Fri 19 May 2017, 8:49 PM

Last updated: Sat 20 May 2017, 4:22 PM

Rachel Koleilat was always a creative soul. As a child, she looked at the world as if it was a huge canvas. A conversation with her sister reveals that Rachel would transform everything into a playground. When she was 10, she created a village for the Smurfs on a tree trunk cut from their garden. No wonder being an artist is something that came naturally to her.
"Becoming an artist was not really a decision. Art was always a part of me. I grew up with a magical dad, who made all types of art - drawings, paintings, sculptures. I guess I inherited his artistic touch." Born in Beirut, she grew up in France before deciding to settle down in Lebanon. Over the years, it became her passion to create art with any materials she could find. Her current muse is a collection of miniature, colourful, and second-hand toys.
When I met her at the recently concluded World Art Dubai 2017, where she was declared the Best International Solo Artist, I was in awe of the vibrant colours, unique choice of medium (toys made from papier mâché), and story-telling elements of her artworks. I decided to label them 'childhood in a frame'. "I'm glad you think that. I believe that toys are for everyone from every age. Each toy, which becomes a part of my pieces has its own unique story." For her, putting together the toys is like gathering all the stories created and invented. "Remember when we were young - all the stories and adventures that we imagined while playing with one of these toys? I want anyone looking at my art to feel that magic again. On coming back tired from work, I want you to look at the creation and feel happy and relieved."
She uses papier mâché in her works, a process of mixing newspaper pieces with glue. "I love it, for I can give it any shape. Also, when dried and reworked with colours and toys, it looks like a totally different material." Interestingly, at World Art Dubai, she met people who thought the medium was iron or plastic. "They had a hard time believing it was papier mâché!" She ventured into mixed media aiming to create her own Halloween costumes, mixing tissue with other materials. "I loved the feeling of working with different materials - it provided infinite possibilities to express myself." She's also a doll designer and sometimes paints as well.
I learnt that she has a firm belief about all the colours that come alive in the frames. "It is so sad to see the world only in black-and-white. Colours translate into happiness - in cartoons, flowers, buildings, paintings. Even product packaging can have a different impact on you depending on its colour. I try to use only 'happy colours' as I want people to feel happy when they look at my art." Paradoxically, her favourite shade is black. "Black is a mix of all colours, what I love most is that it's a mysterious hue. You can lose yourself in it. Black denotes strength, power and authority - all the characteristics that are represented in my creations."
And how does she collect the hundreds and thousands of toys for each of the pieces? "The collection process depends on the piece I am creating. Whether I have a specific theme in mind or not, I gather them. I can find my toys anywhere. Plenty of them are from my personal collection, as I love to keep small toys and this habit started at a very young age when I started to collect small toys that I would find in Kinder Joy Surprise Eggs." As for the number of elements that go in each piece, she's never counted. "There are so many that it would be too hard to count them! But, the two biggest pieces I've created so far can be found in the Beirut-based night club, Discotek." She says she'd be grateful to anyone who has the patience to count the elements. It takes Rachel weeks or months to finish a piece - (small pieces can start at $1000, the larger ones can go up to $20,000) for she doesn't believe in giving herself a deadline; the timeline varies depending on the size and the collector toys used.
Can she sum up her muse in a word? "Magic - both, adults and children should never top believing in it." Does she have a message for kids and the adults? "I want everyone to be more conscious about our fauna and flora. If we put all our efforts together we can definitely save the earth and nature. It takes just a little effort to change many things. My art can be seen as a form of recycling as I use what I call 'second-hand materials' such as used newspapers and collected toys." Here's to more magic and colours in our lives.
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