“The artist sees what others only catch a glimpse of.” This is a famous quote by Leonardo Da Vinci that fits the young painter Abdelwahab Hawam, whose paintings aptly reconceptualise local and universal human experiences. Hawam’s unique talent came through in his stunning painting of the iconic Sherihan for eniGma’s Covers Reimagined event last June. eniGma’s Farida Elserty got the chance to chat with the young artist about his artistic journey, his inspirations and his views on art in general. Here are some extracts of the interview.
When did you first realise you wanted to be an artist?
As a child, drawing was my only hobby and the only thing that satisfied me and made me happy. I used to draw on all the textbooks, magazines and walls around me. However, I only realised that my paintings could be unique when my art teacher told me so. From then on, I started to enter art competitions in my school, and my passion for art continued to grow till art became my career.
How do you want people to respond to your paintings?
Honestly, I don’t want people to have a specific emotional response to my paintings. I simply hope that my artwork conveys people’s untold feelings, evokes evaluations and changes lives. The truth is that people see in any artwork what they need to feel. People sometimes surprise me when they see my painting from another viewpoint than the one I meant to convey. In other words, every person’s emotions and perspectives will be different. Ultimately, it makes me happy when the audience connects with my artwork and experiences peace in one way or another.
What inspires you?
I find inspiration from everything around me. All my art is a self-practice of my own experience of life. Experiencing new cultures, meeting new people and opening up to new ideas motivate me to translate my emotions into a painting. Also, when I am experiencing a state of happiness or sorrow, my only way of expression is through painting. I don’t draw from my own state every day, however, because I don’t always have a specific feeling to express at a specific moment.
What is the process you follow when painting?
I have my own traditions while painting. My studio should be clean and tidy at the outset of any new painting. Moreover, organizing my palettes and brushes is essential in my painting process. I think I am not a bohemian artist by any means because I love arranging everything before starting any new project. I also produce the best work when I am relaxed and having fun; which is why I love to have music playing in the background while I paint.
Who has influenced you or has been your mentor?
This is the hardest question to answer. Truthfully, I had no mentor throughout my artistic journey. However, some artists have influenced and inspired me over the years. For example, I have always loved the work of Ragheb Ayad and Mahmoud Saeed. Also, at this stage of my life, I am influenced by the work of Pablo Picasso, Egon Schiele and Amedeo Modigliani.
What does art mean to you?
The answer is simple. For me, art is everything. Art is not only a source of income, but it is also my only hobby.
Which is your favourite piece of art that you have ever created?
I know it may sound cliché, but I don’t have one favourite piece of art. I have many favourites. Sometimes I prefer some paintings over others, but that is for a certain period, since I am still drawing, and I will be drawing in the future. I may well prefer other paintings after a while. Also, having given every piece I created a lot of time and thinking, they are all important to me in some way.
Can you tell us about your experience with eniGma’s Covers Reimagined event?
It was one of the best experiences I ever had. Truthfully, eniGma’s Covers Reimagined event was incredibly entertaining and memorable. It was also challenging to create Sherihan’s painting, so I tried to draw her in my own way.
What was the most challenging project that you have worked on?
The most challenging project I have ever worked on was my first solo exhibition in Beirut in 2018. Earlier, my paintings had been exhibited in group exhibitions; but this was different because it was a solo one. The name of the exhibition was “Women of Utopia,” and it was a successful, happy event. I painted chubby ladies laughing and chatting going about their daily lives, without regard to all the social perceptions of weight and beauty ideals. Nevertheless, it was a challenging task for many reasons, mostly because it was my first solo exhibition, and because it was not in Egypt. Happily, after the exhibition, I became more famous in the Egyptian art community.
Why do you draw women in this way?
I paint what I feel and what reflects my thoughts and my experience in life. I paint both thin and chubby ladies because beauty should not have specific standards. Also, I believe that diversity is important. I accept all people with their different body shapes, without any discrimination. Again, I always search for beauty and optimism inside things and people.
What advice would you give to your past self at the start of your career?
I would say: Don’t be influenced by anyone. Do what you believe in. Don’t imitate anyone and stay true to yourself. Make every day count; always try and never give up.
As an artist, how do you define success?
For me, success is easy, but maintaining success is not. Continuity is the key to success. It is important to always keep up with trends and learn new technologies in the industry. As an artist, I feel successful when people remember my old work and wait for my new projects.
How does art influence social issues?
From my point of view, art is a reflection of society. Art influences society by posing societal, religious and political questions that should be faced. I think my own message is simple. I am here to share positive feelings, instil the value of love and positively translate my experiences.