Having loved to paint since he was just ten years old, Egyptian-Iraqi artist Adel Rahoumi had a passion for art since childhood. Born in Alexandria, Rahoumi studied Surveying and Cartography at the University of Alexandria. In 1983, he emigrated to the US where he obtained a Master’s degree in Graphic Design from California State University, and took up painting professionally. After living in the US for thirty years, Rahoumi moved back to Egypt and is now practising his art here. eniGma’s Rola Khalil caught up with the talented artist to find out more about his interesting artistic journey.
Rahoumi never took a formal art course after university. Instead, he used his curiosity and passion to learn and practice art techniques; and through trial and error, he was able to hone his talent. His graphic design background clearly influenced his art, as seen in his use of geometric elements, as well as his use of symbols through which he conveys social and political messages on issues of importance to him. The influence of his study of cartography and his familiarity with lining and inking are also evident in his techniques. He has explored different styles, and has even produced a type of functional art, by painting on objects like tables and vinyl records, which he sold for a period of time. As he successfully created a distinctive and unique portfolio unlike that of any other contemporary artist’s, he made a name for himself over the years.
Rahoumi’s varied cultural background is heavily reflected in his art. Having spent his childhood between Egypt and Iraq, a nostalgia for his adolescent experiences in the two countries can be discerned in his work. His unique cultural background is reflected in his culturally rich paintings created in a contemporary, geometric style that makes use of the modern techniques he learnt in the US.
Even though his paintings are abstract, Rahoumi does not consider himself an abstract painter. Finding inspiration mainly from his imagination, he describes himself as an expressionist painter. He rarely does portraits, though one of the few exceptions was his portrait of movie star Amr Youssef. With a deep passion for community and politics, Rahoumi likes to imbue his paintings with deep background stories that include symbols so intricate that he could spend hours explaining them. To convey his powerful messages, he uses allegories to represent a social or a political stance. Wars, sentimental pasts, and political and social issues provoke his messages. In a series of paintings on emigration called Tragedy at the End of the Journey, Rahoumi portrayed migrants as pigeons fleeing for their life, with some facing a miserable and inevitable fate.
COVID had a significant impact on Rahoumi’s work. Unable to commute to his art studio during lockdown, he soon realised that it was too much of a hassle to work on his huge oil paintings at home. He therefore took a break from his large acrylic works and turned to small drawings in which he used pens, acrylic markers and ink. Inspired by the events around him, he integrated many Covid symbols like masks and hand sanitisers in these drawings. He later turned to paintings of the local scenery, like fishermen on the beach and the Nile River, drawings that people would enjoy and relate to.
Rahoumi does not like to force his art. To him art should not be rushed or forced under pressure. “If you force it, you kill it,” he says. When he’s faced with a creative block, he simply embraces it. He sits back, wraps his equipment away and finds something else to do. As for the process he goes through when he paints, generally, when he starts a specific piece, at times he has a clear idea of the sketch he wants to do. While at other times he just trusts his gut and sees where it guides him. Most of his pieces take 10 days to two weeks to complete, but sometimes a piece can take longer.
While Rahoumi grasps any opportunity to be active in the art scene in Alexandria where he lives, he says that for all practical purposes Alexandria is artistically dead these days. While he makes an effort to participate in any exhibition taking place in Alexandria, he has mostly been active in Cairo exhibitions, including those by Art D’Egypte and Art Talks. He is looking forward to his own art exhibition planned for next September at Bibliothek at Arkan in Sheikh Zayed.
Looking further ahead, Rahoumi says he is taking it day by day, and remains open to any opportunities that may come his way.