Walid Ebeid is the sixth Artist of the Month in our year-long series spotlighting Egyptian artists.
art courtesy Walid Ebeid
by Dominika Maslikowski
An oil painter who’s a true master of the technique, Ebeid’s work ranges from haunting studies of the female figure to paintings that tackle difficult issues like sexuality, immigration and police brutality. His work has been exhibited internationally since 1992, earning him a reputation for his expressive style. One of his more daring works depicts a prostitute wrapped in a sheet sitting handcuffed at a police station.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I didn’t start out like most other artists of my generation who only took painting seriously when they started art school. I was lucky for two reasons: the first was my father’s support — ever since I was six he’s made art supplies available. The second reason is my childhood, which I spent in the forests and hills of Yemen and where I was at one with nature’s beautiful scenery. My family moved there in 1972 when my father got a post as an Arabic teacher. I was only two at the time and we moved back when I was nine, but I carried nature inside me. I was able to keep up with city life but only continued to draw intermittently. When I did draw, all my teachers recognized I had a gift and they all encouraged me to enroll at the Faculty of Fine Arts. I graduated in 1992 and since then have been very active, taking part in the local arts movement.
What inspires your art?
For me creating art is in itself an inspiration and is just as enigmatic to me as talent itself.
How do you work, and what’s your process?
I usually just paint what I feel like, and I can see the complete painting in my mind before I start working. Then I start to pick apart its elements and try to analyze the meanings of the symbols it holds. Afterward, I start on the execution plan, such as choosing the model that looks closest to what I have in mind, the closest visual elements.
How has your artwork changed and evolved over the years?
I’ve been through a lot of phases, the first of which was when I was a student at the Faculty of Fine Arts. My first teacher was the great Dutch painter Rembrandt — I was amazed by the textures of his magical paintings and their legendary lighting. The masters all crept into my heart — Van Gogh, Gauguin, Gustav Courbet — vying for space with ancient Egyptian art. I soon found myself overwhelmed by all this brilliant art until I entered what I call my “white phase,” which I came up with in 1993 and which quickly turned into a visual trend. I did not let my success get to me just because the trend was my invention, and instead I continued to search and experiment, going through several phases to reach my current phases, which I call “realistic expressionism.”
What do you like most about your art?
What I like most about my art is that the artwork I produce resembles me closely. This renders me in a state of truth because it expresses what occupies people’s minds and what they’re feeling. My art is for the people, not for other artists, for critics or for collectors. My art is for everybody. And it’s why people can relate to my art as if it is their own, and why they sometimes ask me to execute certain images, believing that I can express their feelings. Of course it is no secret that women and women’s issues are one of my biggest concerns. I myself cannot fathom the reason I hold all this empathy toward women — as if women were the reason for me being an artist. I believe that art has to reflect reality and the changes taking place around us. I always focus on strange things that we quickly lose interest in.
What are your thoughts on the art scene in Egypt?
I see three different types of artists on the local scene. The first create their artwork for critics and artists and most often than not belong to a clique seeking personal gain and ingratiation with government entities. The second type works in silence for money, selling his work to art collectors. This type is usually adept technically, but chances are they found success with one style and froze in that one style. The third type of artist, and these are few and far between, is talented and works freely for the people. I am proud to belong to this group.
Who are your favorite artists?
The most important artists I’ve looked up to are the Ancient Egyptians whose names have dissolved into their beliefs. Then Rembrandt, Gauguin, Van Gogh, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Delacroix, Ilya Repin, Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon.
What are your plans for the future?
Right now I’m preparing for two upcoming exhibitions. The first will be in September in Venice and it’s a one-painting exhibit called “El-Mohager” (The Immigrant). In January, I have a solo exhibit of some 40 paintings at Dai Gallery in Mohandeseen.
For more, follow Ebeid on Facebook here.