We talk to Rashid al Khalifa at the opening of his latest exhibition, “Penumbra: Textured Shadow, Coloured Light,” which is being held at Saatchi Gallery from 3rd – 21st October 2018. Rashid’s London debut invites us to explore the beauty of textured shadows and light cast through polychromatic metal structures. Aluminium mesh wall works, suspended steel grid mobiles, and a monumental maze form the basis of this immersive exhibition inspired by architectural grids and geometric lattices. In recent years, Rashid has experimented with metal and convex surfaces, creating openings in his aluminium wall works to reveal the intimate space within, which is usually kept out of view. “Penumbra” takes this approach a step further, exploring changes in spatial experience depending on the viewer’s position.
What was the inspiration behind your mobile pieces?
I wanted to have an element of “to see and not to be seen.” You can walk around the pieces and if someone is on the other side, you can see them but not very clearly. Similarly, with my lattice work, you can see out from the inside, but you cannot see in. The light coming from the outside creates light and patterns, adding to a further dimension to the work. Also, using different colours gives you that depth to show the different layers of my work. I wanted to use this technique on a larger structure which was interactive for the visitor, so I created a maze that you could walk through, but you would still have the shutters that open and close, thereby creating different patterns with light and shade. I wanted to have one colour on the outside and more colours on the inside, so I used this type of blue aquamarine which is very popular in our part of the world – it’s reminiscent of the sea – and on the inside, I wanted to use lively strong colours. You will see the walkways inside are very narrow, just like the alleyways that we have in the Middle East. The idea of the different colours represents the different walls and doors in the cities. I was inspired by winding narrow alleyways and traditional architecture. I would like the audience to experience the maze as a conceptual entity – a spiritual journey with no fixed destination.
Tell me about your 3D pieces on the wall – is this the first time that you have created three dimensional artworks?
Yes, it is really. I experimented with 3D structures back in 1982 but I did not pursue it. Back then I was working with timber, but it was too heavy, and it is only more recently that I have started to use lighter materials such as aluminium which gives more flexibility and durability. This work is a culmination of the things that I love: design, interiors and architecture. It was important to create a movement with these pieces so that they give you a different feeling and perspective from whichever way you look at them. You have to move with them. I also added a lattice pattern so that it can project beautiful light and shade through it. They are really based on complex mathematical geometric design, as “parametric sculptures.” I admire the architect Jean Nouvel who has used a similar technique in the new Louvre in Abu Dhabi. It’s beautiful. You will see that I have used a combination of muted colours – pinks and blues – and then I have used some strong coloured pieces in red and green. Colour is so important, and each colour has its own identity and a life that comes from it. Life without colour is very dull.
What would you like visitors to feel when they see your work?
I think you should let the visitor see for themselves and let them find out what it means to them. Sometimes they come up with names or visions that are better than your own. I don’t think that contemporary work should be given a title to summarise the works. With some modern art, they don’t respect that viewers may have their own interpretation of that work. It’s more of a “take or leave it” attitude. I would like them to leave my art having seen something they really appreciate and like, and that will stay in their memories.
Which painters inspired you as a young artist?
I was really taken by Turner because he used all the strong elements of shade, dust, cloud and haze. This really matched our environment of clear skies, dust and sand. The area that I lived in Bahrain had a lot of dust and not far away from where I used to live, there used to be a place where they would crack the boulders and stones and make a huge amount of dust. Then we would have these really blue skies with white clouds. This contrast is something that I have used a lot in my paintings and then seeing it in Turner’s work in real life at the National Gallery really amazed me. Then, of course, the impressionist movement impressed me too.
What role do you think art should play in our lives?
For me, art is a universal language – art is without borders, that everyone accepts and understands. Having this dialogue in this form open doors to friendship without the use of guns and war.
What do you like doing when you have time to yourself?
Whenever I have the opportunity, I love doing drawings and sketching, and I always have my pad with me. This is so important in fine art, architecture and design. Unfortunately, a lot of youngsters don’t concentrate on drawing but I think it is so important that you should be able to draw correctly. By drawing, you see the dimension and the composition. Computers, of course, can do the technical part but not the vision.
What are your future plans in terms of work?
I am planning to create some work for the Venice Biennale next year using sand and the movement of sand – it will be called “The Shifting Sands.” Representative of our region based on social, economic and political levels. These are the three aspects that I will be working around.
Of all the art that you have created in your life, which are the works that you would say really represent you and your work?
From the beginning, there are a couple of traditional landscapes that I want to keep for myself, two or three pieces of figurative work as well as the convex work and a piece from the current work. I like them all really. One work leads to another and gives you more ideas and you are always learning and improving, so I just carry on.
About Rashid al Khalifa
Rashid al Khalifa began painting at the age of 16 and had his first exhibition at the Dilmun Hotel, Bahrain in 1970. He travelled to the UK in 1972, where he attended the Brighton & Hastings Art College in Sussex and trained in Arts & Design. Rashid’s artistic practice has evolved over time: from landscapes in the 70s and early 80s, to merging elements of his figurative and abstract work in the late 80s, progression towards abstraction and experimenting with the ‘‘canvas’’ in the 90s, and recent mirror-like chrome and high gloss lacquer pieces. His solo exhibitions include Hybrids at Ayyam Gallery, Dubai, UAE (2018); A New Perspective at Bahrain National Museum, Kingdom of Bahrain (2010); Art Department, Shuman Arts Organisation, Jordan (1997); De Caliet Gallery, Milan, Italy and El Kato Kayyel Gallery, Milan, Italy (1996). Biennials include: Bridges, Grenada Pavilion, 57 Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy (2017); 3rd Mediterranean Biennale: OUT OF PLACE – Sakhnin Valley, Israel (2017); Arab Delegation, TRIO Biennial – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (2015); and In The Eye of the Thunderstorm, Collateral Events, 56. la Biennale di Venezia – Venice, Italy (2015). Rashid has also taken part in various group shows, international art fairs, and exhibitions alongside the Bahrain Arts Society.
About Curators Eva McGaw and Tatiana Palinkasev
Eva and Tatiana established “Metamorphosis Art Projects,” where they produce and curate art exhibitions with a special edge. They create extraordinary experiences to motivate artists in developing new forms of expression, helping them to communicate their most inner beliefs and convictions, and to inspire their audiences. Interaction and inspiration is the key element in their exhibitions.
For more information about Rashid al Khalifa, go to www.rashidalkhalifa.me.