Following a tremendously successful opening of her ‘Antidote’ exhibition in London, we had the opportunity to interview artist Sara Riaz Khan, who currently resides in Muscat, Oman’s capital, and learn about her latest artworks, the Middle East art scene and the inspiration behind her exciting and complex multi layered colourful artworks. Her distinctive technique and unique use of colours which appear intertwined like a complex abstract tapestry, create paintings designed to convey nature and the human emotions in a way we have never seen before.
‘Antidote’, an exhibition that explores how artistic practice can restore a sense of self in times of vulnerability and change, is open until 3 July 2019 at RB Twelve design space in Shoreditch, London.
You have a multi-cultural artistic background, which we are always very interested in, could you tell us what are your main influences?
Reading about world myths, the battle of good and evil and stories of transformation throughout my childhood, developed my interest in the human condition. My mother used to read the translation of the Shahnama, the Persian Book of Kings to me and I later enjoyed the Arthurian legends amongst others. Coming to the UK when I was young, I was drawn to the work of the Pre-Raphaelites and have been fortunate in seeing Gustave Moreau’s paintings in Paris. As a result of my father’s knowledge of South Asian miniatures and calligraphy from the Islamic World, I became interested in studying Islamic Art and Archaeology at SOAS (University of London) – the impact of this surfaced recently this year in mixed media works on paper. Experiences and visuals that move me or give me new ideas influence my work practice. The Howard Hodgkins exhibition (London, 2006) and the work of V.S. Gaitonde opened my mind to the possibilities of abstraction. Other artists I have found inspiring include Kazuo Shiraga, Frank Bowling, Huguette Caland, Ibrahim El-Salahi, Fabienne Verdier, Paul Guiragossian, and El-Anatsui. Having this multi-cultural background and interest inspires me to explore ideas about a shared humanity.
You have a very extensive art production, which has evolved through time. How did you arrive to your current style?
Colour and nature have always been consistent themes in my work but abstraction is something I turned to in the last decade or so. Moving to Muscat from London and being in a place with easy access to the mountains and ocean had inspired me to start painting again. In 2007, I was exhibiting semi-figurative, controlled work, when my daughter had a near fatal boating accident. This had a significant impact on my style as the only way I could express my feelings without making myself vulnerable was through abstraction. My paintings became looser and larger with a focus on colour, layering and texture and I have been experimenting with this approach ever since. The work was very controlled at first but started getting looser.
Part of your work is based on the exploration of emotions and how to translate those onto the canvas. Are some emotions easier to reflect than others and do some of the colours or textures have a stronger impact?
A joyous painting can be as complex as one that deals with guilt or anger. For me it is less about the effect of a single colour – as the work is multi-layered- but more about the intention of the colour, the context, how contrast is used and what the colour combinations are. A soft pink can be as powerful as a deep purple, it just depends on how it is used.
How does your creative process work and where do you take inspiration from?
Inspiration mainly comes from emotions, nature, my personal journey and an exploration of a shared humanity. ‘Earth in My Bones’ was a reflection on the elements and minerals that connect us to each other and to nature, while in ‘Songs of Spring’ I tried to find a common human theme through music from different cultures. At times, ideas for paintings originate as pieces of prose or poetry and I mainly explore themes that interest me through a whole body of work.
You have lived and exhibited in the Middle East where there is an increasing interest in contemporary art. Can you tell us a little bit about the art scene in Oman and other Middle East countries?
Oman held its first International Art Fair this year, in which I participated and opened its National Museum a few years ago. In the last fifteen years or so, artists have been increasingly exploring different themes and experimenting with diverse mediums. Overall, the region has been developing National museums and providing creative spaces for the public. Dubai established their annual international Art Fair in 2007 and Abu Dhabi and Qatar are also seriously investing in cultural initiatives.
“Regardless of where I have exhibited, the people who have come to see the work have had varying exposure to abstract art-some are familiar with it and some are not. There are no overt social, cultural or political cues in the work and I focus on human and emotional aspects. What makes more of a difference is the individual experiences that viewers bring to the work” – Sara Riaz Khan
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I am currently co-authoring an educational book, Design Thinking for Schools: Ethical Dilemmas, which will be released worldwide in September. Next month I will go for the unveiling of a painting at a hospital in Chester and on my return to Muscat, I will start on my environmentally focused series to be shown later this year at the Canvas Gallery, Karachi.