A melange of phantasmagorical nightmares, interlaced with pop-culture references, Marwan el-Gamal's works of art speak volumes on today's zeitgeist in Egypt and beyond. Joana Saba speaks to the young, budding artist.
Marwan el-Gamal is just getting started, but already he's built up a repertoire of striking visuals that are as much a feat of artistic dexterity as it is a savage manifestation of vision and imagination. Having recently graduated with a degree in Art from AUC, he has chosen to pursue art as a full-time career, and his portfolio shows the promising touch of craftsmanship and consideration of a budding artist.
Marwan el-Gamal talks to us about the intent behind his chimerical and often unnerving work.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I started painting at around 9, and I've been trying to evolve and understand what I'm trying to do. I'm 24. I studied Art at AUC.
When did you get into painting?
I've always been drawing, but I started actually painting at around 13.
How would your describe/characterise you art?
I would characterise my work as sun-struck visions, always on the cusp of reality. I'm trying to tell a story that should make sense but actually, when you look closer, kind of disassembles. I also try to impose a fake tranquilly or animosity which is sometimes the opposite of what I intend. It's usually like comedy… I try to be a comedian.
Would you say that your art can be taken as a critique of social phenomena or pop culture?
Definitely, I would say it's mostly about pop culture actually. It's about the stories that we hear as children, the stuff that we're bombarded with through ads, through beautiful Hollywood movies, through dreams that we don't really realise.
I try to shock, or discomfort. I try to create a fantasy escape which sometimes is actually more real than our lives. I also try to confuse so that we realise that we're actually already confused, and that we can't always be as sure of ourselves as we tell ourselves.
I try to tell a story where the main characters are plots, objects, villains and heroes who are always substituted and turned on their head. I try to rejoice in a world of illogic and misunderstood fate to show a chaos that exists underneath most things.
Who are your main artistic influences?
I can list a bunch of artists, but the thing is the way I work I usually just look at pictures of different works by different artists. I concentrate mostly on the work itself, and it's not usually art either, it's just pictures; just any images from the internet.
How do you feel that your work fits into the new media/internet?
The thing is nowadays you can create an image so simply and easily through photoshop. You can have moving images, which is amazing. You can't really be amazed or shocked by images anymore because there's so many of them and there's such an efficient way of creating them. So that puts you in a difficult position.
This is why I try to understand my technique and understand what I'm trying to do. Recently I've tried to make it really refined, and have it almost look like a poster, like I didn't actually touch it, using different materials like spray paints, stencils, etc. Most of the work is actually done on photoshop first.
How do you feel your art has developed over the years?
The thing is, when you're younger when you start, it's usually very angsty and personal. It's a very direct way of manifesting whatever it is that you're trying to say. Over the years it's become more of a message that I want to say, and I try to ask questions. I'm not imparting information.
It's also developed in that the object have become father. There's more space, more isolation. There's more of a play on images.
Where do you mainly draw inspiration from?
I draw my inspiration from popular culture, mythology, from myself and my own bank of untapped unconsciousness, with it's limitless registered notions, biases, universal morality, crooked memory. I also draw inspiration from television, books, news stories, and from calm serene moments and hectic overwhelming moments. I draw inspiration from the profane, from the holy, from my failures and successes, as well as other people's failures and successes. And music, definitely music. I think I compose through music. You can break my paintings down and turn them into musical compositions.
Tell us about your latest collection.
The collection is about dominance… it's called Hadean - it's a period in the earth's history when the world couldn't accommodate life. It was still very young, very archaic.
Are there any art movements in Egypt that you would draw from or associate with?
The closest thing would be Abdel Hady el-Gazzar… [his art] moves in the same line as Naguib Mahfouz; where it's a mythical kind of folklore - very close to the people and their stories and their association with the unknown through magic and superstition.
I'm also influenced by Adel el-Siwi. I used to work for him. He taught me so much; that the image isn't just you, and that outside forces can affect it, and that you can subtract from an image that wasn't anything. His technique of pouring paints everywhere, then putting glue and oils and then removing it and seeing what is unearthed beneath and then forming an image out of that - that was a great influence on me.
Is there a creative process that you need to go through?
Yes, definitely. First of all I have fancies… sometimes I forget them, sometimes I put them down in my notebook, and I try to refine it, and when I think it's worthy of hours of work I recreate it on photoshop using references and images. When I'm happy with it, I let it sit and simmer for a few days and then I go back to it and look at it. If I'm finally content with the piece I paint it.
When did you know for sure that this is what you want to do?
To me, it actually came kind of easily, because it's been what I've been wanting to do since I was 10. I knew that that's all I had wanted to do - either that or psychology. But I decided, no, I want to paint.
What are the challenges in the creative process?
Sometimes I have a dream or a relentless feeling, and I wanna say something and it's brought on by the end of the day. But most of the time I have to sit and sketch, and refine the sketch. Sometimes I face a mental blockage, but luckily it's not too far off since I only need to travel to where they reside. Sometimes I get lost and it takes days for me to actually come back with anything, but eventually I get there.
You said you thought of studying psychology - does your interest in psychology factor into your art?
Yeah, I think it's mostly about human reactions to things in general. I try to create a situation and see the reaction that would come out of the person. Also, it's mostly about the reaction I get from the work. It's about what people go through.
You can check out more of Marwan el-Gamal's work here.