The creator of one of the most iconic pieces of art to come out of the Egyptian revolution, 24-year old Marwan Shahin has also wowed the world with his album art, silkscreen prints and unique hatching technique. We find out more...
Marwan Shahin is a 24-year old Alexandrian artist and digital illustrator. Graduating with a degree in Visual Communication and Graphic Design from the Faculty of Fine Arts, Shahin's works takes stylistic inspiration from the likes of Pop art gods Lichtenstein and Warhol to contemporaries of today such as David Cook and Scott Scheidly, creating a striking depth with his idiosyncratic line and hatching technique. With a portfolio seething in iconic pop culture figures and societal commentary, his works soon got the attention of some big names, creating album art for the likes of MIA, Kid Cudi as well as creating the cover art for the infamously banned Walls of Freedom graffiti book. We talk to the budding Neo-Surrealist about his wealth of influences, being an Adobe Sensei and his plans to win a Grammy,
Are you an artist full-time?
I guess you can say that. I put most of my focus into being a full-time artist two years ago, and I stopped accepting most corporate design work and commissioned web design projects. I figured if I could still be paid but for doing what I love most, like creating an artwork for a limited run print, illustrating an album cover or designing a t-shirt. I wouldn't need to do something I'd feel bored working on like a website design or a flash video. I still love doing logos and other selected branding/art direction/graphic design projects, though.
How did you get into illustration and graphic design?
I've always been illustrating; notorious for doodling in class. I guess I moved my focus to graphic design and digital art by the time I was in high school actually, because I was obsessed with album covers. I wanted to create covers so bad, its been my dream for years to win a Grammy Award for Best Album Packaging, that's how deep this shit is! So I taught myself the Creative Suite, and kept at it until I became an Adobe Sensei. Mixing my freehand talent with the endless digital art medium, I achieved a unique style that kept promoting itself until I illustrated and designed covers for the likes of Sean Kingston, MIA, Kid Cudi and more.
How do you think you ended up with this style?
I wanted to establish a juxtaposition by channeling the visual imagery of Roy Lichtenstein with the surrealistic vision of Piero Fornasetti, who's like the Hatching [using lines for shading] God, to create my iconic surreal pieces. Since I have a very high appreciation of silkscreen prints, like Warhol's iconic Marilyn [Monroe], it was my intention that every piece I make should be silkscreen printed in limited quantities. I had to apply all the silkscreen print rules to most of my artwork, mid-tones, limited colours in each piece. but I did it in my own cool unique way. I use my signature repetitive circles pattern and hatching to create a sonic depth to the artwork; I call it Sonic Hatching.
A lot of your art depicts vacant modern day idols engulfed in malicious and deathly symbolism; how much of your art is influenced by your pop culture interpretations?
Pop culture in all its aspects and the universal language of iconic brand images inspires what I make. Every person in the world knows what the Batman logo means. I wanted to use that language to express my vision whether it was my concerns for Egypt's affairs or to point out flaws in our society or to do it for just the sake of art and inspiration. To inspire others as well, I think that you have to mash something known, something from our culture with a surreal abstract side to it, that no one that ever seen before. But of course my art is heavily inspired by movies, I love cinema and its influence on pop culture, and take a lot of creative cues from the graphic side of fashion too. I was really inspired by Alexander McQueen's usage of skulls on their garments as well as Hermès scarves. Actually, I used to design my cover artwork like an Hermès scarf for a long run, with all the framing and golds chains, since I was so stunned by the illustrations that are printed on them and wanted my covers to be on that same high-taste level. My art is also inspired by beauty. I wanted to make artwork that's attractive with beautiful muses and great execution, that could attract me as a man and an artist.
Which artists do you admire most alive or dead, locally and internationally?
Too many names, I'm not sure how I can list them without missing someone. There's always the Gods; Robert Williams, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, Lichtenstein, Rene Magritte, Ron English, Keith Haring... There's also a lot of new contemporary artists that I really look up to, like Scott Scheidly, Hedi Xandt, David Cook. I'm really inspired by Colin Christian's sexy disturbing sculptures; he's one of my favourites! Locally, I really love Aya Tarek's work, as well as Ammar Abo Bakr, Ganzeer, Islam Zayed...
Can you tell us about how the design for Walls of Freedom cover came about and how you feel about its recent confiscation by the powers that be...
I made the original The 2Vth (Anonymous Pharaoh) artwork right after 25th of January. It was such a revolutionary piece for me, it defined my signature style in pop art and made a huge statement in describing the revolution. A lot of my friends convinced me to do a graffiti of it, and we did; I made stencils of the artwork and I went with my friend and nailed it on a wall in San Stefano, Alexandria. Later Basma Hamdy [author of Walls of Freedom] contacted me to include it in the book, since it was an important piece describing the revolution. Later on I found out they chose it to be the cover! It's amazing The 2Vth was the only street art piece I ever made, and it ended up being the cover of Walls of Freedom, the most important book documenting the street art of one of the most important revolutions in human history. Regarding the recent confiscation of the books arriving from Germany, I mean - it's saddening but not really surprising. You can tell how flawed the system is if all it takes is some images, a book or a TV show, to rock the throne.
Egypt's societal woes are mirrored with pieces such as Born to Ride and Embrace The Darkness. Is it it difficult living (as an artist) in Egypt or do all these problems simply inspire you more to create...
It's a blessing and a curse. Like I literally just finished my military service a week ago! So I was held back for a whole year and I couldn't do what I do in the same ratio that I used to. I mean its hard of course but honestly, it is inspiring. Things like the power cuts for instance, with Embrace The Darkness I wanted to have it printed to glow in the dark, so when the power cut off you'd still be able to embrace it, so I came up with this really cool colour scheme that I used in a lot of my artworks. I wouldn't have thought of that if it wasn't for the sweet asshole who kills the power switch everyday, but actually it is inspiring.
How did the MIA cover come about?
Her management wanted to make a mixtape of her unreleased singles and remixes. September 7th was the DJ who asked me to do the cover, so I went and illustrated the Pyramids on a photoshoot of MIA and it came out pretty dope. Apparently they loved it and they used it as the official cover for the mixtape!
What pieces or project are you proudest of to date?
I think my Kanye West portrait Yeezus is one of the personal favourites. I've recently made limited edition silkscreen prints of it with an Austrian print house. It came out pretty sick. Superheroes Also Cry... it's Batman with Mickey Mouse ears and I really like it, but the ultimate one for me has to be be The 2Vth (Anonymous Pharaoh). As I said, it really opened my eyes to know how to mash up cultures and make new creative pieces; that's the one which started it all.
Can you explain the meaning behind your lightning and heart logo...
I wanted my logo to be part of my artwork, kind of like how Shepard Fairey includes Andre The Giant in his OBEY pieces. I wanted a logo that represents the effect of the artwork which in this case is like a bolt shocking a heart; it's open for interpretation really and I hate to give this away but at the same time it's actually my initials M.S. The heart shaped "M" is joined together at the bottom, while I have the "S" shaped like a lightening bolt shocking it.
Where have you exhibited so far and do you have any exhibitions coming up?
I've exhibited and showed my work in galleries and museums in Spain, Jordan, the U.K, Germany and Austria. I've showed or exhibited work in Egypt; I guess my work attracted more curators and galleries from abroad than here. I have a couple of shows lined up this year in the States but really I'm just trying to recover from the military service aftermath and create more and better art this year.
What's the dream? Where do you want to take your art?
There are no boundaries. I want to make the right connections to help me produce my art in the right way as I see it. I want to make more prints and do more shows! I want to experience 3D printing, which I believe is the future of digital art. There are studios that print any kind of materials, even skin tissue. I want to make large scale sculptures using 3D printing and vinyl toys of some of my artworks. What I'm working on is to make the most creative pop surrealism pieces so collectors who have Picassos, George Condos, Warhols, and Murakamis in their collections want to have a Shahin in there as well.