With unique canvases guaranteed to capture any viewer's attention, Kuwaiti artist Aziz Al Mudhaf has stationed himself as one of the country's bold young emerging artists. Sharifa Al Badi interviewed the young painter to find out about his inspiring story (and why he doesn't use a paint brush).

At the ripe young age of 22, Kuwaiti painter Aziz Al Mudhaf has made a name for himself in the regional art scene. Al Mudhaf proudly calls himself an artist and has the creations to prove it. What makes his story so inspiring is that Aziz grew up attending government schools, where he claims there was no proper exposure to art nor was there a strong emphasis on learning English.

With the sense that he was lacking something, Al Mudhaf set out to grow on his own, pushing the envelope with much help from the Internet. He educated himself on his subjects of interest, and became better in those fields, proving to himself, and others, that nothing is impossible and everyone is capable of learning things on their own.

Ever since he was a child, Al Mudhaf had a penchant for drawing, and by the time he reached high school, he was painting photorealistic images and landscape shots. However, instead of receiving encouragement, he was on the receiving end of some rather patronizing comments. He started getting frustrated, and at one point in his late teens, he stopped painting altogether.

Thankfully, that was not the end of his journey. When it was time to pursue his university studies, Aziz chose Graphic Design at the American University of Kuwait and enrolled himself in an art class, and soon enough he was painting again. He managed to capture the attention of his art teacher, who saw something in Aziz and encouraged him to continue to paint more. He tells us, “At this point, I had a completely different take on it [art]. I wasn't as pragmatic as I was before, and it was more about the process and rawness that drew me back into it.”

Art and design were not things that surrounded the artist early on in his life, or as a matter of fact, most of his life. According to him, they were completely alien to him and his surroundings. Not to mention his background, as none of his family members worked or studied those fields per se. Still, from a young age, Aziz enjoyed cartoons saying that he would try to mimic the feel of joy and fantasy that the characters brought out. “I used to enjoy drawing particular characters such as Tweety and Sonic the Hedgehog. It sort of organically grew to the point where I started getting fascinated with human characters in anime, and then developed into actual portraiture, and self portraiture.”

When we asked Aziz to talk about his artwork he beautifully noted that it did not belong to any race, gender or person; it was art filled with imagination for all. “I thrive to capture raw humanistic emotions that all of us go through at some point. I focus on composition and color, as well as the expression that my portraits are conveying,” he said. “My figures are more or less androgynous, as I like to dissociate my character from a particular background or set of characteristics. I do not title my works, but rather number them; I think this gives room for my viewer's imagination to create their own story based on their background and point of view. I find beauty in a variety of things, and particularly in faces and bone structure.”

So how would one describe it? “I suppose it's a mix of figurative abstract expressionism, with a slight hint of surrealism,” said Al Mudhaf, adding, “I mostly paint with my hands and only turn to brushes for tiny details that I can't capture with my fingers… It's a physical process that is quite freeing as I place my canvas on the floor and move around it continuously.”

Many artists admit to having a muse, though Aziz says he doesn't have one in particular. What he does have is an inspirational folder on his laptop where he would gather hundreds of images from all over the Internet. The images range from faces he finds interesting to landscapes and color compositions. Interestingly enough, Aziz also has screen shots of some scenes from movies he would be watching at the time; he would press pause and take a screen shot of whatever he had found interesting in terms of composition, regardless of the content.

The burgeoning art scene in the region is a positive element for young artists like Al Mudhaf, but it doesn't come without its own set of difficulties. “This is a fantastic thing for any aspiring young artist in the region. I feel that censorship is still quite a hurdle, and I hope that it gets resolved in the near future, because artists shouldn't be limited to what is conventionally "acceptable," but rather push boundaries in the concepts that they believe are worth expressing. I hope more of these institutions offer funding and scholarships to younger artists, in order to support them into getting a proper art education abroad, as I don't find local resources to be modern or versatile enough. ”

As for his advice to young emerging artists like him, his advice is “to push through any difficulties they may face, and persevere through negativity if they truly believe in what they're doing. It's refreshing when someone is daring enough to display something that is unconventional and visually stimulating, regardless of commercial value or how well received it will be. Paint and create for yourself before others. Believe in your ideas, but still question yourself and refine them as much as you can. Never fall into the "comfortable" zone, otherwise you’re work will stagnate instead of develop into something greater. Don't be afraid to experiment!”

– Sharifa Al Badi

Images courtesy of Aziz Al Mudhaf

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