Friday,22 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1355, (3-9 August 2017)
Friday,22 February, 2019
Issue 1355, (3-9 August 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Screaming faces

Artist Sayed Kandil, who won the State Incentive Award in Visual Arts last month, spoke to Rania Khallaf about his work

Screaming faces

Painting a good portrait is one of the hardest tasks, as it requires skill and patience. But making a graphic art portrait is even harder. Sayed Kandil — the professor of graphic arts at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Helwan University who won the State Incentive Award for 13 large silkscreen portraits collectively called “Humanities” last month — is one of a handful of artists who master this genre. Having become dean of the faculty at the age of 44 — the youngest in its history — in 2011, Kandil is not as familiar a face on the art scene as he might be. But he has given 14 solo exhibitions in the course of his career.

“Revolutionary Portraits”, a 2014 exhibition at the Picasso Gallery, commemorated the 25 January Revolution with emotionally expressive faces executed in swift, harsh lines. “The art of portraiture,” he tells Al-Ahram Weekly at his Dokky studio, “is not about drawing the features of someone’s face; it goes far beyond that. It requires a special sense of expression; an understanding of what lies beneath the skin. The fantastic thing about making portraits is observing that unique expressive energy in every human encounter of the artist’s.”

Screaming faces

Kandil belongs firmly in the 1990s, but he was lucky enough to be taught by the veteran graphic artist Hussein Fawzi (1905-1999). Fawzi was the first to draw his attention to the significance of anatomy. “He told me he needed to feel and touch the flesh when looking at my portraits. Since then, my vision of portraits has completely changed.” After graduating in 1990, Kandil spent a year doing his army service, sketching and contemplating fellow conscripts’ faces. In 1991 he produced a collection of drawings on wood, “Goodbye, Guardians of Values”, which use the scarecrow as a central motif. 

In 1997, he won a nine-month scholarship to Bordino University in Italy, where he studied lithography — not then available in Egypt. It was an opportunity to make landscape watercolours  from life as well. His 1995 MA focused on Edvard Munch, the godfather of expressionism, whose influence on Kandil remains deep. His 1998 PhD on the African and Germanic roots of German expressionism took this interest further. In the meantime Kandil travelled. In Uzbekistan he found “a unique mix of races” and cultures. He fell in love with the urbane and civilised Tunisians.

“Studying expressionism made an impact on my work. I subconsciously became more drawn to emotional expressions, so I resorted to another medium — wood engraving — which is much easier and faster and enables me to track my feeling immediately, transferring the emotion while it is fresh.” But in 2014, when his term as dean ended, he switched to watercolour and pastel, moving onto silkscreen soon after. “The 25 January Revolution had a tremendous effect on me. Watching faces of people in the streets, and the martyrs, feeling the state of fervour and uproar during those revolutionary years. I got so emotional I often burst into tears.” 

Screaming faces

Now, Kandil has embarked on a new creative phase focusing on the human figure. “We Egyptians tend to look at the human body, especially at the female body, with great disrespect. This is very annoying. I want to regain that lost respect by casting light on the beauty of the human body. Drawing the human body is quite hard, because it involves combining the physical and the spiritual presence.” But, roaming around the studio, the present writer can tell that, however much he challenges himself, it won’t be too hard for Kandil.

Sayed Kandil

One remarkable portrait, 70cm by 100cm, features a woman with thick lips, half-closed eyes and huge nostrils. It is executed like a landscape, showing a range of terrains and natural features. The woman is in pain, and so is the land she stands for. Kandil’s faces are weathered and emphatically African and always full of drama, which gives them a unique power to make you stop and listen to the inner voice of the artist. Another painting shows a smiling, middle-aged woman next to the head of a strange, abstract and slightly frightening bird.

Kandil’s new work will soon be on display.

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