Egyptian contemporary artist Gehan Fawzy
From a housewife in Dubai to an inspirational painter, Egyptian contemporary artist Gehan Fawzi has made a remarkable entry into the art world with her bold canvas, where she uses striking colors to express a rich, emotional language. Her first picture was a spontaneous painting of her only son 10 years ago. Guided by renowned Italian artists and instructors, she has managed to evolve her abilities, quickly becoming an appreciated talent in the art community.
The artist’s bold canvas paintings have since then been exhibited at numerous art galleries across Egypt and Dubai, and she was invited to attend the ‘Mercatino Dell’Antiquariato’ Festival in Venice, Italy and Spectrum Art Basel week in Miami. Her entry into the art world was an incredible leap from her beginnings as a lonely housewife in Dubai. Egypt Today talks to Fawzi about her life, work, inspirations and the personal elements hidden in her artwork, which is characterized by a harmonious mixture of abstract styles.
How and when did you start painting?
I started when I was alone in the United Arab Emirates with my baby, far away from my home, my family and my friends. It was a dark period in my life, and I was desperate for some form of emotional security. Staring into my son’s eyes, I decided to pick up the brush and I painted him right there and then. I hadn’t done any art since I was a child back in school, but it was something I just felt I had to do. When my friend saw my picture, she remarked that it was amazing and asked me to draw something for her. My friends encouraged me to where I am today.
Portrait of Gehan's baby son
When did you decide to become a professional artist?
I felt that I needed to be better before I could sell my art, so I wanted to study art until I was confident enough to go professional. I took courses and got a diploma online. The turning point for me was when the Egyptian Embassy was hosting a ‘Tahya Masr’ event to support Egypt, and I decided to participate with my art. It was a very successful event and my pictures went viral; eventually, I did live shows in Dubai.
It was unexpected when curators from Russia and Italy saw my artwork and asked to host it; my art got even more popular thanks to their social media accounts. And my work was the only one that got sold in the Italian exhibition, even amongst the other Italian artists. That’s what made them ask me to return to Italy in 2016 for four exhibitions.
Do you follow any schools of art?
I can’t say that I follow a certain school; my work is a mixture of abstract art and other styles. When you look at it, I have my own style; the secret comes in mixing the colors together in unexpected ways. That’s what everybody says when they see my pictures, they point out how striking and strong the colors are; they’re amazed by the harmony.
What’s your routine while drawing?
When I start, I feel like I’m transported into another world. I use a wide variety of colors and I love to listen to music because I feel that music and art are connected. When I paint it’s like writing a diary with colors. I can stay for nine or even up to 20 hours until I make sure there isn’t a single millimeter of white space left on the canvas. Even when I’m done, I don’t feel satisfied. Looking at the picture, I still find more to add. One painting took me two years and I’m still adding to it. The only way to save a painting from me is if it gets sold.
Do you sell all of your paintings?
I sell most of my paintings but there’s one I could never part with no matter the price; it’s called ‘The Black Secret’. In this canvas, the eyes of my sister, Nora, look through a pair of branches. She died when I was six years old, and it was one of the most dramatic moments of my life. To this day, the emotions continue to inspire me, and when I look at those eyes, I still feel like she’s looking back at me.
The Black Secret
To what extent does your personal life bleed into your art?
There’s always part of my life in my paintings but there’s one in particular I just finished, called “Story of an Artist.” I woke up one day with this idea in my head and I felt I had to put it into a painting. It was during Ramadan and I drew a 13 year-old girl, me, holding a baby, Nora, with my other sister Hanan holding my hand. There were dark shadows under my eyes, since my mother made me take care of my sisters while she worked. I felt so sad, since I was like a grownup even though I was still a child. When I posted the painting on social media, Hanan phoned me from Egypt and said that she was sure the picture was of us.
The story of an artist
Speaking of Egypt, when did you start exhibiting back home?
Three years after my first exhibit, I noticed that while I was already established in Dubai and internationally, I was only known outside of my homeland. So I decided to hold my first exhibition at El Sawy Culture Wheel, and it went really well. Even the media was talking about it. I saw a lot of young people who came to the exhibit, all talented and interested in art.
What have you done to help out other younger artists?
I was inspired by all the young talents I saw and I wanted to do something to showcase their art. So I decided to give them a hand and help them because I’ve been there; I know how hard it is. I gave lessons and live shows teaching my technique, along with online video sessions. I even held a competition on Facebook where artists could submit their work, and visitors could vote on the best piece. However, there was a downside as I noticed people would get upset whenever they didn’t win. I wanted to do something less competitive, so last October I returned to El Sawy Culture Wheel with another exhibition, only this time I didn’t put up any of my art at all; instead I exhibited the works of over 60 Egyptian artists. It ran October 21-29, and it was such a wonderful event. People communicated; exposed different styles; and artists, young and established, shared their techniques and experiences together.
As an artist, what advice can you give to those interested in art?
Take care of your materials. The quality really matters, good tools show in your work and last. Study, keep pushing yourself. Put your own personal touch, don’t imitate others. Practice every day, even if it’s just for half an hour. I believe there’s an artist inside everyone, and if you give it a chance to come out, it will.”
What’s your dream for the future?
I saw so many talented artists who just didn’t have the ability to support themselves financially, so they gave up and shifted their careers. My dream is to open up a free art school, where artists can learn and have access to materials without needing to worry about finances. Artists need tools, time and money, and I’ve seen so many people stop because they can’t have these things. I hope that experienced artists can help out and also that the state furthers its support for art, by lowering taxes on imported materials and [developing] the education of art in school. Art is the secret to a good life.