– Interview with an Art Brut artist from Egypt –


After two years of exploring, seems that we finally found an example of what seems to be an authentic Art Brut from Egypt! Bubble Gum Art (alias Shanwar) is an artist from Cairo, who painted two series of paintings, (one in 2011, and another one in 2012) using acrylic paint, watercolor paints, spray and oil colors on paper and grip tape (?!). His humble facebook page is still alive, offering these artworks to a very small circle of supporters. Here we publish an interview that we made with him in August 2014.

RP: 1. So, how’s it going? How has this summer been treating you so far?

BGA: It's been as equally interesting as it was monotonous. I got a record player with a bunch of vinyl records so I made staying in at home and working on my art more entertaining. On the other hand I work a full time job in real estate with an extremely vile mannered boss but it's fine, I secretly use him as subject for my comics as he makes a brilliant model if you want the epitome of the "corporate pig".

RP: 2. What does it mean to be an underground artist in Cairo nowadays? How would you introduce yourself to the audience in Europe?

BGA: I think being an underground artist anywhere means you have to genuinely enjoy what you do and take it as a full package deal with its own share of advantages and struggles. On one side it welcomes and encourages a collective of different artists who all seem to be bursting with ideas that involve thinking outside the box. It grants them the capacity for absolute freedom, experimentation and control to express themselves and their work any way they intend it to be. The direction for artwork can be as raw/bold/offensive as the artist wants it to be, some of them even use art as a tool to invade pop culture. We can safely say the sky's the limit in the underground world. But at the same time you learn to accept the reality associated with this particular art scene as it can't appeal to the entire public, typically only a limited portion of the audience could bring themselves to digest or appreciate something of such outlandish nature. Another setback, depending on how you perceive it, to the underground realm could be that most artists involved on the scene possess a moderately self-effacing attitude towards themselves and their work. Now the audience usually come as a receptive bunch yet I think deep down they would prefer to be sold by something already established. I guess they are likely to lean towards a megalomaniac who can boast superiority because their work adheres to a more conventional artistic approach rather than a modest group of the artists trying to encourage change and alter people's outlook. As the figure of speech goes "you can't have your cake and eat it", in this case if it's the independent role of the artistic antihero you're after you might not want to develop high expectations of spoiling yourself with luxuries such as public recognition and support or financial compensation anytime soon.

RP: Underground, psychedelic, trashy and at the same time existential and visionary, even political are words that first come in mind to describe your artwork. How would you describe it?

BGA: I never really knew how to explain my artwork. Though I will say it seems to be fueled by instability meaning that it usually an audacious mess that reveals its path to me while I'm working on it. To me it's just a load of scrap taken from my collective conscious.

RP: In your work we can see that you are flirting whit existential angst and pop culture in a way that includes some serious deflection from meaning (from Kafka to The Simpsons). What is the main literary inspiration for your pieces?

BGA: What impresses me the most are artistic pioneers of any medium, and by pioneers I mean those who challenge the conventional ways of the contemporary art world within their era. I find myself divinely obsessed with their entire lifestyle that I am inclined to dig up more insight on who they really are and what lead them to do what they do. I perceive them as brilliant minded people because their abilities to notice the flaws or limitations with the way things were presently executed in their fields of interest. While hidden opportunities for change come and call out for such high levels detail orientation as well as creativity that mostly goes by overlooked by the majority all of a sudden these pioneers appear on point who dedicate an awe-inspiring chunk of their lives to apply their new area of knowledge and innovate ways to manifest "the missing element" in their masterpieces. Despite all odds and criticism they follow their ambition, even in the grimmest of circumstances, that to me that is the core of inspiration.

RP: Tell us something about your worldviews and ideas that guide your work. What’s the most important “big idea” that you’ve learned in life – in or out of comics – and why is it important?

BGA: My motto is to do things that you're passionate of for yourself, don't worry too much about what others think, remember to believe in yourself and eventually everything will fall into its place. I inhabited quite an introverted character at an early age and only later on have I come to realize the silver lining affect this particular trait had on me. Although I grew up as an outsider with a profound detachment from most people and the community around me I did find myself granted with a sense of contentment to be as genuine with myself as possible. Without paying much attention to imposing forces such as peer pressure or social limitations you learn to go with the flow of things as they present themselves to you. Soon enough this lead me to discover several small-scale underground communities that consisted of rather freaky people who gave the impression that they shared common interests as me. Being alone can be a blessing in terms of introspect to know who you really are, who you can form a connection with and what you want to make with the time on your hands. If I'm in a position to give any advice it would be to focus on what you think is most compelling to you, that's where the best material comes from.

RP: 6. Personally, my favorite Bubble Gum Art pieces are “Panic Attack in Ras Abu Galum” (acrylic paint and ink on canvas) and "Materialistic Chicks" (A3 paper). Can you tell me more about the story behind creating those?

BGA: "Panic Attack in Ras Abu Galum" was done to capture a striking situation that occurred to me and my roommate back in the day when we chose to live nearby the sea along the Sinai Peninsula. One early morning we decided to hike through the canyons until we arrived to this exotic piece of land situated on the east-coast of South Sinai known as Ras Abu Galum (regardless of what I'm about to say it is an absolutely beautiful place that I totally recommend anyone visiting Egypt to check out). The build up to what lead to the highlighting incident later on is to this day still somewhat of a mystery to me but I think we accidently ate something we weren't supposed to eat, it was obviously high in toxicity as it did not take very long until we experienced it's side effects which included severe nausea, chest tightness, rapid heart rate as well as mild hallucinations for a tormenting period of time. That's when the panic attack set in, although I felt I was going to pass out from the intensity I was enticed to encapsulate these contradicting sensations that were presented so powerfully around us; Here we are in what's known as a "Sinai's slice of paradise "with crystal clear waters that stretched out till the sunny tip mountains yet shackled by a tormenting anxiety disorder from hell. It was all very surreal to me, almost as if this tranquil utopia had an internal sinister side to itself. I thought of using my roommate as a model to depict the contrast of the situation and I instantly thought of that agonizing figure used in the expressionist Edvard Munch's prominent masterpiece "The Scream" to serve as the prototype for the painting. "Materialistic Chicks" on the outside seems to give the impression that I am mocking a certain demographic by using stereotypical impressions and cliché phrases, but it is actually an early self reflection for how I felt towards girls whom I consider substantially out of my reach. In a way I am intrigued by the means of demonstrating their egotistical tendencies and debauchery, they fulfill a unique touch as a distinct social group. Even though I can't really relate to them on much levels I want them to know I acknowledge their existence, subculture and their jargon in a whimsical way.

RP: 7. How would you describe your creative process? What are some of its most important aspects?

BGA: It's more of a sudden impulse that goes floating by your stream of conscious than a process, it can happen at any given time or place. All I can do is try my best to keep a sketchbook with me at all times so I can write it down or draw it out so I don't forget it.

RP: Tell us a bit about your artwork. What techniques and software do you use? And how has the digital art influenced your work?

BGA: I really admire and attempt to adopt the techniques used by artists whom I look up to. Early underground comic artists such as Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton embellish their comic figures with such eye-catching crosshatching craftsmanship that I could gaze at for hours. In terms of coloring I try to go with very striking and saturated colorations to exaggerate a message I'm trying to convey and send out. There is an underground psychedelic artist by the name of BB Bastidas who is mostly popular in the artistic side of skateboarding and definitely someone who has impacted my sense of color manipulation along with other endless psychedelic concepts. As for digital art I started testing myself with this medium last year as I felt it was more suitable a tool for the new art project I want to implement by illustrating comic strips. It's a radical yet valid change for me and it feels on point, I'm glad to say I'm not the least bit hesitant to engage my efforts to it.

RP: Have you ever gotten into traditional art? How would you define your relationship to traditional art? Tell us about your favorite art movement.

BGA: I strictly covered many traditional art movements as part of my education back in high school throughout my art history courses, later on in my life I embraced more of its aspects by exploring local and international museums and other art galleries within my leisure time. I would have to say traditional art contains very deep and insightful elements as well as the mastering of classic techniques that I personally can only admire from a distance as an outsider. It is definitely a form of art beyond me or my capabilities to even consider perusing. I traveled to Paris last winter and needless to say I took the liberty to visit many outstanding museums including the Louvre. The best way I could describe the experience gained by exposure of innumerable masterpieces was an overdose of amazement and wonder that it naturally had to be followed by a strong loss of identity and aim in the sense that it does murder a piece of your ego...in an overwhelmingly good way though. I'm very fond of several movements such as Renaissance art, Avant-Garde, Abstract Expressionism (very intellectual, I can't always make sense of it but I enjoy losing myself to it nonetheless). I also grew to admire Dada for its tendency to embrace chaos and irrationality. Eventually I found myself to surrender to the total dominating effect psychedelic and pop art had on me as it paved the way for a new artistic direction I wanted to take up. It was definitely a turning point.

RP: Where would you like your work to lead you to?

BGA: I would like my work to grant me a voice. I'm currently shifting my focus from an abstract nature to a more social and humorous route with comic strips. Over the years I feel I have gained and developed ideas that can be communicated with others in ways I have never thought possible. Of course I still want to peruse painting in my spare time but I would like to contribute to a project that can fit in and impact society for a change and form a relation to some degree between my work and the public audience. I think perusing my time and effort in digital comics is the ultimate way for me at this point.

RP: Top 5 favorite things in life?

BGA: 1) anything different 2) anything loud 3) anything fast 4) traveling 5) talking to strangers on the subway

RP: 12. Can you suggest some artist from Cairo we should check out?

BGA:Yehia O (surreal painter) https://www.facebook.com/yehia.o.7?fref=ts Hani Talaat (photographer) https://www.facebook.com/hani.talat?fref=ts Ziad Ashraf (comical illustrative artist) https://www.facebook.com/ziad.ashraf.medhat?fref=ts https://www.facebook.com/Bouklaocomics