Khaled Takreti in colour

The Syrian artist’s bold canvases are on show in Dubai this month


Contemporary artist Khaled Takreti was born in Beirut, raised in Damascus and has spent a great chunk of his adult life in New York and Paris; the resulting blend of up-to-the-minute aesthetic knowledge and Middle Eastern gut instinct makes him one of the most exciting creators in the region. His works have generated huge interest, so much so that his limited-edition prints (ie not originals) have sold for more than Dhs10,000 at auction. The technically perfect acrylics seem to strike a chord with people because they are as tongue in cheek as their creator.

So, Khaled, you’re originally from Syria. Why did you choose to move to Paris?
Because it’s a lovely place, and I think it’s always good for an artist to change location: different lights, people and cultures.

How would you describe your work to someone who’s never seen it before?
In its simplest terms, my art is like my biography. The exhibition in Ayyam Gallery is like a souvenir of my teenage years.

So that’s why you chose to call the collection ‘I am a Teenager Again’?
Exactly. The last show was named ‘My Grandmother and Me’, and it was the period from when I was a baby to 10 years old or so, and now this is the next. Who knows, the next series might be the next period of my life.

Your paintings always look very fun, but do they have a serious side?
The first impression is fun, but I keep something inside the painting that’s serious at the same time. For me, the paintings have two distinct elements – the first is what you see with your eyes, the second is what you feel. Sometimes you can see a simple portrait where someone is not smiling, but you can feel happiness and energy and you just don’t know why. Having this deeper feeling is important for me because you can have something beautiful, but if it doesn’t have feeling it’s just decorative. My art is more spiritual and psychological.

Can you tell us the story happening in the Promenade triptych painting?
I always have narrative in my work. On the left you have people who have first met, and in the second piece the woman is in the ‘love daze’ – I don’t know if you know this feeling? It’s like your stomach hurts and you want to sleep all the time, but it’s good. In the third one they are married. She’s covered in red, the light of love; he’s in white to symbolise marriage. In each panel you can see the shadows of the past period – it’s a continuous movement through life – and your eyes move slowly from painting to painting.

But why are the characters physically further apart in the third panel?
They are a little bit far away, but they are working together. In the beginning they are physically very close; in the end they are still very close, just in a different way.

You trained as an architect. Does this affect your work as an artist?
I love very clean, very perfect results on the canvas, and strong horizontal and vertical lines. This is a result of my studies: when you make an architectural plan, it has to be perfect. But then I also have the freedom of expression of an artist.

Tell us a little more about your technical process.
What I feel, I do. After years I have my technique, so can paint what I want, but energies are important to me. I don’t make sketches because if I do, I feel all the energy will be in that sketch, and when I come to painting the energy will be gone. Maybe it will be more beautiful, but for me if you are beautiful without energy, you’re boring.

What did you think of Dubai when you last visited?
Well, last time I visited for three days and my favourite thing was all the architecture in the city. Next time I want to spend more time there. The first thing I want to see is the tallest building, the Burj…

Khalifa! So, before you go, can you tell us what you’re working on in your studio today?
Well, normally I work in the mornings. I work every day, a minimum of eight hours and a maximum of 12 (a painting can take a month). Today I’m working on a two-piece diptych. In each panel there is a woman, the same woman, so it’s like a mirror, but with different colours. Their expressions are the same, but the feeling is different.

‘I Am a Teenager Again’ continues at the new DIFC branch of Ayyam Gallery until November 30.

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