Who’s Who: Bandar Almobark, Director General of King Abdulaziz Public Library
JEDDAH: Saudi artist Faisal Al-Kheriji keeps one eye on the past and the other on the future as he sets out to explore the rapid cultural shifts transforming the Kingdom.
The 27-year-old artist draws inspiration from cubism and surrealism – artistic styles born over a century ago – to create distinctive portraits showing how Saudi Arabia is modernizing and adapting to change.
Al-Kheriji’s works deal with subjects ranging from social customs to hospitality and clothing styles.
“I draw inspiration from my culture and other artists, both global and local,” he said.
Al-Kheriji, who was born and raised in Jeddah, started painting at the age of six and soon began taking art classes.
“Painting grew up with me as a hobby, but I was self-taught afterwards. But my real journey started when I studied abroad. started spending more time painting and trying new techniques and styles,” he said.
Al-Kheriji is widely known for his figurative paintings and prints featuring fragmented portraits.
Recontextualizing the paintings of the “old masters” and adding references to contemporary culture, he produced a work strongly influenced by artists of the past, in particular Pablo Picasso and his cubist figures.
For example, his “Reema Lisa” depicts a Saudi woman in traditional Hijazi dress, while “The Men of Saudi Arabia” shows Saudi men camping in a tent in the desert.
“I prefer cubism and surrealism because cubism paints different shapes, while surrealism is about painting weird characters that you don’t see in real life. My paintings are a mix of both,” he said.
Al-Kheriji also includes patterns, fashion, traditional practices and other elements of Saudi and Arab culture in his works.
Although he followed a course in management and marketing, and is currently marketing manager at Unilever, the artist is committed to his artistic practice.
“For me, art is a hobby and I enjoy every minute of it.”
Al-Kheriji’s work has gone through many stages in recent years.
“If you look at my works in 2018 and now, you will notice a big difference. My identity is asserting itself more and more and my style is becoming more and more obvious. In 2018 you will find mixed artistic styles in my paintings. As I grew older, however, my focus shifted to creating paintings that showcase my culture to the world, as well as honoring the Kingdom’s rich history.
Al-Kheriji said he draws inspiration from artists ranging from Picasso to contemporary American painter George Condo, as well as the natural environment.
“I am most inspired by Pablo Picasso and George Condo because of their unique style of painting which stands out from that of many other artists.”
Al-Kheriji’s work has been featured in galleries in London, Boston and Jeddah, and he plans to expand his exhibitions to reach a wider audience and share the rich heritage of his culture.
“In 2015 I held my first solo exhibition in Boston, and in 2017 I also presented my works in London. In Saudi Arabia, I was able to show my paintings many times, but since 2018 everything is more digital.
Al-Kheriji’s love for his own culture has been a constant throughout his career.
“As far as art goes, I’m an Arab Muslim with a focus on the region,” he said.
“My art is centered on the region, be it Muslim, Saudi or Arab cultures. The only difference, I would say, is that Boston had an impact on me when I started taking art very seriously; you could say that was my turning point with art.
Al-Kheriji encourages other artists to keep the culture alive in their works. “I believe that art reflects culture and can build bridges between nations.”
He added, “These days, artists mistakenly try to learn and do what they think other people will like.”
The artist is currently working on a collection exploring traditional fashions and clothing in regions of the Kingdom.
Over the past year, the Saudi art scene has grown as more young contemporary artists from the Kingdom are making a name for themselves.
“It’s definitely getting more attention and becoming more popular,” Al-Kheriji said. “But I still think there is still a long way to go. Recently, the Ministry of Culture has organized major exhibitions across the Kingdom. It is a good step and they are surpassing the private sector.
Al-Kheriji hopes that new emerging artists will be able to show their works in various galleries.