Orangenius artist Walid Khalaf possesses an iconic, expressive and colorful style of oil painting. Now based on the West Coast, Khalaf seeks restoration and serenity in his artistic practice after a previous stint in New York City, where he survived the 9/11 attacks at the World Trade Center as a resident of Lower Manhattan. Expressive and imbued with childlike wonder, Khalaf embodies colorful strokes of brilliance and is able to both exude great joy and recover a sense of mindful mediation through his artistic practice. We chat with Khalaf about his rebirth as a painter, his love for his colorful chosen medium, his affinity for nature and the charming naivete that emerges from his compositions.
Artrepreneur. You work almost exclusively in oil paints. What attracts you to painting as a medium?
Walid Khalaf. I do work exclusively with oil. I find it to be the most forgiving medium to paint with. I’ve tried acrylics and watercolor. When artists create original works of art out of the depth of their imaginations, the final vision is still very malleable. Artists often change their mind halfway through a painting and add or embellish upon what the original vision was. Oil allows you to do that because it dries much more slowly. You can wipe it off without damaging the canvas. I find watercolors to be very unforgiving. If you make a mistake, more often than not, it’s very difficult to fix. As for acrylic paint, I didn’t care for the texture of the paint once it dried on the canvas. Oil paint, on the other hand, becomes so colorful when you allow a layer of oil paint to dry and continue to apply additional layers on top of it to achieve a more vibrant hue. I also build the paint up to give it a three-dimensional quality. Working with oil is time-consuming but very gratifying!
Artrepreneur. Your art exhibits bold, expressive approaches to color. Why is this such a crucial aspect of your painting?
Khalaf. Since I paint en plein air, I am always amazed by what variety of birds or insects will be drawn to my canvas depending on what pigment I am using. Anytime I put red on a canvas, hummingbirds will hover around me. Yellow, for some reason, seems to attract Japanese beetles and other insects that immediately focus on the yellow in the canvas. Colorful things have a profound effect on our mood, energy, and attitude. I find my Middle Eastern roots to be very liberating with regard to my use of color. We didn’t grow up with the same sensibility of what colors should and should not be combined with each other, as in the west. The climate in the Middle East normally is very hot and dry, with minimal plant life. That makes people express themselves with color -lots of it – in combinations that Westerners usually shy away from. I don’t feel those restraints when I paint. I use whatever colors bring me joy.
Artrepreneur. As an artist, you draw from a diverse group of influences. Can you talk about what American art influences you? What about art from the Middle East: what influences you from Kuwait, Egypt, etc…where you trace your roots?
Khalaf. American Pop Art has changed the world and how we see things. Artists like Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Keith Haring had a hand in re-interpreting art is in our modern age of mass production. They mastered how to create iconic images in fresh new ways and let the world covet and imitate them. The US has long been an international powerhouse in the arts. Legendary artists like Maxfield Parrish and James Whistler are proof that the United States is, and has always been second to none in Arts. We are on par with European, African, Middle Eastern and Asian artists. Our American artistic expression is extra special because we are a multicultural society that allows and encourages diversity and freedom of thought and expression. For these reasons, it is imperative to continue to support funding for The National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities.
My Middle Eastern and North African background allows me to see things from a different perspective. Clearly, the people who painted the insides of the Egyptian temples had a sense of humor. You see such beautiful, expressive faces that still speak to our souls. Portrayals of everyday activities give us a profound insight into societies that are thousands of years old, all thanks to the brilliant artists who left them for us to contemplate. Islamic nations traditionally shy away from the depiction of human characters to discourage idol worship. Geometry and calligraphy were the traditional means of expression for artists in the Islamic world. That is much less the case these days. So many young artists are finding their voices and are being encouraged to do that. The Middle East has become a very important hub for both modern and traditional art with numerous must-see destinations for art lovers throughout the world
Artrepreneur. Can you talk about your experiences living in NYC? How has living in New York impacted your development as an artist?
Khalaf. New Yorkers are the most fearless people I have ever met in my life. Often I have heard that there is a certain gray quality to the way New Yorkers dress, but I find that to be confined to Wall Street. New York City has an incredibly vibrant fashion and art industry. Freedom of individuality is strongly encouraged. The decades that I spent in New York have definitely taught me to think outside of the box that used to be my comfort zone.
Artrepreneur. You often focus on landscapes in your work, what about nature inspires you?
Khalaf. Nature is really timeless and soothing. Being in nature inspires me, and encourages me to do landscapes. Often in New York people live in small apartments and are then exposed to the asphalt jungle outside. It was very important for me to bring non-combative, non-political images into people’s lives to undo the chaos that television brings. Nature, I found, was the way to do that. I find people in a mindful state contemplating my work, and often times wishing they were in the scene depicted on my canvas. I paint from my imagination and I allow myself to embellish reality. We have cameras that capture exact images but cannot re-create what lives inside my head. That is what I choose to put down on canvas.
Artrepreneur. You attended the New School in New York City to learn your profession as an artist, can you explain how this has impacted your artistic practice?
Khalaf. Surviving September 11 firsthand made me re-evaluate my career and my existence. It forced me to appreciate every day in ways I never had and to do what I truly loved. It brought joy to my life. Art is the answer. I have sketched and painted since I was a child but never had professional training in oil painting. It is so remarkable that such institutions as The New School exist in New York that encourages people to learn new things no matter what their age may be. Learning to paint in oil at The New School in New York City, under the guidance of the most innovative artists and professors, gave me hope and a new lease on life.
Do you find yourself sharing Khalaf’s colorful, expressive outlook on life? Feel as strongly about using oil paints in your practice as Walid? Please share your perspective with us in the comments, and be sure to visit Walid Khalaf’s click here to view his profile and artworks on Orangenius!