I see paintings as signs -signs for everything that stands behind them, and for everything they point towards.
9 Questions to Shaan Syed.
Canadian/British artist, living and working in London, UK.
What is your art about?
The work is primarily about painting; it’s nuances, it’s faults and the way it’s seen and made. I see paintings as signs -signs for everything that stands behind them, and for everything they point towards. Most recently I’ve been thinking about my own quasi-Islamic upbringing as an in-road to question how we see depending on the context in which we see. As a result I’ve started riffing on motifs from North African Berber rug weaving, Islamic tiling and Hindu Tantra painting. The visual connections are surreptitious – it’s my intention to talk about the process of painting while subtly disrupting the notion that abstraction and modernism in the west is indebted only to itself.
Please tell us more about your working process, routine, your studio set up and the way you approach new artworks.
Afternoon and early evenings are the best time to work. By then the day feels like it’s getting away from me and I feel like there’s something to work against. The first half of the day I spend either reading, researching or playing squash with friends. My studio is messy and full of work on the go. I have a great sound system which is important to me. I tend to look for motifs with which to work, finding ways to use them to expand a painterly language. The process eventually becomes about breaking the rules I’ve set up for myself during that time.
What is fertiliser for your work?
Trips to unfamiliar places, handwritten signs, old interior design colour palettes, conversations with other painters, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Islamic tiling, North African Berber rug weaving, books on African American quilting, other people’s paintings, Hindu Tantra painting and cycling trips through Essex forest.
Who or what has recently impressed you?
The Kelvedon Hatch Nuclear Bunker in Essex. It’s a gem of a relic left over from the cold war in the middle of the countryside, with no staff and honesty boxes for admission and in the cafeteria.
Have a beer with an artist of your choice? Whom?
What’s your favourite city and why?
London and Toronto, because they are home and where the people I care about the most live.
What’s your favourite restaurant and why?
The King’s Oak pub at High Beech in Epping Forest, outside of London. The food’s not particularly great and it’s just an old pub, but it’s the location, surroundings and the journey there that makes it special for me. I’ve only ever gone there alone as it’s at the end of an hour long cycle ride from my home through forests and country roads and sits atop a hill that overlooks the rolling hills of Epping Forest. It makes me very happy to cycle there, have a pint and maybe the fish and chips, and sit at a picnic table in their massive back garden.
What would you do with five euro found in the streets?
Give it to the first person who asked me for it.
Do you have any dream projects in mind that you would like to do in the future?
I’d like to eventually have enough guts to show a 40 min video I made of myself off my head talking about love, life and death while playing a guitar that supposedly belonged to Tom Petty. I don’t know if it’s any good, but it would have to be a massive projection.
Shaan With Two A’s, or A Phonetic Understanding of Words and Images
oil and polyfilla on canvas, 2016
250 x 185cm
oil on canvas, 2016
250 x 185cm
oil on canvas, 2017
230 x 174cm
oil on canvas, 2017
250 x 320cm
All images © Shaan Syed
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