Peeling Off The Layers: An Interview With Noor Al Suwaidi

Abu Dhabi artist Noor Al Suwaidi’s latest project, Proceed from the Dream, Outwards, enters into dialogue with the subconscious and recently showed at Cuadro Gallery. This series is grounded in the philosophical writings of Anais Nin and Carl Jung, and influenced by Alexander Calder, the American minimalist painter and sculptor credited with the invention of the mobile.

Sweet Nothings, Acrylic on linen (2014)

Sweet Nothings, Acrylic on linen (2014)

Noor is widely admired in the region for her abstract paintings that jump out with surprising color combinations. It’s quite unusual for an emerging artist to already have such a recognizable technique. Even without looking for her signature, I’ve been able to identify her paintings in collections all over the UAE. I was curious to see this show because I’d been told that Noor was growing in her practice both as an artist and a curator, having just completed a gig as guest curator for In the Absence of Script at Maraya Art Centre.

Alexander Calder, Lines of Flow, Oil on Canvas, Calder Foundation (1947)

Alexander Calder, Lines of Flow, Oil on Canvas, Calder Foundation (1947)

Proceed from the Dream, Outwards was installed at Cuadro in the form of a progression. Paintings closest to the gallery entrance—Sweet Nothings and Deep Blue Something were reminiscent of earlier work and strong as always. Next came a series of acrylics with thin brush-strokes and close ups of faces. There was an intimacy to these that matched the show’s title, as though the artist had awakened early each morning, reached out her hand and captured the previous night’s parting dreams in a half conscious, half sleepy haze. Even though these were fairly abstract, I could relate to them.

I would Tell You But I Can't, Acrylic on linen (2014)

I would Tell You But I Can’t, Acrylic on linen (2014)

Finally, my eyes made their journey to the far wall. Whoah! What happened here? Three new paintings, a series titled In Search of Magic, drew me in for a full ten minutes of silent study. It’s clear that these are experimental, and there is a consequent excitement to them, as though Noor has set off on a long, demanding trip and these are just the first stop along the way to some mystery destination. Gone are the clean borders from earlier work; In Search of Magic bleeds onto linen. Although these are charcoal and pastels, they have the raw, living look of street art.

In Search of Magic II  (2014)

In Search of Magic II (2014)

I was very lucky to get the chance to speak with Noor about images, sleep patterns, and representation. Here’s what we discussed:

DL: You find and collect images, then interpret them abstractly in your work. Where do you find these images in the first place?

NAS: The images are collected from postcards, magazines, and even online. I have some up in the studio but I also have sketches that I have drawn mixed up with them. I look for two things in a good image: compositions that intrigue me, and palates of color.

Deep Blue Something (2014)

Deep Blue Something (2014)

DL: You are often referred to as an Emirati female artist. Are these identities important to you?

NAS: I think this is a default identity—Yes, I am female and Yes, I am Emirati. I don’t have too much control over how I am known. So far I have strived to balance between my artistic practice and gaining the respect of my peers for my curatorial projects.

I am lucky to be known for the work I am doing and am fortunate and grateful for that. But, I guess to answer your question, I would like to be known as an artist and hope my work speaks to an audience beyond gender and race.

In Search of Magic I (2014)

In Search of Magic I (2014)

DL: I’ve long been obsessed with the wild color combinations you use in your paintings. How do you come up with them?

NAS: I find colors in my daily life—I could be at a friend’s home noticing a particular shade of blue the hall, thinking how it will appear in my next painting.

DL: What process do you use for mixing your paints?

NAS: I might start with two or three colors. Then the shades and tones change and I’ll drop a neutral grey in between. It’s purely instinctive—an emotional discussion that happens between the canvas and me.

Reality and Dreams I  (2014)

Reality and Dreams I (2014)

DL: Your new acrylics on linen are a wild departure from your previous work. I personally am quite intrigued. From far away, the acrylic almost looks like spray paint. There is a bleeding to them that makes them feel very much alive to me. How did you get from ‘Sweet Nothings’ to ‘In Search of Magic?’

NAS: For me it doesn’t seem so wild. I used to work a lot with charcoal and pastels and love to get close to my medium. With the new work, the linen is first primed with a transparent basecoat called ‘Gesso.’ Then I draw with charcoal and pastels and cover with gesso again as a topcoat, which creates a bleeding effect. If you were to take ‘Sweet Nothings’ off the wall, from behind it would look like ‘In Search of Magic.’ I am peeling off layers. As I continue with my practice, future work will explore this idea more and more.

The king of dreams, Carl Jung (photographed by Henri Cartier-Bresson)

The king of dreams, Carl Jung (photographed by Henri Cartier-Bresson)

DL: This show is all about dreams and I would like to know about your own sleep patterns. Do you remember your dreams and has any either lucidly or subconsciously impacted this show?

NAS: I have always been in tune with my dreams and would describe myself as very spiritual. Since my father’s death he has visited me in my dreams many times. I also dream about my paintings and sometimes get clues in my dreams on how to fix them if they are in a stage of struggle.

DL: How do you know when a painting is complete?

NAS: I usually have to sit with the painting a while. It’s like cake after you bake it—it has to sit a while before you eat it.

Anais Nin was just as beautiful a writer as she was a woman.

Anais Nin was just as beautiful a writer as she was a woman.

Good Ideas: Cuadro Gallery in Dubai represents Noor Al Suwaidi. To learn more about the artist and her work go here.

Image Credits: Unless otherwise specified, all images are provided courtesy of Cuadro Gallery and Noor Al Suwaidi