I have been following Yusef Alahmad for a while and I love his refreshing art works, and his amazing use of mixed colours, patterns and illustrations with an Arabic or Islamic touch. More and more one can see young Middle Eastern and North African artists representing their cultural heritage and religion with a modern twist. But who is Yusef Alahmad? Yusef Alahmad is a 29-year-old designer from Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia, but currently lives in San Francisco, California. Alahmad is a freelance graphic designer/illustrator and a graphic design student at the local Academy of Art University. Some questions for the young graphic designer.
Who are you and what do you do?
“I grew up in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia. I attained my BFA in Graphic Design & Fine Arts from Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia. After that I moved to San Francisco, California for a MFA degree in graphic design at the Academy of Art University. Right now, I am a part-time student and a full-time freelancer.”
What projects are you working on now?
“A promotional illustration for Alef Magazine launch event.
A product line for Papermoon World and Charisma in Saudi Arabia.
Launching a T-shirt line and online store.
Illustrating a children’s book.
Writing and illustrating an adult Arabic comic.”
What inspires you?
“My inspirations are: dreams, childhood memories, strangers, places, music, culture, nature, films, photography, fashion, architecture, smells, colours, and emotions.”
Is there an element of art you enjoy working with most? Why?
“I enjoy working with my hands and mixing traditional with digital media. I also enjoy the process of choosing colours after the initial part of an illustration is completed because it’s something that comes naturally to me. I don’t need to think and plan; I just choose what feels right.”
What came first for you, your desire to be an artist, or your knowledge of the materials you work with?
“I believe the desire came first. Materials are always secondary in my opinion. I was a pretty quiet kid growing up but my head would be constantly and silently exploding with ideas and feelings. I expressed them with whatever material I had around me. The more I experimented the better and more comfortable I became with those materials.”
What do you want to express in general with your work?
“I like to evoke a sense of wonder and curiosity. I like to show my version of the world and how I experience it.”
Your work is mainly about Arabic typography. Why?
“As a graphic designer I am naturally obsessed with typography. The Arabic letter form specifically is so beautiful and fluid.”
Your work is full of colours. What do you want to express with this use of colours?
“Colour has the power to convey certain emotions instantly. It bypasses logic and connects directly to your emotions. I have always been attracted to bright and happy colours so I try to surround myself with what makes me happy.”
In some of your works there are elements of Islamic art. What is your connection with Islamic art?
“Islamic art is a part of my culture and identity. Growing up I was so used to seeing these elements portrayed in a specific style. What I’m doing now is mixing my past with my present.”
You have a series about the Saudi woman in an active way. What is your message in these works?
“I support equality and independence. I encourage people to base their choices and opinions on logic and common sense rather than obsolete cultural and social traditions.”
What does your work offer the Saudi society?
“A different perspective.”
How do the Saudi people react to your work?
“So far the responses have been overwhelmingly positive. I also received emails and messages from people all over the Gulf which is really amazing. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me.”
How is the art scene doing now in Saudi Arabia?
“It has definitely improved in the last few years. More Saudis are appreciating art and design today. It has become more socially acceptable, generally speaking. Many Saudis are emerging and making a name for themselves locally and internationally in all design fields. It’s an exciting time and I’m thrilled to be part of this growing movement.”
In which ways do you stretch yourself to develop your work?
“I am constantly trying to expand my visual vocabulary by experiencing new things and being perceptive to the world around me. I also like to experiment and find new techniques and materials to use. It’s really easy to fall into the same patterns and recycled ideas when I get too comfortable.”
What are your goals as an artist?
“To create, express, and inspire.”
Is there a specific artwork you are most proud of? Why?
“Not specifically. Each piece resembles a different emotional experience and stage in my life. Looking at my old work now is kind of like going through an old photo album or journal. I get flashbacks of how I felt at the time and what I was going through. Of course, I see my recent work as more refined and developed compared to a few years ago but it doesn’t make it more or less valuable to me.”
How do you know when a work is finished?
“I try to stop as soon as the piece is as close to how I imagined it before I started. Other times when I have no initial plan I rely on my intuition. If I’m unsure, I stop and come back to it a day or two later with fresh eyes. Being a graphic designer also helped me with this process. It forced me to really think of every element I use so I don’t overwork a piece.”
What does the future look like for you?
“In the future I would like to expand my work to include furniture pieces, household objects, a variety of apparel & accessories. I also plan on developing a few Arabic typefaces and launching an intellectual property awareness campaign in Saudi Arabia.”
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Images © Yusef Alahmad
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