ISSUE 1 / PRINT EXCLUSIVE / INTERVIEW
DEVIL IN THE DETAILS
INTERVIEW WITH FAWAD KHAN BY CHRISTINE BE
Fawad Khan is a calming presence in a city of chaos. There is a relaxing cadence to the tone of his voice, as if he were trying to hypnotize you—Or it could just be the drinks and the tacos. Either way, It’s working. You feel at ease and conversation comes forth naturally.
In 2014, THE BROOKLYN BASED ARTIST HAS COMPLETED HIS THIRD NEW YORK SOLO SHOW WITH HIS MOST RECENT EXHIBIT, “EMPIRE OF PERSONAL MYTHS.” HIS SEVENTH SOLO OVERALL, THE WORK DISPLAYS AN OBSESSIVE LEVEL OF DETAIL WITH METICULOUS DRAWINGS OF THOUSANDS UPON THOUSANDS OF POMEGRANATES CREATING VISCERAL SHAPES AND ABSTRACTIONS WITH HIDDEN HIERARCHIES.
LIAR: Tell me about your background. Where are you originally from and where did you grow up?
Fawad Khan: I was born in 1978 in Tripoli, Libya to Pakistani parents...Well, actually my mother was born in post-partition Pakistan, my father was born in pre-partition India and migrated to Pakistan with his family as an adolescent. He and my mother wanted to raise their kids outside of the subcontinent, in terms of education and giving them a future—in 1973, they were ex-pats in Tripoli. My father was working there as part of the Pakistani Army Medical Corp. We lived in a farmhouse near a military base. Eventually in the late seventies, when Gaddafi came into power, we migrated—lived for a few years in Karachi, Pakistan and then eventually migrated to the States in 1986. I was raised here from then on. It was a pretty progressive upbringing, although, on the other hand—being raised in the western world by eastern methods had it’s fair share of dualities and contradictions too. Regardless, those younger years and the vivid memories of my folks bringing my big brother and I to the states—it’s very important to who I am today and why I choose to make art.
LIAR: As a person with an eastern upbringing, did you feel pressure to conform to stereotypical expectations in regards to your career?
FK: I think I did, but I had a strong mentor/advisor in graduate school who soon made me see past it. As I initially began exhibiting in my early twenties in New York, making strong work became about making strong work...period. Though I had accepted that the idea of being of a particular diaspora will inherently always be there. I always wondered—if say a gallery visitor or a critic from the press saw my name or read my bio first—did that inform the work differently for them? Did it change an opinion of the art after they initially viewed it? Eventually, I put that notion to the side, and just made art as if I was making it for myself. A cathartic release, experimenting in different mediums on paper, canvas, in sculpture...even photos. The subject matter, conversations, themes in these works did in the end—through the creative process—become totally about the personal narrative. And the very notion I was avoiding to do in a cliché manner came out in a much more sincere way.
LIAR: Growing up, did you always have an interest in the arts? How and when did you become interested in the arts?
FK: I did. Drawing was and still is something I love dearly. Ever since I was very, very young, I had always maintained that habit and often found myself coming up with creative projects for myself. Sure I did all the other kid stuff, playing sports like my older brother, hanging out with the neighborhood friends, riding BMX bikes, collecting comic books, but in school and from my folks, there was always some encouragement to keep up with my ability to see, draw and create. Eventually it got to a point where I decided to concentrate on the art more seriously. Because let’s face it, like many other kids, I never thought I could make a life out of this—or anything creative rather. To me I figured, why not? I applied to art school for my BFA and got in on scholarship. Once I got there, I thought “Okay, why not move to New York and give graduate school a try?” I did, and then figured, “Okay, why not dive in and give the art world a shot?” It’s been a great ride and I’m very thankful that it’s been steady and fulfilling.
LIAR: I’ve known you for many years, first as a work colleague, then as a friend. You’ve always had a very calm and collected presence. Where does this come from?
FK: Really? I’ve never thought of myself as calm or collected. I supposed I’m good at keeping the anxiety at bay. But all joking aside, you are right—as I’ve entered my thirties, I’ve been more at peace with myself. Realizing I should put all the negative thoughts aside or the worriments of when I don’t land a certain studio visit or a show, etc. Yet I just consider the facts at hand. One: I get to do what I love for a living. Two: Whatever is out of my control, I choose to not let get to me (this is a big one). Three: I still have a lot more I want to do and I am happy about that.
LIAR: Well, I mean you’re not a robot but I don’t think I’ve ever seen you lose your cool!
FK: Yeah...some people have though and I can’t make apologies...there were moments in my late twenties where I was a bit out of control.
LIAR: Do you meditate?
FK: I do. I’ve recently been doing more of it and to be honest, taking it quite seriously. I feel it helps, as an artist, as a person, as a New Yorker. It feels a lot like a “re-set button” for me. I feel like I can keep this lifestyle going, and the goal of course is longevity—in adventures, in art, in health.
LIAR: I know, as a naturally anxious person I should take it up too. You explained meditation to me once with a drawing. It was of a bunch of lines.
FK: Ah yes, it was how a close friend once explained it to me a long time ago. I think I made a series of dashes—considering each dash a steady thought in your mind—and said, “Christine, the negative space between the dashes, concentrate on that emptiness and make that space larger so the dashes move apart—eventually disappear."
LIAR: Yes, that’s exactly it! It’s so challenging to quiet the mind isn’t it?
FK: It is, but that’s exactly why I make artwork. I almost always am in solitude when creating works, and for me it quiets the mind and in a way it is indeed meditative. The studio practice for me has always felt like that. The process in itself has this vibe and then the overall act or result rather is the catharsis—like a purge right?
LIAR: It certainly is. What is your studio workspace like?
FK: It’s homey. That is to say, my art studio for the past few years has been in my home. I have a live/work loft. Half of the place, I keep as a comfortable flat, and the other half, the art studio. I keep this half very open, save for a computer desk, older or incomplete pieces scattered about the walls or stacked in the corners. There’s a time line on a large wall, twelve 8.5x11 sheets of paper (my yearly calendar); I check off each day and use this time line often. Five south-facing windows allow a great dose of sunlight in the morning hours as well as the late afternoon (the sun disappears for a few behind the Williamsburg Bridge, which is right outside my studio). I can set up two worktables on sawhorses if I want to work flat or I can hang up canvases and panels and paint standing up. I like this modular flexibility in my practice.
LIAR: What type of mediums do you work in?
FK: These days I don’t use any volatile chemicals. In the past I had to keep my studio separate because I worked in oils, shellac or even sculpted with metal. Nowadays: medium to large-scale gouache and ink drawings on paper. Acrylic on panels. Pen and ink on paper. That’s been the recent habit. A little collaging too, re-purposing some of my reference photography with drawing and painting.
LIAR: Do you keep a sketchbook?
LIAR: Have you found yourself going through your old sketchbooks and finding new inspirations?
FK: The most recent New York solo, in April 2014, began in the sketchbooks. Right now I have about 4 or 5 scattered about the studio floor. Some are full of figurative line drawings; others have notes and ideas for the next couple projects. A professor of mine used to say that to me when I was graduating. You see, I was one of the students who always kept sketchbooks and travel journals—often visual scrapbooks full of collected thoughts and musings and observations. He used to state, don’t throw this habit away—these books, these drawings—this is your artwork ten years from now. He was absolutely correct. I often dig through my books and re-discover themes and ideas that inspired imagery. Now, I can make that imagery, but with much more clarity and intelligence. I love this part of the creative process.
LIAR: In your earlier works, there is a lot of mechanical imagery where objects are being blown apart (or coming together depending on one’s perspective). Your current artworks focus more on imagery from nature. Did this feel like a transgression for you?
FK: It’s just a slight departure, but all of it is me. The previous body of work was very socio-political in nature—mixed with my own notions of violence, war, and identity. It was art that was speaking to the public, not preachy, but it was obvious work and something I had to get out of me. These themes will continue to emerge in my artistic voice over and over. But for this last show, I wanted to break from that body of work and take on something really quite personal, based on personal myth—using symbology that dealt with me. You mentioned “nature”—I would say the overall body of work deals with a personalized science and psychology. The naturalistic elements like the pomegranate or the deer heads are actually symbolic archetypes amidst Rorschach tests and medical anatomical studies. The show to me was indicative of some of the work I was making prior to the car bomb paintings, which I felt I had to put a hold on. I am often making work in response to my world around me. When I was in a tense place amidst wartime and upheaval, I found myself creating those subversive exploding compositions. Nowadays I am at peace, meditating, a bit more relaxed and introspective, and thus, formed these new works. Who knows where the next series will take me.