“The World is Getting Smaller in Terms of the Art World” [Archives:1999/47/Last Page]
Art is one of the most important creations of human beings. It is actually a language that can be understood by all human beings. It breaks all the barriers of language, race, religion, etc.
The American artist Charles Browell recently paid a 5-day visit to Yemen and made an exhibition. The American Ambassador to Oman invited him to Oman to give a series of lectures and workshops to some Omani artists and also to see Muscat and surrounding areas. From Oman he went to Dubai. Yemen was his final destination. Yemen Times Managing Editor Mohammed Hatem Al-Qadhi interviewed Mr. Browell and filed the following:
Q: Could you please tell us about your visit to Yemen and your impression about Yemeni artists?
A: I have been giving workshops and lectures here over the past couple of days and I have also met with a number of artists working in Sana’a. It has been really great. All of my experiences in the Gulf area have been incredible and people everywhere have been very generous and warm.
I am very impressed by the artists in Sana’a. The work is very sophisticated, very complex, and it is of a very high quality. I have seen a number of exhibitions here and I have been to a number of artists’ studios. They talked to me about their work, showed me what they were doing, talked about what they were doing, and I was very impressed. I am trying to bring some of the images, post cards and posters back to Philadelphia to show what the Yemeni artists are like and the kind of work they are doing. Because really, there is not a lot of information about Yemen available to the artistic community in Philadelphia, so I would like to tell them more about the country and more about the people. Hopefully, opportunities might come up and other artists may travel here. I think I have just got to let people know more about it so that they can see where it is at least.
Q: When did you start painting and what is the message you would like to convey through your paintings?
A: Well, I have been painting for twenty years. I grew up painting also. As a young child I spent most of my time drawing.
Basically, I am trying to connect with contemporary culture, my contemporary American culture. I think the images I make are really a reflection of the environment I live in, and the cultural surroundings that I live in, the urban complexity. My thinking is that what I am trying to convey in the work is the kind of urban complexity which still retains a kind of human quality. There is still a human presence within the complexity. I am trying to make works that deal with that kind of late twentieth century and early twenty-first century, where there is a struggle between technology and the human presence. The maintenance of a certain kind of humanity within urban technology is what I am trying to deal with in the paintings.
Q: Regarding your exhibitions, how many have there been?
A: Well, actually I show in America, mostly in the East coast I suppose. I guess some years back I was involved with a group of Philadelphia-based African-American artists and we did projects as a group in Brazil and we did a project in Copenhagen, Denmark. Those are the only two countries that we did projects in, but I have been involved in other things and I have been to different places with my work. This came about kind of quickly because the Ambassador to Oman was in Philadelphia looking for work and he went to see my work in a museum and at an exhibition there.
Q: What do you think is the common message that artists can convey?
A: I think for the most part that artists are looking for ways to express where they are and their relation to their culture and their relation to the particular time they exist in. Most artists reflect the time and place they live in. It is a kind of a reflection of what is going on with the perspective of an outsider looking at culture and criticizing that culture. I think most artists around the world work that way. But when you go from one country to another you obviously get a different perspective. Another thing which is really happening in terms of Western Art, is that a lot of artists are traveling to America and participating in the mainstream of Western Art, so you are really getting a lot of international flavors. In a sense, the world is getting smaller in terms of the art world. If you go to New York, for example, you will see artists showing from all parts of the world.
Q: What do you think is the most important image that will be boldly reflected through your painting in Yemen? What has impressed you most?
A: Actually there are two things. One is the architecture, and the second is the density; the density of the architecture of the old city and the density of people. The streets, the density of people, the constant movement, it is just incredible. I spent a lot of time in New York and I think this is more energetic than New York. There is an incredible movement here, constant movement. I think the architecture will probably find a way to the work in some points, images of the architecture because in the work that I do I have incorporated photographic images by a way of screen into the work. I think that there is a good possibility that I will make screens of some of the images that I have seen here. If I am lucky I think some of them will be incorporated into the work because things I do are really broken. The fraction of the images reminds me very much of the kind of architecture where the architecture moves in so many directions and where the patterns, particular patterns, Yemeni patterns and so on in the architecture interact in a certain way. The windows, the doors, all these I have found very interesting. Hopefully some of these will be incorporated, but it takes about two years for all that staff to settle. In a couple of years I will see what will happen.
Q: Are you thinking of establishing a relationship with Yemeni artists so that they can show their paintings in New York?
A: I am trying. My girl in Philadelphia has a web page. This web page contains images of the gallery I have in Philadelphia. I am trying to figure out if there is a way for artists to get their images on the Internet. There is some information I have to send here about the Internet and gallery relationships with the Internet. I am trying to find some resources and figure that out and I am going to send it here. Also I am bringing some images back to Philadelphia and seeing if that is going to gain some interest. I do not have an e-mail address yet, but next year I will open an e-mail address and establish regular communication and dialogue because it is important for lots of reasons. The work I have seen really should have more international attention.
Q: How have you found the quality of the work of the Yemeni painters?
A: It is excellent. I saw an exhibition tonight. The paintings are really smart. Technically, it is very good.
Q: Any last word?
A: I hope that someday I will be able to come back. This time I came here basically as a result of the US Embassy’s invitation. Hopefully I will be able to return, and hopefully I will be able to show more works and participate in some kind of exhibition. Maybe an exchange exhibition. That would be great. Some Yemeni artists show in America and some Americans show here. That would be a great project. All kind of things are possible. I will just see what will happen.