From London to New York, to his hometown of Milan, Omar Hassan is making waves in the art world as he punches canvases with gloves drenched in colourful paint. In an interview with CairoScene, the 29-year-old artist explains why simple gestures can have great impact.
“Boxing is the authentic metaphor of life,” says Omar Hassan, who traded professional boxing for paint boxes and a canvas after he was diagnosed with diabetes and forced to abandon the competitive sport. His ‘Breaking Through’ series, where he crafts Dadaist-like paintings by dipping his gloves on paint and hitting canvases, have been making waves across the world, from Italian palazzi, to the streets of London, to Miami’s Rosenbaum Contemporary Exhibit.
The offspring of an Italian mother and an Egyptian father, the inquisitive 29-year-old translates the fusion of cultures his essence exudes into forms of art, while aiming to bring down stereotypes related to boxing as a violent form of sport. In an interview with CairoScene, the Milan-born artist explores the interplay between artwork and performance, as he explores how simple gestures can have boundless impact.
Do you think that by using what some might see as a violent form of sport, you are sending a message of peace through art?
I know that boxing may seem like a violent sport where two men beat each other in the middle of a ring, but it is a discipline that teaches you to become a man. This discipline is the authentic metaphor of life because in real life you are alone and you have to fight. On the ring you have a few minutes of break and then you have to fight again; sometimes you are knocked down to the ground, but then you have to get up and fight again. This is the real meaning of life. I used to practice boxing professionally and it meant a lot to me; so I wanted to celebrate this element of my life by introducing a strong gestural painting.
How did you come up with the idea? Did it come up accidentally – in a fit of rage perhaps?
My series Breaking Through involves a very physical display of strength, anger and cathartic energy. I started boxing when I was a teenager; one might say this was a way control my fiery personality. However, I was forced to abandon professional boxing and the lure of competitive sport when my diagnosis of diabetes was discovered – a diagnose that disqualified me from professional boxing on the grounds of health and safety.
Of course, with this series there is a risk of coming across as a boxer trying to be an artist, but it’s not the case. Through this ‘performative’ action, I wanted to celebrate the concept of boxing introducing a very spontaneous pictorial gesture with a strong impact. There was also a risk that my performance could be seen as too theatrical and rehearsed and I absolutely wanted to avoid that. I only wanted to have a link between my body, the canvas, and those noble movements of boxing.
Who is the rival when you’re box-painting on your canvas?
There is no enemy nor rival; it's just me and my thoughts. I might say that I want to rather punch the colours and not so much the canvas... it is powerful and very physical but with a positive outcome.
Why do you think we are so mystified by violent art (like Brian M. Viveros’ fighting women for example)? Why are we so drawn to the concept?
I am not sure how to answer your question as I am not promoting violence with my art, and I am not drawn to violent art at all.
In fact I would like my paintings full of colourful punches or spray dots or caps, to give a sigh of relief to the people looking at them and to automatically trigger a sequence of questions. In my opinion we, as artists, produce work because we want to cause a reaction amongst the public; and I’ve always wanted to use a simple language of colour to make the public see a with new sensibility. In the end, the artwork is a relationship between the observer and art itself.
How did people come to know your art?
I don’t know, it depends I guess. I have been practicing art since I was a kid and I graduated from the Brera Academy of Fine Arts. I participated in the Venice Biennale and my work is on view in galleries and exhibitions in London, New York, Miami, and Milan, amongst many other cities around the world. There are also different articles in the international press and social media.
How would you describe your art?
Breaking Through is only one of my series; I explore and use all sorts of materials and techniques in my art. I also use spray paint for some of my series; I have been using this medium for more than a decade. Then for example, my studies at the Academy have inspired me to create works that incorporate art historical canons from ancient mythology, like the mythical Venus de Milo. I grew up between two cultures as my father is Egyptian and my mother is Italian and I think this mixed heritage is also translated in my art. But in general, I would say that I don’t enjoy the limitations of being categorized.