May Mansour picks the mind of dentist by day, artist by night Yehia O to find out more about what inspires his surrealist pieces and how he balances his two demanding careers.
Yehia O is a surrealist painter residing in Cairo, Egypt. A dentist by day, and artist by night, his inspirations are particularly derived from the Baroque movement, ranging from the neoclassical surrealist works of Chirico to the haunting portraits of Rembrandt. O’s focus however is directed mostly at the ocean, creating intricate sea waves using the most haunting of colours; to create dark waters and lucid seascape paintings and surrealistic imagery arising from and inspired by various forces of nature! I got the opportunity to talk to the uprising artist about his background, musings and activities…
Describe your mood today, Yehia?
My mood today… I guess I feel laid back because it’s my day off so I’m not being too productive
You’re a self-taught painter, when and how did the idea of becoming an artist manifest?
Technically it started during childhood, as is the case usually… but I guess things got serious after I graduated from dentistry in 2009. I was doodling and sketching with pencils before that; I had no tolerance for colouring until one day I decided to borrow some of my dad’s stuff, as he’s a self taught painter himself, and I’ve been painting with colours ever since.
Have you always used the oil on canvas technique or do you experiment with other materials or techniques?
Basically anything that had to do with art I experimented with at some point in time, from pencils to acrylics to Gouache to spray paint. But there is something about oil on canvas, a result you can’t really get from any other medium.
Your inspirations are quite diverse in nature. At what point do you draw the line between, let’s say, thrilling works and assaults on the art world?
It depends on how or why I paint really. I paint surrealism because I have a problem with things that are spoon-fed; that’s where I draw the line, I guess. But I’m inspired by everything really as I always feel there’s room for improvement, and I’m always interested to add more to whatever I can do. I like artworks that make you wonder and think on your own… When you paint something out of nothing you more or less help and enable people to contemplate certain realities that don’t exist and, through introspection, you can reflect back on that.
We hear you also skate. Are you doing it professionally or consistently?
I still have my skateboard in the back of my car, so I guess it’s as regular as it gets! Aalthough I’m relatively busy lately and almost have no time for any skateboarding-related activities but I try to skate once or twice a month at least.
You’re also a dentist! How do you balance science with art?
Well, I certainly don’t paint on people’s teeth! But yeah, I didn’t like dentistry at first, but after graduating I realised I need an actual job. Anyone who’s into art aspires to make a decent living out of it, but realistically it’s not really possible as it’s quiet unpredictable. However, having a decent amount of stress in your daily life goes against the creative process. But, when it comes to dentistry I’ve found a way to make the most of it: it must be done anyway, but it also benefits me as an artist. It’s a practical job, you work with your hands, and you need stable hands and you need to be very meticulous so art and dentistry kind of work together in that sense. I also don’t like to sit around and I like diversity in my life so being a dentist by day and an artist by night, or whenever I have free time, works in my favour.
What kind of music are you into? Do you listen to any particular genres or bands when you’re painting?
Everything! When I start up a painting I go with the classics, Mozart's No.40 specifically is one of my favourites, as well as Beethoven, then I work my way up to electronic music. Flume for instance. I also love listening to rap and heavy metal, but one of my all time favourite bands has got to be Radiohead.
What would you say are three things the world could definitely do without?
All presidents! Schools, or the traditional educational system to be fair. They kill creativity in so many ways and, especially following the industrial revolution, they give you a one direction of thought and provide a one way structure for all. The world can also do without greed.
If your studio was on fire, what three items would you save?
Hm, well it’s not going to be my paintings, I can always make more. I can’t carry a desktop either, so maybe my iPad? Nah, but I have DropBox so no, not even that… Actually nothing! Maybe there's some sentimental stuff but I wouldn’t know where to begin looking for them in my room! Everything else is replaceable.
Have you done any exhibitions before and is your artwork available to the public for viewing and/or purchase?
Yes I did my first solo exhibition last year, in a space in Dokki. I also took part in a collective exhibition over six places in the U.S, kicking off in Oregon, for a documentary we made about skateboarding in Tunisia. And yes my paintings are available for purchase, but for now you can contact me personally through my Facebook page or @OHSArt on Instagram.