Kuwaiti graphic designer Mohammed Sharaf has caught the eye of many with his controversial art that touches on many aspects of the political arena. The multiple bachelor’s degree holder, graduated from Kuwait University with a Bachelor of Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing from Kuwait University; as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design from the American University of Kuwait. The 31-year-old design studio owner also started a side business, Sandprint.com.kw, which is Kuwait’s first mobile and computer based photo printing and delivery service specializing in transferring digital photo’s and art into print on canvas or polaroid’s. Sketchbook caught up with this impressive Arab creative to learn more about his work and inspiration.
When did you first realise you had a passion for art, and what gravitated you towards graphic design in particular?
Art has always fascinated me from a very young age. I gazed in awe at the fine strokes of my father’s paintbrush on the canvas and the shutter snap of his camera lens. My father was an avid artist. When I remember my childhood, I remember how our walls were adorned with his artwork.
As a child, it was quite common to find me covered with blotches of colours. I started painting at an early stage. I used different mediums since I was exposed to a lot of different equipment that belonged to my father. I knew I was blessed with this talent.
In primary school, my biggest concern was doing the best I could in my art classes. I was introduced to calligraphy through one of my teachers from whom I received continuous support. I won several school competitions, and my passion for Arabic calligraphy continued to grow. It is still present in my artwork.
In middle school during the mid-nineties, my passion for drawing and art took a different form. I branched out a little, drawing characters from cartoons that I used to watch.
My debut in the digital art world was in high school. I designed badges and logos for friends and for school events. In my last year of school, I started working for an advertising agency, and this was the beginning of my actual work with clients.
How would you describe your style of graphic design art?
Well, in my commercial graphic design, I don’t have a certain style. Actually, I don’t think it’s right to have a certain style in commercial work because commercial designs should be tailored based on each individual job.
As for my social and political posters, I concentrate on using the same craft paper background, limited colours that are usually black, red and white, and very few elements if not one single element. The reason I do this is because I developed my style after being inspired by several different artists and art movements. The amazing Reza Abidini was one of my main influences; he first inspired me to use craft paper. Some great Swiss designers like Emil Ruder and Ermin Hofmann have also influenced me through their minimalistic style and way of design. As for the limited colours and choice of paper, that is because I try to bring in elements of the Russian propaganda movement and constructivism art movement into my artwork. In those movements, posters used to criticise the system and politics in a unique way. They were bold and funny. They were direct and indirect. They used a very limited number of colours and very cheap materials because of their poor economic status. I mixed all those factors to create to my own specific style.
Is graphic design the only type of art that you produce?
Graphic design is mainly the art I produce. On the side, I work on some photography, drawing and calligraphy projects, which I do for fun.
Artists use the real world and its events as an endless pool of creative inspiration, which is evident in your art. What events arouse your imagination the most?
What really pulled the trigger for me was what my teacher, Maryam Hoesseinnia, said in one of her classes. She said that an artist/designer should be an active member of society. In that class, we were assigned a project where we had to create a design of our city; the city in which we were born and raised. I decided to make a poster about what I really hated in my city, which was how every member of society talks about everything and anything, disregarding the damage this could inflict on such a small society. After that project, I started producing posters that highlighted local, regional and international issues.
Why did you use the title, “Visual Reactions”, for your personal blog?
I wanted my artistic design role to be separated from my commercial work, and I chose to call it “Visual Reactions” simply because that is what it is. I am not an expert in writing or acting, and I believe that the designer/artist should be socially active. So, I call it “Visual Reactions” because it is my way of visually expressing my reactions, or point of view, to events.
In your piece “Allowed”, you gave a satirical twist to Saudi Arabia easing the ban on women riding bicycles and motorbikes in the presence of a male chaperone. This piece has received a great deal of feedback from citizens of the GCC. How do you feel about the feedback? And what made you create that artwork?
I read that announcement in the newspaper, and I just couldn’t believe it because it was so funny, so it inspired me to create that artwork. When it comes to my art, I try my best to illustrate every issue by presenting it in a bold yet funny way. I always make sure that the artwork will reach the very basic audience as well as the sophisticated ones. My main aim is to target the audience’s general understanding of an issue by creating a straightforward message about it. Also, there is always an additional hidden message in my artworks. For this one, the direct message was criticising the announcement, whereas the indirect message could be understood in many different ways, depending on each individual’s thinking and understanding.
As for the feedback, it varied between agreeing and disagreeing with the message behind the artwork. Feedback from people was interesting. Some of the audience got the message directly, and some of them understood it differently, based on their point of view on the subject. I also received many requests from publications around the world to re-publish the artwork, which was rewarding and pleasant.
WORDS: BADRIYA AL-MAHMEED
Images courtesy of the artist himself.