Abdul Abdullah: Reunion

Abdul Abdullah

Artwork’s Title: Reunion

Material Used: Oil on linen

Studio Based: Australia 🇦🇺

Abdul Abdullah, Reunion, 2022, oil on linen, 78 inches x 64 inches

Can you tell us about the process of making your work?

AA: Depending on the materials I have different approaches to making work, but recently I have almost exclusively been painting. When I paint, firstly I brainstorm text phrases and sketched ideas, then I use photography or sourced imagery for my references that I collate and manipulate on photoshop, and then I begin the painting process. In recent years I work with a team of assistants and together we paint a black and white acrylic underpainting that works out the tonal values, composition and forms, and then over that we paint 3-4 layers of washes and oil paint to create the image, and finally I design and paint on the white line overlay.

How would you define your work in a few words (ideally in 3 words)?

AA: An unveiled reality.

Could you share with us some insights on your ‘Reunion‘, (2022) painting? Is there any particular story behind this new work?

AA: Being the first art fair in Sydney since the pandemic, and coinciding with the end of closed borders, for me this painting reflected a common experience of reunification. Every meeting and catch up I’ve had in the past few months has felt like a reunion. With the face and the arms, I imagined someone greeting an old friend getting off a train or pushing their trolley through an arrivals gate at the airport. This work and series is an optimistic departure from my usual line of enquiry.

You currently present your new body of works at Sydney Contemporary? Could you talk about your new painting series that you presented at this Australasia’s Premier Art Fair?

AA: In my ongoing series of anthropomorphised rocks, I have explored the anxieties and emotions we experience as individuals. These are moments of stress, joy, or self-reflection that while experienced in moments of isolation, are broadly relatable, and can be understood and engaged with as shared, communal experiences. Having their genesis in the beginnings of the pandemic, in a time of separation and isolation, these rocky sentinels reflected an introspective societal concern. While not necessarily adhering directly with the unfolding story of borders and quarantine, this most recent iteration focuses on new beginnings and reunions. In my 2022 series each rock greets or reflects on someone or something that they are reacquainting themselves with after a period of departure. I like to imagine the rocks have existed for a very long time, and we are only just discovering them. In addition to this, they have been waiting for us and are pleased to see us.

Would you say that your painting themes or art projects have been around particular topics throughout your career so far or do you keep challenging yourself with your concepts for your upcoming artworks?

AA: I definitely have a few through lines in my practice that have been prominent over the past 10 years, but I also feel those themes are organic and change and develop as I explore new areas. Often I speak to the projection of criminality or monstrosity on benign bodies to justify the unjust seizure and possession of land, labour and resources, and more recently; bodies. I also look at the difference between the perception of an identity from the outside and compare it to the reality of a lived experience, and how this tension often leads to conflict.

Would you say as an artist that your art practice is open to interpretations to your audience or do you try to have a more straightforward direction or position about what you create? Or it is something in the middle?

AA: Although I have very specific reasons and motivations when I make work, I prefer a bit of ambiguity. I don’t want to be didactic or hit someone over the head with what I am trying to say, and I really like what other interpretations people bring to the work. That’s not to say one approach is better than the other, but that is how I want to do it in my own practice.

Taking into account that your artistry incites an interdisciplinary method, do you usually come up with a particular concept or narrative in the very beginning of your artistic process or do specific artworks have been created by random experiments in your studio?

AA: Having that interdisciplinary approach I usually come up with concepts that then get developed into a material outcome. Often a work starts with a title or a piece of writing, and then I figure out what I think is the best was to communicate that idea visually.

What would be the best way to exhibit your work?

AA: Haha like most artists I like to see my work on museum walls, but really there’s no best way to exhibit my work – as long as it’s accessible.

Can you mention any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?

AA: I was once told we should be audience as much or more than we are artists, so I get inspiration from all sorts of other artists. My favourite artist is Richard Bell, my favourite work is ‘Other’ by Tracey Moffatt, my favourite painter is Jenny Saville, and my most recent inspiration is the Australian landscape painter Mary Tonkin. I saw her work in person for the first time only recently and was blown away by her colours, mark making, compositions and scale.

What about the place where you work? What’s your studio space look like?

AA: I work on the second story of an office building that is scheduled for demolition at the end of 2023. It has floor to ceiling windows, and I can make a mess because I know it is going to be knocked over.

Which are your plans for the near future?

AA: I will continue to live and work in Sydney, but next year I plan to relocate to Bangkok with my partner Amrita Hepi. She and I will live between Thailand and Australia where we will both develop and produce projects in Australia and throughout Asia.

Additional Paintings

Abdul Abdullah, Lies we tell our therapists, 2022, oil on linen, 198 cm x 163 cm
Abdul Abdullah, Reflecting on our decisions, 2021, oil on linen, 64 x 54 cm
Abdul Abdullah, I am probably fine, 2021, oil on linen, 64 x 54 cm
Abdul Abdullah, Troubling the margins, 2022, 125 cm x 100 cm
Abdul Abdullah, Quietly optimistic, 2021, oil on linen, 240 cm x 180 cm
Abdul Abdullah, A return, 2022, oil on linen, 78 inches x 64 inches


All images courtesy of the artist

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