We had the good fortune of connecting with Ayad Fadel and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ayad, how do you define success?
Success, for me, has two main aspects. First, it means the depth of personal satisfaction I get from sharing my work with others, and being able to form a human connection with them. I would like the viewer to feel the painting first, rather than immediately analyzing what they see on the surface of the canvas. Next, from an experience of emotional connection to one of my paintings, I hope to inspire the person to think deeply about the concepts that they sense are presented there. I want them to reflect on the feelings they are experiencing from seeing the work and then translate what they find into their own concepts and life experiences. My goal is to bring people some level of consolation, through communicating to them a sense of inner peace, that lies deep within all of us. As I have seen in my own life, this inner peace has the power to inspire, even to bring new meaning to painful experiences and transform them. My work is not addressed to a specific audience, it is intended to connect with people of all different categories. I want to engage viewers at the emotional level so that they can see that there really is reason for authentic hope. Humanity does have the capacity to create a better world by influencing both individuals and our communities as well. I suppose that you could say that this is the ultimate motivation at the heart of my work.
The second aspect of success for me would be that my work is recognized by others in the art world. I am an Academy trained artist and I derive a strong sense of satisfaction and success when other artists and knowledgeable professionals appreciate the high level of skill and technique in my paintings.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
On the one hand, my training at the Academy of Fine Arts in Baghdad gives me a certain framework that allows me to paint not only in a classical style, but also to expand and experience other styles of art. That has been a valuable foundation, but not a limitation on my ideas and painting. I often include symbols from Iraqi history and culture within my work, alongside modern western ideas. This juxtaposition is intended to express my feelings and life experiences and to provoke questions in the viewer. Being a refugee with a family, coming to the United States, not knowing English or American culture, and not having any personal connections here has taught me persistence above everything. It would have been easy to give in to a sense of hopelessness, but I was always taught to keep going, and do my best effort in everything I do. That has given me strength when there didn’t seem to be any reason to keep trying. I would also add that working at creating a home here with my family has been quite a financial struggle and required a lot of determination from all of us. At the same time, it has been essential for me personally to find opportunities to grow as an artist. Meeting and conversing with other artists here, has been life-giving, and formal study at the Glassell School and at Houston Community College has challenged me and sparked new creativity.
Any great local spots you’d like to shoutout?
At the top of my list has to be the Museum of Fine Arts Houston as well as the Menil Collection, both of which have been great places of inspiration for me as an artist and also as a lover of the arts. They are architecturally interesting, beautiful buildings with world class collections, and I simply enjoy to wander around in them! Besides the museums, I really enjoy going to various galleries in the arts districts of Houston such as Summer and Winter Streets, and other galleries. I also have to admit that the Galleria is a favorite, fascinating, place. I am interested to see the window displays, and people watch. The Houston Zoo is wonderful and I especially love seeing the birds. When I first came here, I had never had BarBQ or Mexican food, both of which have been a kind of cultural adventure for me. Both kinds of cooking use ingredients that we don’t have in Iraq so it took me a while to appreciate them because, for us they are pretty spicy! Pizza and pasta, and tacos have become favorite foods. I would like to mention Beans Coffeehouse Café on Eldridge Pkwy for their delicious tea and baked goods and especially because when we first moved to the Houston area, they gave me the opportunity to teach art classes and do portraits there. I could never be able to thank them enough for their encouragement and help! There are other special places in Houston that I want to get to know such as Discovery Green!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There are two family members that have had a life-long influence on my career and on my philosophy about life. First, if my uncle who was a professional artist, hadn’t seen a young talent in me and encouraged me to get professional training as an artist, I would never have even imagined pursuing that path. Secondly, my mother has had a profound effect on the way I think about life and relationships. Whenever I would be upset with someone about something, she would remind me: “Love first. Always.” She used to tell me that our relationships with other people are like a mirror for ourselves to see what kind of person we are. Not that everyone has to like us, but even when there are problems, the way we relate in that situation to that person, lets us know something about our own hearts. Forgiving others is like a medicine we can give to ourselves. Hope, hard work, best effort and self-confidence are other virtues she instilled in me that have made it possible to survive and grow, even in the midst of the violence and war in my home country, Iraq.