We visit renowned Palestinian-Jordanian artist Fouad Mimi in his home studio to learn more about his rich and varied career.
Place of birth: Lod, Palestine, on New Year’s Eve 1949.
Studio location: Within his beautiful Khalda home, which is filled with his collection of art, antiques and curiosities.
Type of art: Colourful, spirited paintings that he describes as “contemporary impressionism,” though some of his earlier works are closer to realism and expressionism.
Artistic beginnings: “I always had a passion for art. When I was a child my mother used to say that I was different from the other children – I would sit and design instead of playing outside. I always liked art, music and poetry. I even used to write and publish short stories! But in the end painting took me away from everything, it was my main passion.”
Formal education: Mimi studied television production with the BBC. His first television show covered plastic arts, during which he was discovered by the artist Aziz Amoura, who recognised Mimi’s innate talent and encouraged him to take up painting, which led Mimi to study for two years in the advanced programme at the prestigious art school, Central Saint Martins in London. “I was very surprised,” he remembers, “because at the time I didn’t value my work very much!”
First exhibition: October 1975 at the British Council in Amman. “It was a surprise for my family and friends, and the biggest surprise was that it was under the patronage of HM Queen Alia. I was only 25!”
Working life: Despite a life-long passion for art, Mimi did not work on it full-time until retirement. Before this, he enjoyed a busy and varied working life, where creativity was never far from the surface. He worked with HM Queen Noor for 12 years, and as a film and television director, for which he won prizes at festivals across the globe: Morocco, Italy and Tunisia as well as his native Jordan. “There is definitely a link between television or film work and painting. You always study the shot you want to take and think about harmony and feelings; it’s just like a painting. This helped me to become a better director and to be different from the others.”
He has also worked as a teacher over the years, as well as dabbled in carpet and fashion design, which caused him to be invited to Paris by none other than Yves Saint Laurent, an experience that the artist describes as “like a dream.” “I never took fashion design seriously, though,” he says. “People say if I had, 25 years ago, I might have become an international designer. But it could never compete with my first love, painting.”
Artistic inspiration: “I’m inspired mostly by my feelings and passion. Travelling can be a great source of inspiration too. Artists should always travel; it’s very important because any place you visit can inspire you. You see things, you learn, and it all helps. I like what the Swiss Ambassador said about my paintings, that every one I do is ‘a journey of passion, and each journey has its own style and emotion.’ Sometimes they differ a little, but in the end you can always feel that it is me.”
Process: “I cannot tell you how I choose colours, because when you paint you are in your own world. It’s subconscious – I don’t mean to choose but it’s a feeling. I don’t subscribe to a specific philosophy – art doesn’t need philosophy! It’s just what you feel. If you have passion, everything will come together.” However he clarifies that “my emotions don’t show in my paintings, even if I’m angry, happy or sad, because art is an escape and it makes me forget everything else. I listen to music while I work; I like Pavarotti and semi-classical, but right now my favourite is Adele, I love her voice.”
Changes to art in Jordan: “I think the best period for art in Jordan was in the 1980s. There was a very strong movement, and HM Queen Noor was an active supporter of it, so people started to pay attention. In recent years, though, because of the political instability in the region, it has gone downhill. There are some very talented young artists in Jordan nowadays, but there are too few opportunities for them and not enough appreciation.”
Favourite artist: “I don’t have favourite artists, but I do have favourite paintings – maybe I like a certain piece but I don’t like the rest of their work. I like any painting that moves my feelings. I also like to go and discover young artists, especially when I have been producing TV about art. I like to help and support aspiring artists, and my house is always open for them.
Advice for young or aspiring artists: “Keep on painting whatever happens! It is difficult to create things at the same time as trying to think how they will earn you money or make you rich. Artists should concentrate on painting, whatever the result, if they want to take art seriously. Most good artists are poor!”
Photography: Amer Sweidan