ArteEast is pleased to present an interview with artist Hatem Imam as part of our Artist Spotlight series.
Hatem Imam is a visual artist and graphic designer. He holds a BFA in Graphic design from the American University of Beirut (AUB), and an MA in Fine Arts from the University of Creative Arts in Canterbury, UK. He is the co-founder and creative director of Studio Safar, co-founder of the design and visual culture magazine Journal Safar, a co-founder of Samandal comics, and the artistic director of Annihaya record label. He has been teaching at the department of Architecture and Graphic Design at AUB since 2007.
ArteEast: Can you tell us about your work in general and the main themes you return to in your practice?
Hatem Imam: Broadly speaking, my work explores representations of space. I am fascinated by this urge to define and record a certain relationship between the viewer and the view, and how this betrays power dynamics, national myths, and personal quests of belonging.
AE: Can you discuss your latest series Cataract, which consists of paintings and prints?
HI: Cataract comes as an extension of an exploration that started with imagined terrains and moved to bodies of water in motion, namely waves. Cataract is both a waterfall and a medical condition that affects the lens of the eye clouding vision. Unlike with rolling waves, the movement is always downward bound. I can now jokingly reference to the free fall of the Lebanese state, though this was never intentional. With all of my landscapes, the possibility of vision, or rather the interpretation of what is seen is always put to question. In an earlier series of etchings, I explored views from a moving vantage point. We are estranged from both the foreground and the background of the image; the first is very close but blurred because of motion, while the other is in focus, but distance dwarfs its details. The elusiveness of seeing a waterfall because of its constant flux means that I cannot capture this image whole, I cannot fully own or control it.
AE: You’ve used various mediums and techniques to explore landscapes within your work. What role do the various mediums play within your overall practice and what draws you to represent landscapes?
HI: Until recently, I had mostly employed printmaking techniques and explorations derived from them. Beyond my obsession with the almost alchemic connection between ink, oil, copper, water, and paper; the history of landscape is inextricably linked to that of printing. Oil paint is offering almost the opposite experience; color to begin with, an enduring malleability in the face of the finite print, and also the freedom of scale beyond the confines of the press’s bed.
AE: Since 2007 you have been teaching at AUB’s department of Architecture and Graphic Design. Can you speak about your experience teaching, both pre and post-COVID? Has the act of teaching and conversing with students taught you something in turn or influenced any aspects of your practice?
HI: Absolutely. Already my practices in design and art inform each other in the most profound and whimsical ways. Teaching has taught me so much about performance. It also broke down the learning experience into something I visualize as a pendulum oscillating between blindly trusting your intuition and calculating your every step, and back again.
AE: In addition to your art practice, you have co-founded several other creative projects, including Studio Safar, which publishes a biannual visual and design culture magazine, Journal Safar. What was the impetus behind launching this publication?
HI: Both the studio and the magazine (perhaps more acutely, or visibly so) are driven by the need to locate design within the realm of cultural production. More often than not, the field of design—graphic design namely—is relegated to utilitarian problem-solving. Journal Safar is essentially our politics, it’s our voice.
AE: What and who are some of your major creative influences, and why?
HI: Rembrandt’s etchings. I was lucky to see his The Three Trees up close at the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin a few years ago and literally spent hours marveling at his mastery.
Edgar Degas for his monotypes (not his paintings). Amy Sillman for her abstract painting, and her superb writing about abstract painting.
AE: What projects are you currently working on? Do you have any upcoming projects or shows in 2021-2022?
HI: I am working with Annie Vartivarian from Art Design Lebanon on an upcoming group show.
HATEM IMAM ONLINE: