There’s an overused Khalil Ghibran quote all the cool kids insist is worth sharing on social networks these days; “between what’s said and not meant, and what is meant and not said, most of love is lost.” Oddly enough, this is the saying my mind throws at me during my sit-down with Khaled Al-Najdy. I find that I take constant mental breaks to assess his replies. His silences. His love for his work. For the next couple of hours, Khaled’s words – both verbal and non-verbal – give him the air of a man living a reality that he processes through his work in an array of colors and disorders.
I could be projecting what I expect from an artist whose latest work is a startlingly vibrant study on social anxiety. I could be feeding off the few candid moments in which he confesses that he could not imagine his first exhibition as a collaboration because his work is intensely personal. Or I could be building my impression of Khaled from the way he sits across from me, his dazzling smile and polite yet reserved demeanor that almost distracts from whatever question I have waiting for him. I walk into this interview knowing that Khaled’s latest work, is being lauded around the Kuwaiti art scene for its root in an anxiety that he sees almost viscerally in the world around him. It piques my interest, his curiously deep understanding of the human psyche which translates into sharp works on canvas that can intrigue and unsettle at once.
Khaled traces his artistic journey back to his childhood. “I believe I was always interested in art, and I would enjoy these classes. I think my first piece was a portrait and it has been my style since then. I didn’t even know I had a talent for it – other people often told me I was good. I was just happy to be by myself, a loner in my teenage years,” he says. I can still see the reluctance, the shyness all these years later – the introvert in him is strong. “It may sound cliché, but I tend to draw and paint on canvas when I am feeling something strongly, usually something negative that needs to come out,” he tells me about his sources of inspiration.
His introversion works almost like a superpower for Khaled, given his ability to study the people in his surroundings and transmit the inner workings of their personality into his ‘Social Anxiety’ series. “It was the first exhibition I had held and to have it at Artspace was a huge deal. All the work that was displayed was a personal interaction with someone in my life, friend, family or stranger, a series that has taken almost three years to complete. But it worked successfully and everyone had their own interpretations of my work, which I liked.”
When I ask him about the thought process behind this series, he reiterates the importance of personal connections with people. “There is a portrait I created in this series after an intense argument with a person I had worked with at some point. And it shocked me to see this person visit my exhibition, stop in front of this portrait, and identify so strongly with it that they bought it to hang in their bedroom.” he laughs.
Khaled, I discover is at his most comfortable when the talk shifts to his interests outside of his work. He is currently finding an exciting new medium of expression through charcoal, after extensive work with acrylic on canvas. Travel motivates him, food excites him. Thailand, Philippines, Japan, Italy and Sri Lanka are among places he counts as his favorites. New York is the place he’d want to be if he weren’t in Kuwait, working on his art. “It is different there from other cities, a place where people openly express their art and it motivates me,” he confides.
Khaled winds up his time with me by letting me in on the utopian eventuality he envisions for himself – “a space that is my own studio, where I also live and have small exhibitions, much like an artist I observed in New York.” I can picture him living this life; the expressionist whose works is his voice, whose connection with his surroundings is made through his intimate understanding of people and who finds a curious comfort watching others shed their masks as they lose and then find themselves in his work – all done with a smile.
Artwork by Khaled AL Najdy, and photography by: Salman Moghaddam. Originally published on www.kingdome.co. You can follow Kingdome on Facebook and Soundcloud @KingdomeMagazine, Instagram @Kingdome.co, Twitter @KingdomeCo and on YouTube: Kingdome Magazine.