For those of you less familiar with it, the graffiti art form was arguably started in Philadelphia by “Cornbread” in 1967. He started spraying “Cornbread loves Cynthia” on walls all over the north of the city to impress the girl he had a crush on. After winning the girl the “tagging” continued to the point he tagged an elephant in the zoo and got arrested.
Other artists took to tagging, and Zephyr was one of the original graffiti artists in the 1980’s to transition successfully from the tagging of the sides of subway cars to the exclusive private galleries in New York. It is Zephyr’s work, hence the similar sounding moniker, that influences Sfhir the Spanish artist flown in by ARGAN Square an ALARGAN development, to create a unique piece exclusively for them.
Sfhir’s tag line, “wanted for illegal art since 1995”, references the very beginnings of his art. In his youth, he had been admonished by his principal for daubing graffiti on school grounds. A progressive art teacher, instead of supporting Sfhir’s suspension, asked that the unruly student be put to work planning the graffiti out properly, and doing it again. Make it a considered piece and take care over the project.
It was that art teacher who gifted Sfhir a book on graffiti in America, and from then on Sfhir was hooked on the art-form. The teacher is still in touch with the artist to this day. Looking back on it, Sfhir mentions how funny it is, the way life happens. It is an interesting thought though. What are the chances that that teacher at that time would be at that school with that student. And it would lead to all this…
Having done much research, it is very evident that Sfhir’s art has changed and developed so much over time. Classically, as an artist, one would think it prurient to keep to the same recognizable method or style. “For me it’s just a game, it’s just about enjoying myself,” Sfhir comments. “I don’t want to paint a commercial line. I paint what I feel, so because of this my art has changed, because all in life changes.”
The wall that Sfhir has painted for ARGAN Square is full of movement and really vibrant with a mix of new and old, traditional and modern imagery. It also shows a sense of humor that perfectly captures Kuwait, with the man in a dishdasha taking a selfie with a camel. Sfhir tells us that, “So many people are taking selfies with this. I’m happy to have captured this cultural joke!” he laughs. It is definitely going to be a part of the wall that people come to think of with great affection.
Sfhir explains that the reason why he chose these visuals is that, “Young people want colors, fun images and something to open their minds because gray walls do not inspire creativity and we need creative people in our society.”
But it is not just young people per se, but people who are young at heart who will appreciate this artwork. When you see these images, it does not matter what age you are, these pictures will elicit a response from you. And the artist is very sage about it. He knows that his work is not to everyone’s taste. “You can’t please everyone all the time,” he insists, “that’s life. But art must communicate. It must do a dialogue with the observer, whether they like it or not.”
Of course, a fun wall for their hangout space was also the brief that the team behind ARGAN Square were looking to fill. They wanted an artist who could best sum up the community center feel that ARGAN Square is trying to create. A place for people to celebrate the senses, with food, art, music and gatherings. All events at the square are free and open to the public, a value that is deeply important to ARGAN Square and their commitment to the people here who use the premises.
Completely by chance Sfhir was actually in Kuwait a while back, working on something else. He ran into one of the ARGAN Square team and they started up a dialogue. While the team continued a global search for just the right artist, they kept on coming back to the idea of Sfhir. He just really understood exactly how to work with their vision. So they flew him over for a week last December to complete the wall. No pressure.
With only one week, how does the artist know that he will finish the work, in the way he wants to. This must be a worry for him for his international commissions. “I don’t know if I am going to finish! It is not common to do so, always there is a mistake with the dates. It is very difficult to keep to time.” At least with this particular project Sfhir has managed to complete the agreed plan.
And after all this work, there is also no guarantee at all that the art will last. It is the very essence of graffiti that its existence is fleeting. When asked how he feels about that, whether his work will survive or be painted over, he responds, “All in life changes, like us. We are not young forever, so my art is the same, it could change or it could be removed. For me I always have the picture, and the picture is mine. Like I have photographs of myself over the years. I am not like that now [but I once was].
For me, painting is real happiness. I was working as a computer programmer and all my family and friends said, ‘you are very lucky because you have a great job’…but I wasn’t happy. So, one day I decided to change my life. And I decided to paint for all the rest of the days of my life. Now I am really lucky.”
Many of the local artists who are trying to make their way in Kuwait have come to see this astounding international artist at work. Does he have a message for these artists? “Ultimately, to keep going on with what you are doing. It is very important what you are doing for society. Because art inspires everything!”
If you can, take the time to come to ARGAN Square and have a good, long look at this artwork while you enjoy all the activities that there are to indulge in at this lively gathering place. In the words of the artist himself, “It represents the young life here in this area; concerts, music, color, creativity and fun” and that can be both the art on the wall and ARGAN Square itself.
For more on the artist follow @sfhir on Instagram or visit www.sfhir.com. To keep up to date with events and more follow @ARGANsquare on Instagram and Facebook. ARGAN Square can be found in Salmiya, block 2. For any further enquiries call 2226 3222. Photography by Yousef Nasser @yousefcam on Instagram.