Harper's Bazaar Art: Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up?
Karim Noureldin: I was born and raised in Zurich, the German-speaking region of Switzerland. Today, I live with my French wife and family in Lausanne, the French-speaking part of Switzerland. My father is from Egypt and while he was doing his PhD in Zurich, he met my mother, who is Swiss. I was educated in Europe, but having lived in cities like New York, Rome, London and Cairo for many years, so I truly feel like a citizen of the world.
HBA: Can you describe your creative process?
KN: There are no specific rules for a creative process. Just like in research, I constantly change the parameters to get new works and results. Projects for architecture or site-specific installations require teamwork, assistants and the ability to develop the artistic process within specific requirements that I often cannot change, but still need to be balanced against my own artistic ideas.
As for the artwork I realise in my studio, such as the large-scale drawings that I am known for, I always do those by myself. Before, I would use a performative process that I developed a long time ago by realising these works while sitting on the floor whereas now I create them on a large table. At the end, I do not even hang them on a wall to check, I decide they are finished when they are still laid horizontally before me. It gives me other results, more physical ones, less reflected.
I often start with a vague feeling about what direction my work will take – sometimes there are sketches, sometimes not. One work evolves into the next and while I explore several formats at the same time, I never work on two similar ones at the same time. My process is both playful and evolutive, structured and open, linear and nonlinear. Each group of work requires its own set of rules; however, they are based on the aspects just described – I apply and mix them each time in a different way.
Karim Noureldin. MISR. 2008. Detail, 2 of 16 parts. Lambda print on fujiflex paper. 21x28cm each.
HBA: What are you currently working on?
KN: I just finished a show at my gallery in Italy and I am planning one for my Swiss dealer, as well as my German dealer, for next year. Besides the Julius Baer commission for Dubai, which took us an intense six months of preparation, I have an upcoming project for a wall painting on a private rooftop in New Dehli, while a public commission is finishing off in Zurich. There is a project for textile-based objects in a hotel, a wall painting for a child care centre near my studio, a competition project for a public library and one for stained windows in a church will hopefully see the light of day too. In addition, there are the usual requests for art fair supply with new works, a rhythm I probably share with many artists today. But besides all this and the fact that I need to travel often, I still try to go in my studio as always, to enjoy my work space, listen to music and create art just for myself, without deadlines or demands.
HBA: How have you infused architecture and design into your artworks?
KN: Historically, art was embedded within architecture as was design, since the first designers of what we define today as design, were architects too. Due to that connection, I see it as one whole thing. There is nothing more beautiful than a well-executed building or artefact, regardless of whether it is old or new. Over the years, I received opportunities to apply my own artistic ideas within that field even though as an artist, I work quite differently than architects or modern designers. But for me, the circle comes close since art can always be a part of architecture and vice versa.
Karim Noureldin. Evo. 2007. Coloured pencil on paper; Evo. 2012. Coloured pencil on paper. 153x122cm.
HBA: What inspires you to work with geometric patterns and your selection of colours?
KN: Colour selection is random, I cannot pinpoint how I select it, I just do it. My older work used to be black and white, then I slowly introduced colour, first, one- and often two-toned. In my recent work, the drawing series entitled Play and Equinox or the textile-based work Des, I have used polychromatic compositions.
My use of patterns stem from my long-standing interest in textiles, ceramics and other artefacts I see or saw in the past. There is something that touches me, something I cannot grasp in words but is rather expressed through my own work.
HBA: Are there any artists who have influenced you to create the work you do now? If so, who?
KN: Yes, I always admired work made by others. Over the years, what I like has changed and evolved, because one gets more certain of one's work and thus requires less influence from others. As a historical artist, it’s the late work of Henri Matisse that influenced me, due to its strong colours, shapes and atmosphere. I love all the work created by Sophie Taeuber-Arp and Sonja Delaunay, both beautifully combine arts and crafts with fine arts, be it through objects, textiles or fashion. Donald Judd's works, his lucid writings and ability to transform life and work spaces into a fusion of art and architecture impressed me until this day. Blinky Palermo was my first reference for installations, objects, drawings and paintings, as is Paul Feeley, a lesser known artist having done beautiful drawings and sculptures.
I recently saw Alghiero Boett’s work in Milan. He was such a wonderful artist, as were many of his Italian colleagues, like Luciano Fabro or Michelangelo Pistoletto. As for contemporary artists, I believe Dan Walsh might be the best painter of his generation together with Chris Ofili. And lately I saw the work by Carmen Herrera and Etel Adnan, who finally get credit for what they were both doing for a long time, stunning and truly beautiful work.
Karim Noureldin. MISR, 16 parts. 2008. Lambda print on fujiflex paper. 21x28cm each.
HBA: What is the biggest challenge you face as an artist?
KN: It used to be developing my own work. Overcoming creative doubts and fears in my studio that things do not come as I imagined or wished. Not just in art but also in my daily life, it was a huge challenge to head towards this professional path, knowing it will be very difficult to achieve. Today, living comfortably with art, I still have too many ideas and a few dreams, my only concern is not having enough time to live and continue doing what I like to do the most.
HBA: Why did you decide to work with large-scale paintings and installations?
KN: I slowly glided into it, it wasn’t a decision per se. In art, space is both the place where we display but also an element one can explore. Early on, my work used or thematisized space and one leads to another.
Left: EVO. Karim Noureldin. 2008. Coloured pencil on paper. 151x121 cm. Right: Evo, 2012. Karim Noureldin. 2012. Coloured pencil on paper. 153x122 cm.
HBA: Has the Op Art movement had had an effect on the works you currently make? If not, what art periods have influenced your works?
KN: I know Op Art and love Bridget Riley’s work, among others. But I see my artwork as not related to any movement because I believe they do not exist anymore today. My work is non-figurative, abstract. You are free to see and interpret it, but if someone says it is always related to space, it is visual rhythms and maybe music, it is both intuitive and reflected in its conception, it is playful but still restrained, personal in conception but universal in its message. Abstract art has always been with us, you find it in early civilisations all over the world. I love ancient cultures, seeing that even with recent developments in technology and science, culture was always paramount, probably the most important proof of human existence.