Emotive Interpretations

In her abstract paintings, Ruba Badwan explores deeply-held emotions, attempting to visually express them on the canvas. We speak to the Abu Dhabi-born artist about her work.

A: You majored in Architecture and Interior Design at NYIT – how does this affect your work?
RB: Before I had the opportunity to attend NYIT, I didn’t know that there would be any sort of link between the paintings that I create and skills attained in designing rooms and buildings. One day, it occurred to me that the emotions I paint can be transformed into three dimensional rooms and objects, which allowed me to have both elements of design and my art come together harmoniously, to evoke something new to me and hopefully to others.

In university learned how to render spaces manually or on the computer, and this has helped me a lot in applying shade and shadow on objects, giving them depth and reason. I achieve this through using different textures and materials for specific areas.

What topped my university experience is that I was able to combine any composition with practices I love in order to create an enhanced piece which amplifies emotions within me as well as my surroundings. To me, everything you experience informs your creativity and imagination, even if you might think it’s useless or pointless.

A: Your mission is to “try to clarify our emotions we all feel inside” – which emotions in particular do you try to express in your paintings?
RB: It simply depends on how I’m feeling at the moment. I don’t say to myself “today I want to paint happiness”; my art comes from what I psychologically feel as I’m painting. Sometimes emotions pass us by as rapid as a nanosecond but we don’t take the time to notice their importance in our lives to the point that we don’t even know they exist.

Today, we live in an era that constantly distracts us by either numbing ourselves senselessly with boring routines and chores or by the coldness of the internet. Having all these things, we tend to neglect our emotions and gradually stop caring about other people’s emotional state of being. I think this is an absurd way of living, which resembles an emotionally-deprived robot…not a human being.

Such causes are why I paint emotions. If we can see them visually, we can hopefully understand how we all feel inside, rather than running away from our feelings and therefore making things worse.

A: How do you employ colour and texture to help express these emotions?
RB: I believe that each emotion has its own texture, material, light and colour. My painting Fumes of Stress was created during a time of major stress at work and I found myself imagining fumes coming out of a semi-bleeding organ such as a lung, and each fume emerging would be in a different colour.

The painting You Are Not Alone links the irony of being alone but at the same time, being in a room full of hundreds of people. As a result, I imagined veins connected together with a glossy and smooth texture, as if expressing an organ being kept alive by the connections.

While painting Stages of Depression, I was on the verge of being devoured by depression and the feeling made me see things from a darker viewpoint of my life, so it made me think that the whole painting should be staged by dark colours. I envisioned a claw-like figure that was roughly scarred, which made me express the pitfall into depression.

I leave an ambiguous area in my art which allows the viewer to have their own interpretation of the piece, as everyone of us is different and an artwork will yield different responses based on what a person feels when looking at it. My art hopefully will make the viewer feel what they want to feel, based on their past experiences.

A: In addition to painting, you create films which you show on your Retrogal 96 channel on YouTube. Do you specifically use this medium to create self-portraits as part of your art practice, or do you appear in these films because you’ve said that “We can’t help but live life on the internet…can we?”
RB: Well…can we really help it? For me I don’t think that many people can go through a day without using the internet since it has become part of our daily lives. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t defy the use of the internet, because if I was, I wouldn’t have the ability to explore so much. The internet has its advantages as well as disadvantages, but once you become obsessed with it, you can’t let go of it and then it turns into an addiction.

The quote, “We can’t help but live life on the internet…can we?” is from a video I created on my YouTube channel called I Want the Sun and the artwork in the video is called Living in the Insane Digital World. I created these as a result of my reaction against everyone I know who can’t take their eyes off their screens; it made me ask myself “Are we truly living or are we living in a fake world this whole time?”. As a natural consequence, we eventually dehumanise ourselves from the reality that we live in.

A: In your social media, your username is Retro Gal – why do you use this moniker?
RB: I have an obsession with anything and everything that is vintage, whether it’s a book from 1884 or a record from 1984. My older sister Roa, knowing of my vintage craze, thought of the name and told me I should use it. It’s that simple, I’m afraid.

A: You also create collages. How does your approach in this medium differ from your painting and film work?
RB: The collages have a slight link to the concept of showing how emotions look like visually…they are just a spasm of thoughts, I presume. Sometimes I take a break from painting and try a different medium to be a little diverse. It does take me a long time to create a painting and once I start, I have to mentally encapsulate myself with one emotion and I have to constantly feel it as if I am being a method actor. By which I mean always being in a state of a specific emotion, until I eventually finish the painting.

A: What projects are you working on currently?
RB: At the moment, I am working on a new emotion-packed painting. I’m also in the process of making videos for my YouTube channel as well as working on a collaborative video project with Sarah Khalil, a filmmaker and a visual artist.

Twitter: @rubajb

Fumes of Stress. Acrylic and ink on canvas, 60cm x 40cm.
You Are Not Alone. Acrylic on canvas, 45cm x 60cm.
Stages of Depresssion. Acrylic on canvas, 60cm x 50cm.