AradaOnlin had the greatest honor of having an interview with one of the most amazing visual artists . Eskender (Alex ) Mafi , a prominent artist cementing his brilliant style into the realm of art , was generous enough to share his life story and give us an inside scoop of all his pursuits .In addition , Eskinder also shared a word of wisdom for all aspiring artists .The interview says it all .
AradaOnline : Tell us a bit about yourself (family, background, where you are from originally)?
Eskinder :My late father Dr. Mario Maffi was a statistician and economist. My mother W/zo Fisseha Ayalew was in Public Relations. They got married at a young age in Addis Ababa and both studied in France and then worked for International organizations in different countries. I was born in Paris in 1967 and raised in Addis Ababa from 1970 to 1980. I went to the Lycee GuebreMariam where I received my primary and secondary school education before leaving for Côte d’Ivoire in 1980. I then moved to France where I completed my high school education before settling in Switzerland.
AradaOnline: How did your upbringing influence your artistry? Were there any defining moments in your childhood or your adolescence that impacted you greatly?
Eskinder : My father was an art lover and collector and I spent my childhood contemplating the several paintings displayed on our house walls of artists such as Skunder Boghossian, Gebrekristos Desta, Zerihoun Yetemgeta and many more. I remember that I have always liked drawing and it was my favorite moments of childhood intimacy and serenity. During my adolescence and youth period I was very much interested in Art, History, Philosophy, Literature and Films. I grew up in a multi-cultural and multi-linguistic setting which gave me the opportunity to live in a worldly art culture environment. It was also then that I started practicing the basics of anatomy drawing and painting guided by my imagination, my readings and through my interest for culture in general.
AradaOnline : Were there any artists that influenced you in a certain way?
Eskinder :I have been inspired by some painters, such as Renoir, Kandinsky, Picasso, Pollock, Skunder Boghossian for instance.
AradaOnline : When was the first time you discovered you were born to paint ?
Eskinder :I think I always knew I would live in an artistic world.
AradaOnline : Which art school have you gone to or are you a self taught artist ?
Eskinder : I graduated from the Geneva Fine Arts Institute where I studied Graphic Art and Design. Though I took basics on painting I can say I am more a self taught painter.
AradaOnline : Endeavoring an art career seems challenging for many ; what was it like for you. Did you face any challenges in your pursuit ;if so , what were they ?
Eskinder : It was indeed challenging to go into an Art career. I had to go through other jobs working as a UN staff and then as a freelance graphic designer for many years, while practicing my artwork in my spare time. I spent quite a while showing in small spaces before getting the first and ideal opportunity to show my work on a wider scene.
AradaOnline : Your style is ingeniously unique . When and how did this fascination of incorporating letters and numbers into your art emerge?
Eskinder : I started combining the traditional Ethiopian calligraphy and painting in 2003. Ethiopian writings have always fascinated me through the rich synthesis between their shapes and vocal orders. This fascination led me to approach and study them through personal observations and research in history, anthropology, etymology and the like. Expressing these writings via a contemporary and calligraphic art style has since then been a fundamental part of my life. It is also a way for me to pay tribute to probably the very first unknown artists of humankind’s scripts.
In the example of my current work, I try to unite style and message, history and the present, painting and writing to demonstrate that a visual dialogue is possible among the world cultures. In other words, there is only one shortcut to the future and to modernity. It passes through a grasp of the past and traditions. This has led the highly reputable Romanian art critic Dan Haulica, Honorary President for life of the International Association of Art Critics to comment on my work as follows at the opening of the Paris UNESCO Exhibition
“African Art has influenced in the past such great artists as Picasso and Klee at a moment when circulation and information about African Art was slow and low. Artists like Alex Maffi can allow a broad community of creators around the world to know easily the past and present wealth of African Art. Conversely and dialectically African Artists can have much faster access to the contemporary world and global art trends.“
AradaOnline : From all your masterpieces , which one do you hold dear to your heart.
Eskinder : It is impossible for me to display favoritism to an artwork at the expense of another. They’re all the best parts of myself.
AradaOnline : As a very successful and such a prestige artist, you are an incredible inspiration to many artists .What advice do you have to give to them ?
Become immersed in Art culture. Nurture yourself with intellectual and cultural interests. Read Art books and cultural related books. Attend conferences, lectures and events. Be curious, learn constantly about new issues and look for answers.
Be committed to discovering and collecting inspirational factors. Experience life and vigorously explore the inspirational forces of daily environments, taking as much as possible from them. In addition to outside influences, look inward and tap into the subconscious, which is another rich source of creative inspiration. Recalling past experiences is equally powerful as motivational factor that influence an artwork. Collecting your inspirational notes and drawings is a valuable resource, Therefore, try to create a portfolio to collect your ideas. It is important to capture inspiration in any form when it strikes, even if it cannot be used immediately. In time the inspiration will find its place and reveal its value at the beginning seed of your artwork.
Dedicate most of your time to working as much as possible but also taking breaks from time to time for other activities you may be interested in.
Share regularly your art with other artists, art lovers, collectors and even with people who are outside the art world. Be open to critique and learn how to express your work objectively. Critiques will bring you more motivation and strength in your art career.
Create diversion from everyday routine and mainstream thinking; try not to copy current art movements or favorite / renowned artists. Try something new. Search deeply into yourself and find your own hidden qualities which are waiting to be revealed to you in the expression of your future original master pieces.
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