Who is Mo Negm, aka mo*star art, in a nutshell?
A painter with a love of mark-making, brushstrokes, and expressionism, I am using my art to explore and speak about subjects that matter to me from my lens as a British Egyptian.
As a self-taught artist with a day job, what are the factors that influenced your decision to tap into your creative side?
It’s something that I can’t help, and so not a decision as such – more of an urge, an impulse, a desire, and a release to say something in a creative way. If I am not painting regularly I find frustration. It’s a balancing act having a day job: it allows me to not “burn my canvases for warmth”, but it also means less time to create. I appreciate both sides. Everything in life has a balance, a certain tension. I’ve always been drawing from a young age. During university I did not lift a paintbrush, and that continued in to my post-grad working life. I felt very unfulfilled creatively. Moving to Glasgow I encountered a creative city, with real artistic energy. I had the space (mentally and physically) to start my painting journey. That’s when I first discovered painting. Now I make the time to create art. My mind is always imagining my next painting before my first brushstroke even sees the canvas.
Your British-Egyptian background must contribute to the intricacies and dynamism of your art. Is it a main driving factor behind your productions?
Yes, my paintings are both a way for me to speak about my background and my experiences in life as they are way for me to seek my own understanding. It’s important for me to stay connected to my culture, and it’s an emotive response inspired in me from my parents. There can be a certain British assumption that to connect to your heritage is somehow not so British, when in fact “our shared values of tolerance and understanding” should really understand that humans will care about their history. I can say it’s a main driving factor as it does help shape the kinds of world issues I care about, and that shows itself in some of the subjects I paint.
Another driving factor is simply a love of painting – the movement of paint, the physicality – and the need to be painting. I sometimes wonder if people realize the range of skills involved in a “good” painting: how much thought, composition, balance, drawing, harmony, sensitivity of touch, line. All of these qualities do not simply happen by buying a better painting kit. I sometimes think painting is the purest art form.
Many ‘third culture’ kids today can relate to your ‘Learning to Walk series’ that explores getting in touch with origins and heritage. What can we expect from this series? Will the focus remain on language and calligraphic references?
The beauty of this series of paintings is that it’s a discovery for me also. I am “Learning to Walk” as I paint these, exploring my understanding of Arabic and my identity. It’s interesting you call it a “third culture”, as I’m exploring my own growing up. I didn’t quite fit in when we went on family holidays to Egypt. There are always reminders to a “second generation child” that you are still different. Language plays a big part in how we see ourselves, and the world. The focus on language and experimentation with “calligraphic” Arabic shapes is something I want to continue to work on. I enjoy creating an emotive response with these paintings, counteracting the colourful letters and forms with non-defined human figures, creating a certain confusion. But somehow a balance too.
A lot of your art goes beyond your own origins and culture. Delving into the sadness and sorrow experienced by many Middle Eastern countries, how has the reception of these powerful and moving works been?
“We are all Human II”, as I say when describing some of my paintings. The response has been a human one, a really positive one. I think we can all appreciate human issues, and the need to speak about them. It’s important to humanize when so much of the world’s narrative about the Middle East dehumanizes. Many people speak about these subjects in different ways. Through all my faults, I feel blessed if I can try to say something through my paintings about things I care about. Art should speak, and people identify with these paintings because they show universal issues and emotions. I sometimes see the most unlikely friends engaging with my art, so I’ve learned to never assume, and appreciate that I never know who is looking. I once had a friend ask me if the Dome of the Rock from my “Crying Dome” series was a UFO. She’s since much more aware of world issues, but it shows that people can also have an emotive response to a painting without always knowing the subject. Paintings can move as works of art. Some art mystifies and obscures through language, but I think art should be something anyone can access. So it has to work visually first. A painting is never separate from a viewer.
What can we anticipate next in your exciting journey – any sneak peeks?
My mind is always imagining my next painting. I started working on some Ancient Egyptian inspired art last year, and might return to that. Everything can be found in art from that history. I have so much in my mind, so many paintings I’ve painted in my imagination. I’m developing “Learning to Walk” paintings, with more Arabic forms, characters, and even geometry. I’m also imagining continuing the journey of “Crying Dome” once the moment finds me. All of my art starts as an emotive response, and that’s why you find me painting so many themes and subjects. Wherever my heart takes me.