We set out on Friday afternoon amid a heavy downpour of rain to be the first ones at the much-awaited opening of designer/illustrator Rafic Saab’s exhibition, Sugar-Quoted Mix. Entering the A Fish In Sea exhibition space, our damp clothes and the rainstorm outside are soon forgotten as we are drawn into the amalgam of color and quotes, women and monsters, humor and gore.
|Humorous takes on familiar Arabic sayings, a wailing monster and a fan-art piece based on Fouad Mezher’s “The Educator” are just some of the different directions Rafic’s work takes|
As we move from one piece to another we are struck by the stunning variety of not only the subject matter, but also Rafic’s ever-evolving approaches to his work and the different stories behind them. A seductive girl in tight leather with devil horns and tail is the outcome of Rafic getting carried away with what started out as a simple sketch for a bet. The movie Pan’s Labyrinth is the inspiration behind a fabulously intricate inked illustration featuring demons and eyeballs. Other works come to life under Rafic’s fingertips when he is afflicted by sleeplessness or utter boredom.
|A personal favorite of Rafic’s, this is an example of a completely spontaneous illustration that simply unfolded on the paper as he worked|
A section of the exhibition is devoted to the collection of Rafic’s highly entertaining interpretations of vernacular Arabic sayings, each more fun than the last. “This is my favorite,” Rafic tells us, pointing to his depiction of “الحياة جزرة”.
|Rafic poses in front of his collection of illustrated vernacular sayings|
Like much of his work, this particular collection wasn’t something Rafic had planned. “It started with a simple sketch, I said okay, let’s add a caption and then somehow it became a series,” he explains.
|Mother’s and Father’s day cards are an extension of Rafic’s vernacular sayings collection|
After we’ve had a good turn around the exhibition space and taken our time absorbing the captivating array of work, we sit down with Rafic to ask him a little more about how he works.
|Hanging out with Rafic is never a dull experience|
On the subject of his inspiration, Rafic draws a clear line between commissioned and non-commissioned work. “The thing is, clients have no idea what they want,” he says before going on to describe the process of finding out exactly who a character is before he can draw them.
Our chat with Rafic is punctuated with jokes, laughter and his usual mischievous behavior
When it comes to more personal work he can be inspired by anything, from movies to music (the likes of Chimera and The Nine Inch Nails, “absolutely nothing classical”) to his very surroundings. “I doodle everywhere, on anything, with anything,” he tells us, something that is evident from the group of sketches he’s put up in one section of the exhibition.
|For every flowered background there is a bloody counterpart – Rafic’s subjects vary greatly and manifest his different moods|
“I usually sketch when I can’t sleep,” Rafic reflects. “Or when I’m going through a bad situation, I try to channel my emotions into my work rather than do something destructive. Then when I look back at a certain piece and remember what I was going through at the time, I can say it turned out great.”
|Rafic reflects on the inspirations behind his work|
Some of the work is purely digital while others begin as pencil sketches; Rafic enjoys both approaches. But no matter how they start out or how far he takes them, whether they remain simple pencil drawing or evolve into fully rendered illustrations, each piece is a unique creation that drips with nuance (and/or blood) and speaks of the inner workings of Rafic’s personality.
|Friends and visitors leave comments and doodles for Rafic|
Article & interview: Aya Krisht
Photography: Saba Sadr