Kristel Bechara remembers how, when she was a child, her father — a surrealist sculptor — would spend hours making art in their home in Lebanon. It was this that first inspired her to pursue art.
Bechara’s father died when she was eighteen, but his influence lingers; particularly his insistence that she find her own artistic voice.
“He never taught me,” she tells Arab News. “He said I could watch him. I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t giving me tips, but now I do the same with my kids. You need to learn the basics, but most art is experimental. My dad had a style of his own; he couldn’t teach that. If he’d taught me that, he would have limited my creativity.”
It took Bechara, a former in-house designer, a while to work out a style of painting that suits her. She studied graphic design at university, which eventually expanded her creative process and knowledge of digital tools. She also moved to cosmopolitan Dubai 14 years ago, and was recently granted the prized decade-long Golden Visa by the UAE government.
“If I hadn’t moved to Dubai, maybe I wouldn’t have been able to move forward as a professional artist,” she says. “In Dubai, you have a lot of opportunities. I was able to work and continue on my own, to quit this job and try launch a career. I think of my art as a start-up, a business. It’s not a hobby, it’s my work.”
A selection of Bechara’s figurative works is now on view at her solo exhibition, entitled “A Dance of Colors,” running until September 14 at DIFC Gate Avenue in Dubai. Bechara chose paintings from previous series, including “Ask A Woman,” “Psychomachia,” and “Inamorata.” The latter features female icons of entertainment, including Fayrouz, Twiggy, and Audrey Hepburn. She draws her inspiration from both the past and the present — from Greek mythology to pop culture. What is repeated throughout her body of work is enlivening monotone, black-and-white canvases with little pops of vivid color.
“The technique is something I put together and it’s how I like to create and express what I have in my mind,” she says. “I like simplicity and complexity. I’m a very contradictory person. The colors and the complexity don’t take away from the simplicity of the monotone colors, so they are kind of balanced at the same time.” One thing about the show is straightforward, however: Bechara wants it to be a happy and energetic one — a “celebration of life.”
The portrayal of the feminine is at the heart of her work, sensually depicting women as, for instance, the four cardinal virtues: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance. Elsewhere, she includes famous women such as the 20th-century Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, a particular inspiration. “I studied her at university. I like her style, the powerful colors she uses, and how raw her self-portraits are,” she says.
Bechara creates her paintings traditionally on canvas, as well as doing digital drawing. She is well aware of detractors of digital art, which is currently having ‘a moment’ in the contemporary art market.
“People have this misconception that digital art is not art. It is art,” she says. “It’s not computer-generated. Someone creates it, draws it — there’s a process.” Just a few months ago, Bechara became the first artist in the UAE to sell hot-yet-confusing NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) — digital files of an artwork that are sold via blockchain technology.
She believes NFTs benefit digital artists, whose artworks may be copied. “It’s created a market to trade with digital art,” she says. “Before, digital art didn’t have a market (through which) to sell. People could download it and then say, ‘I have it, why would I buy it?’ But now, with an NFT, it’s a smart contract that you create, it’s proof of ownership, showing the identity of the creator and the owner. There’s no human interaction with that — there’s no middleman. So, artists sell directly to collectors.”
Bechara says there is a significant demand amongst her clients for NFTs and she views them as being part of the future of art.
“There are no winners or losers,” she says. “I think both traditional and digital art will be there. The blockchain technology is here and is still in its infancy stage. It’s a little bit difficult to talk about it now and there’s this learning curve that we need to go through. But eventually it’s going to be as easy as using the Internet.”