So I met a guy on CouchSurfing (this is usually how all of my more interesting stories begin.) He offered me his artist studio to stay in for a couple nights while I explored Cairo. He said he was on his way back from Singapore or something of the sort- we talked online for a couple days about the place. He said he wouldn't be staying there, he had his own apartment, the studio was only for work, which was perfect! So I took a 9 hour bus ride from Dahab to Cairo in the middle of the night and arrived in the morning to the bustling streets of Cairo.
He was a professional artist that used mixed media. He was interesting the way he spoke about art and philosophy. He said we could go visit a famous artist friend of his that lived in the outskirts of Cairo. So we took the train and a microbus there, took the elevator to the highest apartment of the building. We met his friend, a renowned Egyptian artist from the South of Egypt, Aswan.
We talked about the Quran and Islam, we discussed politics and world changes. It was a great night talking about the world and how art plays a role in it. We discussed my involvement in a short documentary about his life following the two men to Aswan and learning about his Bedouin heritage and how that plays into his art. So I began to question him about his process.
We spoke about when it comes to a greatness in art, a mastery of anything, obsession is necessary. He refused to do anything but create art. His entire home was filled with his creations. Instead of purchasing chairs he would make them. His apartment felt like a museum with lamps adorned with fabric and plastic dolls. His artworks lined the walls, cast away’s from previous works and shows. He demonstrated the importance of a lifetime of working and deciphering what it meant to be an artist, to have nothing else fuel you but the obsession to create and be creative. It didn't just permeate his work as an artist but as a functioning human. If he needed something instead of buying it he would make it with whatever materials were at his fingertips. He blasted Bach and Beethoven in his studio, he slept with a bottle of rum next to his head, he smoked like a madman.
He taught me what it meant to be great and what I strive to focus my own obsessions on. This idea that artists can be well balanced human beings leaves a strange taste in my mouth after that encounter. The man was not well balanced and because of that his art reflected his mania. He told me that he had never been committed to his multiple wives, that he was constantly cheating on them because he said this stirred his creativity- that being monogamous would stifle his art. He refused to do anything that didn't directly cater to his work. He refused to get a regular job, that stability came second to art. That everything and everyone came second to art.
His family would suffer, his kids and wives suffered from his constant inability to always provide for them but he wouldn’t stop. This was his one true love: art and NOTHING came before it.
I learned greatly from this man. No I will most likely not live a stable lifestyle, I’ll constantly be searching and living in turmoil when I can't achieve something. Mastery is not talent but a bombardment of falling and skill and learning and failing and getting up and failing and process and failing.