Ask the young vector illustration artist, Ahmed Al-Rafae, for the meaning behind his artist name of OwaikeO, or the meaning behind his intricate works, and you will get a perplexingly simple answer. As the story goes, the name came from a late night gaming session with his Xbox 360. Excited to try out a new game, Ahmed quickly entered a player name; “…something that starts and ends with an O…” he thought. The rest of the spelling fell into place and OwaikeO plunged into a world of digital conflicts and conquers.
“Digital art is not really appreciated here,” the completely self-taught artist explains ruefully. Often times when observers see his art, they first want to know if it was made in Photoshop. When Ahmed answers, “yes” their response is usually; “Oh, the computer did it.” He draws a long breath before saying, “Photoshop is just a tool.” Crediting “the computer” with the genius of OwaikeO’s artwork is like telling your carpenter that it was his hammer that built the beautiful custom cabinets in your office, or praising Michael Angelo’s chisel for creating his famous statue of David.
Just as many artists use paint and brushes to create an infinite array of painting styles, vector artists use computer programs such as Photoshop and Illustrator to produce art with a variety of methods and levels of mastership. No doubt, some are more skilled than others. Anyone challenging the integrity of OwaikeO’s work would have a hard time duplicating the one or more months of work that the artist dedicates to each piece. In fact, “Artificial Intelligence,” his latest conception which includes a robot from the planet of Cubicon and her side-kick Caffeine Bot, took roughly four months to complete. See if you can find the fish and the number 27 integrated into each OwaikeO's pieces.
When questioned about the message behind the peculiar robot in ill-repair and the possible end-of-world implications, Ahmed’s honest response put his own easy outlook in perspective: “I never thought of it that way… It’s just a robot. Robots are cool.”
Just when you’re ready to dismiss the artist as a big kid with a hi-tech set of colored pencils, OwaikeO will surprise you with profound introspection. Talking about one of his other pieces, “Lost in Transformation,” Ahmed clarifies: “This one does have a meaning behind it. If you look at it, there is this one white cube, just a single thing, and that’s what we all are. From that white cube all the other shapes started to come. There’s a mosque and a church in there. It’s the complexity of something that is really simple.”
The young artist will graduate from Kuwait University with a degree in English Literature this spring and his future plans focus on improving his skills to establish himself as an independent artist. “I’m really concerned about the art itself, rather than making money. I don’t make money from it. It’s not really an expression. It’s… what I do.”
One thing the young artist doesn’t do is worry about appeasing the cultural confines of his society. “If you’ve ever been to a Kuwaiti exhibition, so often you see… with all due respect to my society and tradition… camels, tents… the Kuwaiti towers? They’re not even Kuwaiti! They were designed by Europeans.” He adds with a laugh. “I am Kuwaiti and I’m proud to be, but it has nothing to do with being an artist. An artist can be varied and he doesn’t have to stick to one topic or tradition.”
With his newest work, OwaikeO promises something completely different: “Not a woman, not a man, not a building. Something different.”
Go to www.owaikeo.com to see more of Ahmed’s amazing robots and detailed cube-cities.
bazaar questionnaire :
Born: 10th of July, 1986 in Kuwait.
Work: Studying English Literature at Kuwait University.
What 5 words describe you?
Ambitious, hard-working, persistent, technology-addict, gaming-addict.
What do you like best about your life?
Having a lot of patience when it comes to creating art.
If you could change anything about the way that you were raised what would it be?
What is your greatest fear?
Losing someone close to me.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Buying any form of entertainment, gadgets, games, apple products, movies and of course, the super-expensive slow internet services.
What has been your biggest disappointment in life?
The neglect and indifference towards digital art incomparison to traditional art.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“Ammmmmm”, “AAAAAA”, “Aha", “Basically”, “I’m confused”.
If you could wake up tomorrow having gained one ability what would it be?
For what in your life do you feel the most grateful?
I’m grateful for having the ability to create art and find inspiration in the most basic things in life.
Who do you admire the most and how do they inspire you?
I admire my parents, supportive friends and creative artists, because they all help in inspiring me.
What are your most compulsive habits?
Biting nails while walking, siting and driving.
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Simplicity and appreciation of one’s self.
What is the quality you most like in a man?
If you were expelled from the country and had only limited financial resources where would you rebuild your life?
Perhaps London, they have a handful of great art-related opportunities.
When did you last yell at someone? Why and did you regret it?
Hmmmm, hard to say, we all yell sometimes and I always regret it.
If you were invisible for a day, what would you do?
I’ll get creative, usually ideas snap when I’m given the opportunity.