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Changing Lanes

After a bumpy start, Rayan AlShathry ’18 discovers that trusting your gut instinct can take you to a place that reflects your true nature and interests.

When alumnus Rayan AlShathry ’18 headed off to Boston for university after graduating from King’s Academy, the last thing he expected was that within a year his life would change 180 degrees.

Realizing that he had no interest in studying business, Saudi Arabian AlShathry made the difficult decision to drop out of university and devote his time to something he had recently discovered a passion for: oil painting.

 After moving to Beirut, where he was renting a studio to concentrate on his art, an impromptu visit to a local art gallery resulted in AlShathry being offered an opportunity most new, young artists only dream of. In July 2019, Beirut’s Artual Gallery presented How to Exit the Metal Room, AlShathry’s first solo exhibition.

Beyond King’s caught up with AlShathry to find out more.

How did you go from being a business major to leaving university and taking up art full time?

I was back in Saudi Arabia during a university break, buying art supplies at the time, and a well-known painter I know happened to be there and introduced me to the person he was with, who was in charge of the creative department of King Faisal Hospital. They asked me to donate a piece or two to decorate a new section of the hospital.

I worked at this hospital for two weeks, spending all my time painting in the hallway. Hospital staff — and the best part, the patients — would stop and watch me paint. It was an unbelievable experience. It unlocked something in me, it gave me a boost of confidence. So, I went back to Boston and I really messed up my studies because I was constantly painting. My roommate even moved out because of the smell of the paint!

I was in Boston for the better part of a year to study business, but from the first second, I knew I didn’t want to do it. There was no spark of interest [for business], that was the worst thing. The people there — and what they wanted to achieve in life — were very different from me. So I left, and am now taking a year off to figure out what I want to do.

How did you wind up presenting a solo exhibition in Beirut?

I moved to Beirut and rented a studio for a couple of months to work on my paintings. One day I walked into a gallery; I had my art book with me, and I showed them my work. I was hoping they’d take one piece, but they told me they wanted to do a solo exhibition! I was very grateful because this doesn’t happen to everyone.

What was it about your art that made them offer you a solo exhibition?

Artual Gallery likes to support new talent, and they told me they haven’t seen anything like my work. It’s different, provoking, not very kind. The gallery owner was the one I spoke with and she liked my work. The gallery manager was also there but was not very supportive. They were arguing a bit about it, which was quite funny.

Changing Lanes

Tell us about the exhibition

I called the exhibition How to Exit the Metal Room. I was there for the opening reception on July 4. People were very supportive and proud of me, because I’m so young. That was nice, but to be honest, I would rather have heard what they thought about my work. What I enjoyed most was watching the people going around the gallery looking at each piece.

I sold nine out of the 10 pieces I exhibited. I had worked really hard and put a lot of effort into them, so I was very grateful. As it was my first exhibition, I didn’t know what to expect. I kept asking myself, “why is this happening to me?”

Can you tell us more about your creative process?

I have my notebook which I carry everywhere and take notes in about what I see and hear. I really like history, especially Islamic history and art, and reading about philosophy and politics. I like knowing more about different things and viewpoints. So, everything that goes into my work is political, historical. There’s a bit of math, and I also try to add a bit of my own philosophy.

I don’t like putting a time limit on my work, I have my canvases and I just paint and finish when I finish. When a painting is done, I flip it over and don’t look at it again because there will always be something I want to change.

I paint without thinking, the colors come from the inside. I don’t always know why I paint something. Later I look at it and think, “Oh, this is what I meant, I saw this that day, maybe there’s a connection there.” I build a story in my head and add one thought, then another, and keep building on it to make it richer. It comes naturally; I wouldn’t say I express myself when I paint, it’s more that I discover myself.