Friday, June 22, 2007

Art Space Talk: Basil Alkazzi

I recently interviewed Mr. Basil Alkazzi. Mr. Alkazzi has been an active artist and strong advocate for the arts for several decades. His donations and awards have benefited several artists and institutions. Basil actively supports the Royal College of Art in London, the New York Foundation for the Arts and the Marie Walsh Sharpe Arts Foundations that gives some sixty studio spaces to young artists in New York.

Mr. Alkazzi's contributions to the art world have helped many artists, including- Thomas Connolly, Michael Rich, Sandow Birk, Oscar Romp, Nana Shiomi, and John Jacobsmeyer. These artists have went on to have great success with their art.
You can learn more about Mr. Alkazzi by visiting his website:

Brian Sherwin: Mr. Alkazzi, it is an honor to interview you. When did you first decide to take up the brush? In other words, how long have you been painting?

Basil Alkazzi: Thank you. You are very gracious and kind.

I clearly remember the black Windsor & Newton water-colour box I had received for my birthday when I was seven or eight. I have always, since the age of fourteen or so, known that that is what I want and I am meant to do- Paint. I suppose I have been painting seriously for some fifty years.

BS: Mr. Alkazzi, you have said the following about your work, "I used to look inward and heavenward, for inspiration and expression, but since moving to the South of France, my whisperers, have altered my creative vision, directing it, to the heaven on earth, as they did when I was a child, to the natural elements of growth, to re-discover their secrets and mysteries and their magical life-force, which radiate serenity and a passion for life, and all that life is.". Would you say that the role of an artist is to give shape... or to capture the heaven that one can find on Earth? Tell us more about your philosophy.

BA: I don't know if an artist has a specific role, each expresses himself or herself in their own way, according to their own unlimited limitations- and we all have limitations. For me, there is a need to create. A compulsion if you like- An expression of the inner self- I am drawn to paintings of other painters that are sublime, that visually express an intangible beauty - where the created image can, and does allow contemplation, and so enriches my soul, abundantly.

BS: Your work is known for having a dream-like quality. They are often calming to the viewer, but at the same time they display a mystery that gives the work a provocative edge. I realize that many people have written about your work- including the art critic Donald Kuspit. However, for our readers, can you go into detail about your work, the themes that you reflect upon and the process in which you create?

BA: I go through long periods of creativity, and then totally drained, this is then followed by a shallow period- At such times, I travel, and I read, and only during these shallow periods will I visit galleries and museums. I love to look at, to gaze at, to contemplate the works of Turner and Constable, and almost all the painters at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

When the time is right, and the need surfaces, I try to create an environment that allows creativity to happen, to flow, where I can become the instrument- I listen to classical music, I go for long walks, I isolate my inner self, the nature of the work being so solitary, and then sometimes I re-look at and contemplate some of my earlier work, feeding off them in a way- and always at nature, and then things start to flow....

I often feel, and I mean this very humbly, that it is not I that is creating the painting- because in the end I have sometimes taken a gasp of wonder at the finished work.

BS: In your own words, what should we see in your work?

BA: You will see in my work, or in any work, whatever you allow yourself to look and to see, and then, to listen to something within you, that then allows you to feel, what ever you are looking at and seeing.

BS: Mr. Alkazzi, you have been noted as being a very strong advocate for young artist. You have reached out to help creative artists throughout the world. Why do you feel so strongly about this?

BA: I come from a privileged background, and I am always very grateful for that great Blessing, and reaching out and helping those less privileged or fortunate, allows me to spread and share in that Blessing.

BS: At one time, you offered an award to help creative artists in the United States. The recipients of that award have went on to do great things. For example, John Jacobsmeyer has been a regular at the Art Chicago and Scope art fairs and has been featured in ARTnews Magazine. Have you kept in contact with the recipients?

BA: Many of the recipients of my awards both in the United States, and at the Royal College of Art in London, have kept in touch with me, and I with them, including John Jacobsmeyer, Sandow Birk, Matthew Burrows, Michael Rich, Josette Urso, Brian Rutenberg, Isabel Young, amongst many others.

BS: In 1986 you established the Basil H. Alkazzi Foundation Awards at the Royal College of Art, London. Can you tell us more about the foundation.

BA: My Foundation at the RCA currently gives a bi-annual two year full Scholarship Study Award in the Department of Painting, and this of course includes maintenance. There is then the Fatima & Faiza H. Alkazzi Award, a monetary award that selects the best painter at the Degree Show, and whose selected painting is then kept at the College, to be sold at a future date, and with the proceeds to create a new award, in the name of the recipient. My other award, now the Sheldon Berg Award, has changed over the years, from a travel award to Greece, and later to New York, and now to a monetary award to be used for the sole use of a studio for a graduating student.

BS: What else have you done to advocate for painting?

BA: I actively support the New York Foundation for the Arts; the Marie Walsh Sharpe Arts Foundations that gives some sixty studio spaces to young artists in New York; to encouraging individual artists, and sometimes sponsoring a catalogue, to make their work better know, as I did for Thomas Connolly, Michael Rich, Sandow Birk, Oscar Romp, and Nana Shiomi.

I am very impressed with many of the painters I saw in China- Zhu Wei, Su Xinping, and especially Chao Ge. I would love to set up an award to help the young painters in that country.

BS: Mr. Alkazzi, your art can be observed in several public art collections- the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and Rutgers-Camden Collection of Art, just to name of a few. Reflecting on your accomplishments... what makes you the most proud of the work you have done and the collections you have been involved with?

BA: There are many paintings and periods that I feel I have expressed my creativity best in- Those that have found a home in a public institution? I would have to say the TRANSMUTATION series, two of them at the Metropolitan Museum, along with WHISPERING SILENCE II, also at that home. THE LAST SUPPER, comprising of thirteen paintings, each depicting only the hand with the wine goblet of one of the twelve Apostles, and that of Jesus Christ. There are two versions, one is at the Santa Barbara Museum in California, and the other, I have kept for myself. BLOSSOMING MOON IN SKY-SCAPE II at the Neuberger Museum, the first version I have also kept for myself. I also like the TRANSFIGURATION series, as well as the FRAGRANCE OF DREAMS series, now at the Dayton Art Institute.

I like to keep some of my best work for myself, the series VOYAGE OF DREAMS, the tryptich TRANSFIGURATION OF DREAMS, and others.

I am very happy with my more recent work, starting with the RITES OF SPRING- they are freer, brighter, but just as expressive and contemplative.

BS: Finally, what is next? Can you reveal any of your future plans?

BA: I have a new publication "RESONANT ECHOES" by Dennis Wepman, a K. Izumi Art Publication, to be officially out in July, relating to my more recent work, and I have an exhibition coming up in Tokyo of my small scale paintings.

My plans? I will go on painting, as long as they want me to, or have need for me to, to fulfil that long, long ago given promise.

I'd like to thank Mr. Alkazzi again for answering my questions. Again, you can learn more about Mr. Alkazzi by visiting his website:

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

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