Ebtisam al-Saffar is a polymath. An artist, mother, teacher, housewife and an explorer. Born and raised in Qatar, Ebtisam did her Bachelors at the Qatar University in the mid-90s before she set out to show her talent to the world. Each of her works is a story in itself. “Sometimes it’s not easy for me to verbalise or express what is needed to be said; hence, I let my work do the talking,” she says. Her work betrays a refreshingly candid view of the world that surrounds her. “To me, it’s a way of communication, a way to speak to people, the community and share my point of view on life.”
Known as much for her scintillating bursts of colour, recently she has been focusing more on portraits of women in her works. “Women have a big role to play in society; they give life and, the system of life,” says Ebtisam. Looking at the women in her paintings, you sense as if they are staring out of those canvases with gracefully drawn modelled faces in which the strength of line is balanced by gentle volume and colour. The faces have a pleasant yet quizzical look towards the viewer, with a thoughtful expression, and if you gaze into those eyes it’s as if they are looking at you, too.
These women present a quiet poise with a suggestion of intelligent and sometimes, cautious goodwill. Balletic without being aloof, calm without being demure; Ebtisam’s women gradually provoke a restful sensation. The majority of Ebtisam’s work is of portraits in which she combines many colours — mostly the earthy tones like tan, browns, warm beige/cream and more, which she goes by according to mood. Her work is compulsive, mesmerising and often, frank.
Ebtisam started drawing since her childhood days. “My mother was a painter and calligrapher. She liked painting and I liked watching her. She often used to paint on glass using water colours and I believe she has influenced me in a big way,” she recalls. “Inspiration came in through many ways and people, but what really captured my mind was theatre and cinema. I was very fond of movies in black and white. “Just like those, I started with black and white portraits. I dealt more with charcoal, sketching famous personalities that I watched on TV very often, trying to form those images exactly the way I had seen them.”
Ebtisam’s first exhibition was held in the late 90s in Qatar itself, but ever since she’s been on a roll. In the following years, she exhibited not only locally but also internationally, including countries like Oman, France, Japan and Belgium. “Whenever I am given the chance to display my collection, it gives me a push — to take a step forward in exploring and specialising in different techniques with distinctive styles and themes.”
In her recent works, Ebtisam has collaborated with a fashion brand Qela. She has tried introducing a link between fashion and art. “There is a relationship between fashion and art in general. Fashion is an art. I feel there’s a relationship between the classic and modern as reflected in my paintings. There is a strong link between painting, colours, jewellery and fashion. My paintings generally include women’s faces. I think they illustrate that relationship in one way or another.” While most of the subjects she chooses to paint are women, and she concentrates especially on faces, all her work is charged with the same acute personal awareness of her surroundings and of her own manner of representing what she sees and lives.
In her journey as an artist, she has been following many known artists. “I have also been influenced by portrait specialists such as Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso and Van Gogh.” In fact, her recent collection is a synthesis of Picasso and Modigliani. The faces are presented as a tilted, soft-edged triangle, with elegantly elongate faces and figures, softening their silhouette and thereby retaining the gaze of the viewer, who moves a little closer to the subject. She continues, “I have been even following a few Arab painters such as Ahmed Sabry and Hussein Bicar. These artists are behind my passion for portrait painting. I have now become fond of portraying human relationships, faces and looks. I became very interested in exploring the complex emotions expressed through the human face.”