Jamal George-Sharpe: Talk to me about the debate around art vs commerce?
Mashael Al-Rushaid: I don’t really believe in the commodification of art. I think art has been treated quite recently - in the past 10 years - as a commodity. Power to the people who choose to do that; but for me, art is - in a way - a truth. It’s a great reflection of generations. It’s a kind of capsule of time within a framework of our society. You get a glimpse of what people were feeling or thinking through the perspective of different individuals. People forget it’s there to provoke feeling. I think it will be really sad to lose that sole aspect of what art is about.
JG-S: So how do you arrive at the prices for each piece?
MA-R: For emerging artists, a lot of them have a notion of their price point. If you're representing an artist - I work with many but the two I represent - it’s really important how pricing evolves. It needs to make sense as far as your track record is concerned. It’s probably because I came from a business background that I look at it a little differently. You have to be very strategic with when your price point goes up and how far it goes up.
If you start at such a high price, there is a ceiling for growth. Unless you're Picasso there’s no room to go further and you only see the fruits of that when you’re no longer around. It’s not only for the art, but also you want to be able to make a living and build a future for yourself. I’d hope to grow with the artist, not because of an artist. A lot of galleries have closed their doors because they think of a hit-and-run deal. They find an artist, bring up their prices, tag the artist’s career and tag themselves in the process. I’m looking for something long term and something permanent. As much as making money is important - it’s absolutely crucial, of course - but I would be more comfortable developing a relationship where I know I’m contributing to their growth. I’ll benefit, not in the short-term, but in the long-term.
JG-S: When was the moment you were most proud of heist.?
MA-R: My proudest moment is going to sound very, very strange… I had a back injury. I was in New York having an MRI scan. I don’t know if you’ve ever had an MRI… it’s very noisy and it’s the most uncomfortable experience. You walk into this tube and it goes “doodoodoo”… It’s horrific…. so I got in that machine and while you’re there, they speak to you on a microphone. It was very uncomfortable because the guy doing the scan told me “oh, are you an artist?”
I’m just half-naked, in my robe and like “um no” [laughs] “but I work in art, I’m not an artist.” He said, “because I think I’ve been to one of the shows in London”. He was an MRI technician. He does it part-time to afford travelling around the world and going to different exhibitions that he finds interesting. He actually came to heist. in London and happened to do my MRI in New York. That was a very proud moment. I know it sounds bizarre, but that was amazing.
JG-S: What is one of your favourite collaborations so far?
MA-R: I like all of my artists! [laughs]
JG-S: Okay, what about the most recent?
MA-R: I can’t say I have a favourite - I love all of them. They are all awesome. But, in terms of the best show I think I’ve done, probably this one - Origins.
JG-S: heist. combines digital and physical… what do you have to say about the overtly digital world we live in?
MA-R: I think it’s great in terms of exposure. With other mediums, it’s a lot more difficult for it to be online. Even photography, to be quite honest - texture and seeing it in real life is quite important. But that means of communicating with the world is such a powerful tool. If it didn’t exist, I wouldn’t be able to work with the artists I’m working with today. I wouldn’t have access to them or know they exist if it wasn’t for Google and tons of research. I don’t sit in the library for hours, I can tell you that [laughs]. I probably should.
JG-S: Why do you think art is important? How does it inform daily life?
MA-R: I think, regardless of where you live in the world and how liberal of a society you live in, the freest form of communication is probably art. You can say so much without putting words on a pad and being so literal. You could highlight political thoughts, spiritual struggles, things you see within a society… When people see something and get the idea themselves, the point resonates a lot more than when you read it on a page and something tells you what to think. You think it’s your idea - you don’t see the subliminal act of the artist. What artists do is hold a magnifying glass to society and to truths we may not want to see. People are more accepting of this form of people telling them.
JG-S: Where do you see the future of art moving?
MA-R: There is an artist called Ruud van Empel who literally recreates figures and landscapes by photographing. He goes to a forest and photographs leaves and branches. What he does is take a compilation over six months, picks the different parts of the trees he likes, and he creates his own landscape. Even people. He takes photographs of 50 models and cuts up their features, takes a month’s load of photographs, and recreates a person. So I think we’re going to get to a time where artists will literally have the power to create their own species. I think the digital movement is going to take art to whole other level because this was not done on Photoshop. I think photography is going to be inspired by that digital evolution of art, but will be done in its own physical way.
JG-S: What advice would you give for students studying art or wanting to get into that world?
MA-R: Don’t be disheartened. Failure doesn’t mean anything. There’s no such thing as failure. Failure is always a means for you to figure out how to do it better the next time. If you don’t fail, you don’t improve. If everything is going fine, then you’re not growing or evolving at all. I used to look at failure as me kind of failing myself, but it’s actually kind of like an exam - you go through different phases. If you fail, it means “oh, you have step one to pass”. You pass that and then you have step two. Then the next obstacle is going to be even more difficult. The reason why it’s more difficult is not because you’re just a colossal fail, but it’s because you’ve passed level one and this is challenge two. Can you take that? How are you going to handle that?
JG-S: So what are some of the future goals for heist.?
MA-R: I think creating a residency programme, creating collaborative works with my artists. At the moment - although there were plans to do something in Cuba with a few artists from different mediums, create work together and shoot a documentary in the process - I haven’t had the time and there’s been a lot on my plate. But I think in future, creating a collective, not only in people experiencing it, but for artists to collaborate and create something together is the goal.
For more information, visit www.heist-online.com.
Read part one: 'Artwork of the home: heist.' -->
Words: Jamal George-Sharpe
Image source: Exhibition view 'Origins' by Jimmy Nelson at heist. gallery, 2015