Saudi artist takes pop art to a whole new level

Sultan Idress Al-Nasser is a 39-year-old artist who is on a mission to educate Saudis art and culture.
“I believe that art is immortal and infinite in which a culture can be based on. Take for example the Greeks and Pharaohs, these are nations that died but left behind their art and history. People should learn how to leave their mark in history by leaving behind an art symbol that represents their culture,” said Al-Nasser who studied fine art and majoring in graphic design at South West Texas State University in the US.
To encourage aspiring Saudi artists, he shares his experiences through a weekly column in a Saudi newspaper. “I learn so much about art through reading, researching and looking deeply to find out the secrets behind successful artists,” he said. “I can never find the right words to explain art, but I keep writing to try to simplify things to readers. I write because I want to help raise awareness about art,” he said.
Before heading to the US, Al-Nasser was studying business in the Kingdom. “I was following what society expected a Saudi man to be: A businessman,” he said.
His passion for art soon took hold of him, however, and he ended up dropping out of business school to pursue fine art. He further developed his skills by taking several world culture and civilization classes, self-development courses in people skills as well as English literature courses in poetry and fiction.
Al-Nasser’s work sets him apart from other artists. “When I was studying, I would draw different things that didn’t go together such as abstracts and Arabic calligraphy. My professors were very impressed by our Arabic letters as they have a lot of curves and bends, and they encouraged me to join a number of exhibitions within the college,” he said.
The artist admits that Jackson Pollock is his role model. He sees him as an emperor of abstract. “I tried to learn from him by spending a lot of time staring at his pieces,” he said. “I think he is a mastermind when it comes to mixing colors and lines. I love how his paintings are sometimes unexplainable don’t make sense, but they give a certain feeling that makes you curious.”
Because he studied world culture, Al-Nasser mixes between international and local cultures through his pieces, unlike other Saudi artists. As a result, he finds that he is struggling to fit in with other Saudi artists since he’s been back.
“Most Saudi artists focus on drawing horses and other Saudi items only. Because of that, I couldn’t get people to accept my work immediately. They are used to having the same concept repeated in every exhibition,” he said.
The artist confessed that he discovered his love for art at an early age. “I realized that I was skilled back in middle school when I found it really easy to draw and memorize country maps in geography courses. Then, I started sketching and drawing graffiti using different colors and methods in my free time. I also liked to draw buildings and imaginary homes even blending houses together in an artistic way,” he added.
However, he did face some disappointments. He recalls a time when his father arranged a meeting for his son with a famous Saudi artist. “I remember being all excited and optimistic when I gathered all my drawings and sketches and went to my father to meet that well-known artist. The man said that I was good, but I needed to see his son who would help me out and direct me. I was then taken to a room and to my horror I found a five-year-old child playing with crayons — this is who was supposed to teach me about art! That was a big insult to me and I stopped drawing until I went to art school.”
According to Al-Nasser, art is a form of therapy. “Art pieces and painting is soothing as it takes the person to a different world and have a powerful effect on people,” he explained.
Al-Nasser claims that he is not emotionally attached to his paintings, except for one. “In a charity event, I had some of my paintings exhibited. When my painting was sold, I couldn’t sleep at night. I had to go to the buyer the next day and buy it back from him. This is weird, even to me, because I don’t usually get attached to my artworks, but I guess this one was different,” he admitted.
For his recent art collection, the artist chose verses from the Qur’an to form his art pieces and added pictures of famous Qur’an readers in pop art shapes. “I wanted to celebrate those readers for their beautiful voices, which they dedicated to reading the Holy book for people to listen to and enjoy. The readers were mostly all Saudi, except for two Egyptians and one Kuwaiti. Those people are almost forgotten, so I dedicated this collection to keep reminding people of them,” he explained.
Al-Nasser’s collection consisted of 15 paintings and was sold out in Jeddah after being exhibited at Teatro mall for a month. “I mixed between three elements in my collection: Pop art, Arabic personality and Arabic writing to show off my culture and my religion,” he said.