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A Talk With Egyptian Painter Mehri Khalil

by Noor Judeh |

I walked into the Amr Ibrahim Palace in Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt, went underneath the auspices of the Egyptian Ministry of Culture and the Fine Arts Sector, into the Gezira Art Center, and entered a room to find myself surrounded by artist Mehri Khalil's exhibition, Intersections. Her intricate work on oil and canvas and oil on paper surrounded me on all of the walls, and I sat on one chair I found in the center of the room, feeling nothing but peace. I needed to know more about the talent behind these paintings and how someone was able to project such an energy through art, so I reached out to Mehri Khalil herself and, yes, got the answers I was looking for. 
What is the inspiration behind these paintings? 
This collection really came about organically. I wasn’t thinking much; I was really focused on the forms and was experimenting with shapes and color.
Why did you use corresponding colors in most of the paintings? 
I started off some of these paintings with my older palette: tones of dark red and ocre, but after a few weeks of work, I wasn’t feeling at ease. I took these paintings and started experimenting with much more neutral colors such as greys and beiges, and I was immediately appeased. So I continued with this new palette in all of the paintings of this collection.
Are there any stories behind your paintings? 
There aren’t necessarily stories, I usually see things that appeal to me and I mix them together. Whether they are objects or people or buildings, I never mind intertwining them together to come up with a new story.
I had more specific stories in my two previous exhibitions, either because a specific theme became of interest to me, or because of a specific event that ended up influencing the entire collection. This time, there wasn’t a specific story, I allowed myself to be more abstract, both in the way I think and the way I paint.
Are your paintings for sale?
Yes, all the paintings I exhibit are for sale. People can buy them at the exhibition.
How did you get into painting?
I’ve always drawn and painted. I started taking painting lessons at the age of 3 with my older sister at the studio of a Mexican artist living in Cairo, and I haven’t stopped since! I studied some art at the American University in Cairo, and then at the Academy of Arts in Florence. When I did my master’s in arts administration at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I was still taking painting classes on the side.
When I came back to Cairo, I worked in exhibition design in a museum under construction, and then in art education, but after a while, I decided to focus all my time and energy on my art. I started taking classes with Dr. Mostafa EL Razzaz, a renowned Egyptian artist and teacher, and I worked towards my first solo exhibition, which took place in 2016.
Currently, I’m also doing my PhD in art theory and cultural studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, because I always feel that the more I learn about the history of art, the more it feeds my own art.
What other types of art do you make? 
I am a painter and this is what I am comfortable doing, but I would love to experiment with other things! I already tried intaglio printing and woodcut, but it needs a lot of practice to become proficient. I would also like to give sculpture a try.
Where do you envision your pieces being displayed? What types of environments? 
I don’t really envision the space when I’m painting, but I know most of the people who buy my paintings hang them in their homes. Some bigger paintings are currently hung in offices as well. The best feeling is receiving photos of my paintings in their new environment!

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