Egypt as an icon

27-05-2015 09:06 PM

Medhat Mounir


Watani talks to spontaneous artist Magdy Riad


Not everyone who graduates with a degree in art can go on to become a distinguished artist. Egyptian painter Magdy Riad is a case in point. Mr Riad never studied the Fine Arts, but his gift for expressing his sentiments through painting got the better of him; he became a painter and gained a reputation for being an especially gifted one.


Rural community

Born in 1968, Mr Riad received a technical school diploma in ornamentation in 1988. His talent had bloomed since his pupil days in primary school in a village in Qalyubiya province north of Cairo. The rural environment and its community and entrenched social traditions greatly influenced his early talent. 

“Once I graduated from technical school,” Mr Riad told Watani, “I preferred not to wait for a job in the government; at the time this was the preferred field of jobs for graduates. Instead, I decided to be what I most wanted to be: an artist. I was keen to polish my talent through reading international literature on art and artists, and through taking certified courses. I feel that the knowledge and experience I gained made up for the lack of higher academic study.

“For a livelihood, I worked as a professional interior designer and also gave courses in the fine arts.” 





Distinct style

Mr Riad talks about his painting style. “I am not restricted to a specific school of art, even though I am inclined towards expressionism. I use several materials in my work: oil, mud, sands, stones and others. I also innovated painting on the royal palm fronds, reeds, banana leaves and paper made of plant leaves.

“I have been inspired by some of the greatest classic artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Van Gogh, and the Egyptian artists Sabry Ragheb, Hussein Bikar, Salah Jahin and Mustafa Hussein. However, I did not blindly imitate any of them; I retained my own artistic personality.”

Portraiture and caricature have been among the interests of Mr Riad. He painted the iconic Pope Shenouda III (Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church from 1971 to 2012), and the legendary Egyptian diva Umm Kulthoum (1898 – 1975), as well as Nubian faces and Fayoum portraits. Many of his cartoons were published in the Cairo weekly magazine Rose al-Youssef which focuses especially on cartoons. Some of his works were acquired by art fans from Spain.  

“I prefer to be called ‘artist of the Egyptian icon’,” Mr Riad notes, “because I believe that the icon should not be restricted to depicting Christian characters or events. Through the icon I paint, I depict Egypt’s nature and landscape, the River Nile, the mountains and seas, animals and birds, and of course the faces of Egyptians and their activities.”






In Tahrir Square

Mr Riad has been the recipient of a number of Egyptian awards and certificates of honour in 2002, 2004 and 2005. A number of his works ended up in private collections in several countries among which have been Australia, Germany, Turkey, and the United States. Other pieces of his work are among the acquisitions of the Egyptian Culture Ministry, the Luxor Atelier, the State Information Service, the Cultural Palaces, and others.

Mr Riad participated in many exhibitions, most of which were concerned with spontaneous art, in 1994, 1999, 2001 and 2002.

During the Second International Convention held by the Institute of Coptic Studies and sponsored by Pope Tawadros II last December 2014, Mr Riad was among the participants. His artwork was the topic of a number of articles published in Egypt’s top newspapers, including the daily State-owned Al-Ahram and Al-Akhbar, the Cairo weekly magazine Huwa w-Hiya, and Qalyubiya’s al-Qalyubiya.  He particularly cherishes one story written by Egyptian art-critic Nagwa al-Ashri and printed in al-Ahram’s 24 October 2000 issue about his masterpiece Martyrs of Palestine.

“I have also a number of paintings about the two revolutions of 25 January 2011 and 30 June 2013. I was among the artists who displayed their works in al-Tahrir Square, where they were much-admired by everyone there. I am also proud of a critical study by the art-critic, Muhammed Ukasha, about my artwork as a whole,” he says.






The Holy Virgin

“Despite the large number of awards I received, I am most proud of the certificate I received for the painting commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Holy Virgin’s manifestation on the domes and cross of the Church of the Holy Virgin at Zeitoun. I was handed the certificate by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, footed by his signature.”


Watani International

27 May 2015

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