Karimah, tell us a little bit about yourself…
I’m Karimah Hassan, I was born and raised in Wales, and my heritage is Yemeni and Bangladeshi. I moved to London a few years ago to carry on my studies in Architecture and I made the switch into painting full time back in 2018. Since then I’ve been finding ways to combine my love for cities, colour, space and people into an art practice. I love meeting people, understanding their community, their story, and finding interesting ways of sharing their lives with others.
Following a challenging 2020 for creatives, how have your overcome this & kept positive?
I’ve turned into my creativity even more, before this I painted large scale at live events or on huge canvases and then all of a sudden lots of work got cancelled and everyone was in panic mode. At first I didn’t want to be creative to be productive, I just wanted to look after myself and loved ones. With that in mind I created a painting project called the Strangers Yearbook where I asked strangers to send a selfie and tell me how they were feeling, which I would then paint and post on Instagram. The project started off really small, just from a sketchbook in my room and it turned into something larger, where I got to connect with people from all walks of life. I inadvertently made my own community and this feeling of purpose -of feeling like you truly matter just to one person, is something that helped me a lot during 2020.
Now more than ever, community is key. How important is community to you & your work?
Community is core to my personal and work life, it’s everything really. The word ‘community’ is hard to define and it can look different to so many people- to me it’s simply a space where I feel like I belong, and belonging is one of the most basic human needs.
I know that my life changed for the better when I made a conscious effort to find creative communities in London - working freelance, or not being raised in the city you live can sometimes feel like a one person uphill struggle and it can get lonely and it’s important to honour the importance of being surrounded by people you feel at home with. Now, I try and make sure that everything in my work relates back to community, whether that’s doing live painting in events, painting portraits of community gatekeepers or building a community of strangers in the Strangers Yearbook, I try and do what I can within painting and space to bring people together.
Your artwork has an expressive bold aesthetic & intertwines stories from different communities around London. Can you tell us a little bit about your inspirations & your creative process behind your work?
I’m inspired by so many things and it sounds odd but they do end up feeding each other - from interviews, to music, philosophy, faith etc. That being said, people really are big biggest inspiration, that’s why I end up doing portraits or figures a lot. I’m really fascinated by the psychology and why we do what we do, and for me art and painting is a way that I can observe human behaviour and try and make sense of the world. Usually the creative process is that I meet people in an event or on the street, get to know them and create a painting inspired by them in my studio. I like to take that painting into a city space and create a larger mural as a way to finish off the process - taking their story back to the place where we met.
From a canvas to street walls, what is your favourite backdrop to work on/with?
I like the peace and comfort that I feel when working on canvas in my studio because that’s my safe zone where I can let my guards down. However, I prefer to see my drawings on a large scale in the city- it makes me so happy when I see people interacting with my work unexpectedly in the street. So I have to say my answer to that is I’m greedy and I love both?
A pivotal aspect of your work is hosting ‘community showcase teasers’ as well as live painting performances across the city, can you tell us a little more about these?
It started with my solo show in 2018 where I had a whole series of paintings I made of performers at live events in London. When it came to showing these pieces I wanted it to be in a really informal atmosphere so showed at a live music venue, and then, on the exhibition night I had a room full of dancers, musicians, spoken word artists, you name it and it seems such a waste not to involve people so we did an impromptu open mic and DJ session and then the idea of creating showcase teasers as exhibitions began.
From your studio to your live events across London, where is your favourite place to get creative?
I love getting creative when I’m in the studio and there is no one else in the building or when I’m at home. For me, I feel the most creative when I am totally alone and I feel like I can just be free.
What artists inspire your work?
I love, love, love painters that know how to manipulate colour and feeling and make you want to smother your face in the canvas - so artists such as Lynette Yiadom-boakye, Elizabeth Peyton, Matisse, Basquiat, George Condo, Takashi Murakami and Rothko are all big inspirations.
Having delved into the communities of London, which city would you like to explore for your work next?
Istanbul! I love the city so much and I just felt at home from the first time I visited, and yet Istanbul still remains a mystery to me. I love that it’s a contradiction on so many levels - religion vs. secularism, tradition vs. rebellion, it has so much soul and energy.
What are your plans for 2021?
I have an exhibition coming up from May 01 - June 10 showing the Strangers Yearbook paintings in Coal Drops Yard, Kings Cross. I’ve just created the book for the project that I’ll be selling and I’m working on a few murals of the portraits that I took during 2020. I’m also carrying on the Strangers Yearbook and collecting stories - I’ll see where they take me!
FC x Karimah Hassan
Karimah has created 3 bespoke illustrations inspired by our new French Connection SS21 collection. In her bold, expressive style, she's interwined hero looks from our new collection and combined these with her love of writing and playing with writing out loud on her sketches.
Go over to our French Connection Instagram to see the animations in action...