Life in plastic truly is fantastic as long as it looks like Eli Rezkallah’s imagination. Born and raised in Beirut (Lebanon), he is one of the most talented visual artists and photographers of the Middle East. His flawless and unique work got him the 2010 award for “best publication in the middle east” at the Dubai international printing awards for his visual publication Plastik Magazine, as well as the premier print award in New York by the printing industries of America Inc. His images are tremendously eye-catching, an extravagant mix of sensuality and decadence in perfectly colorful scenarios:
“I would say that my style is a visual depiction of moments I either observed or have lived, that marked my life as a child or as an adult.
Growing up in post-war Lebanon, my work became a visual representation of people in denial and the measures they took to escape reality, to recreate their own. No matter how colorful and vibrant they would paint their world, they could never hide the sentiment of dread they had from living in an environment on the verge of destruction.”
I don’t know if I have “a philosophy” but I would say that I try to escape my own reality through the worlds and stories I create in my work.
“I started my career at a very young age as a stylist but that quickly evolved into art direction and creative direction. I just had to start somewhere. People started noticing that I had distinctive taste and it applied to styling first, then sets, then concepts for shoots. I spent the first five years in Plastik working as a creative director with several photographers. I only started doing photography when I felt that it was more practical for me to communicate my idea if I shot it myself as I was already doing the concept, and working pre-production and post-production. It only made sense for me to start taking the picture as well. That being said, I have difficulties to label myself as a “photographer” and I’m more comfortable with “visual artist” occasionally using photography as a medium of expression.”
Because I started working at 15, everyone was always impressed with my work with the classic “you’re so good for your age”. By the time I became an adult I had enough experience to have a voice in photography and certain aesthetics. I was lucky enough not to have encountered people doubting me.
Your work has many erotic elements. Since you’re based in the rather traditional Lebanon, how does the local public feel about your art?
I personally do not feel that my work has erotic elements to it as I’m someone who is not easily shocked by sexuality or the human body, especially in art. The public in general is divided between people like me and the easily offended. This is clearly not limited to the Lebanese, as we’re witnessing a much larger, very conservative audience all over the world, sometimes to an illogical degree even. But at the end of the day you cannot please everyone and art is made to reflect society and create those kinds of debates.
I never had a Plan B in terms of working in any other field. I was always determined to live my life as an artist and just create. Maybe it’s a form of escapism but I’ve never known any other life.
It seems like there is critic in your work. Is there a message or do you just want to create something shocking and beautiful?
It’s not much of a criticism as it is an observation and a reflection of society. My intention is never to shock but to bring what’s inside of me to life.
I spent most of my childhood with my baby brother and my mother, while my inspiration started at a very young age. Having grown up in this secluded oasis in the middle of war-torn Lebanon, I was always surrounded by women who were constantly putting on a good face or their “Sunday best” and deliberately turned a blind eye to their country’s tense social-political situation. I later realized that this was their defense mechanism and survival instinct. Most of my work looks perfect from the outside and is contrasted by the look on that person’s face. You can always feel what they’re thinking of this one thing that could happen that might ruin their entire life.
What elements inspire your creations?
Music. Everything starts there.
I do not have a specific process, it’s either when I’m listening to music or in the first several minutes after I wake up, I see something and I write it down on my phone.
Do you travel often and if so, how has it influenced your work?
Yes and of course, every place I go to has a tremendous impact on my process more than my work itself. New York for instance inspires me to rethink the way I use photography and think about the future. LA makes me want to tell stories… If I’m on an island I always think of something melodramatic…
You have exhibited your work in fantastic places such as Bangkok, Palm Beach and Singapore among many others. What made you choose these cities? How’s the experience of exhibiting your work?
It’s always a beautiful experience to meet new people and have a discussion around my work. I feel that the perception doesn’t change from one place to the other as the world of today has become one global village and art lovers have the same knowledge all over.
What piece from your collections is your all-time favorite?
It’s a piece called Summer of Love and it’s the only piece from my work that I have at home. It has this unfinished yet polished aspect to it and it depicts a transitional time in my life that I always remember when I look at it.
Bright colors are a recurrent element in your work; do they represent your personality?
Not at all, I’m personally always in black and mostly prefer to stay away from colors when it comes to my personal wardrobe. The use of color in my work is to depict this facade that people put to live in a more colorful reality.
What director would you love to see using your creations in their movies? How about singers (in music videos)?
Pedro Almodovar and Wes Anderson. Lana Del Rey.
If I wasn’t a photographer and creative director, I would be an aromatologist, as I’m fascinated by perfumes and candles.
My advice for young artists is to start with one thing and it will lead you to something bigger.
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