Zena Dabbous is a Lebanese-Canadian visual artist that has polarized styles in her paintings, drawings, and mural work—from conceptual abstract figures in acrylics and mixed media to abstract realism portraits in oil paint. Her multi-cultural and eclectic upbringing brings a novel and conceptual perspective to her artwork. Women’s representation is very important to her creations.
Zena has exhibited, sold work, and has the Artist Recognition icon on SaatchiArt online. She has done mural artwork in well-known establishments in Kuwait like Bloomingdales ME in 360 Mall and Crystal Towers.
As a self-taught artist, I believe in the journey of self-discovery through art, as well as emphasizing conceptualization. Creativity starts with an idea, and that should be the most important factor.
By mixing realism and abstract in portraits, and minimalism and conceptualism in my figurative work, these discrepant styles can be viewed as a projection of my character and experiences. Women represented with limited color pallets and minimal detail are common themes to my work.
Women’s representation is very important to your art. Please tell me more about that, and what are some messages you are trying to deliver with your art?
Zena: The evolution of my figurative and portrait work to embody women was, in the beginning, a subconscious effort. Slowly, as I experimented with this new work, I would gravitate towards women’s representation and empowerment with more intent whatever the project. My message in my work is to showcase women’s’ beauty, femininity, and above all their power and strength. Much of my work reflects women in isolation striking a strong pose. This is a clear intent that I believe women derive their strength from themselves; that invisible force women possess seemingly by instinct is something I always want to reflect in my artwork.
How do you keep your ideas fresh?
Zena: By not imitating styles I have seen a million times. But most importantly by staying true to my identity as an artist.
We love to ask artists about their studio. So, what is a day of working like in your studio? Do you have any rituals or music that help you get motivated or in “the zone”?
Zena: I am the proverbial chaotic artist. Schedules and routines do stump my creativity. However, I did
find that small daily routine, like sketching and painting randomly does kick-start my motivation. It
also kick-starts creative ideas for any future endeavors. Music choices go hand in hand with my moods.
What’s the most challenging part of your artistic process? And how do you overcome it?
Zena: Maintaining my true identity in my artwork and not succumbing to a more popular and sellable style so that I can generate a better income. I overcome this challenge by reminding myself how I harshly oppose artists that are just copying each other and are not being strong enough to create their own identity.
What’s the coolest art tip you’ve ever received?
Zena: When a canvas becomes loose from its wooden stretch, or you see small dents, and you spray the affected area with some water from the back, the canvas stretches back tightly in a couple of hours. I salvaged a lot of paintings that way without having to re-stretch them.
What advice would you give to upcoming artists, how to think out-of-the-box, and grow?
Zena: They need to push themselves out of their comfort zones; to create artworks or participate in projects that challenge them or have themes that normally do not interest them, in order to learn new skills. Had I not done the same, I would not be the artist I am today nor would I have a strong knowledge of what my identity is or even know how to reflect that in my artworks.
What is your favorite artwork from some artists you admire, and if you could pick one that you’ve made, and why?
Zena: I adore Gustav Klimt and one of my favorites is ‘Judith I’ The favorite of my own work is a small drawing titled Poise that I did in under an hour with a water-color graphite pencil. It’s my favorite because it was unplanned, random and it kickstarted a new style I had not realized I have been looking for in my artwork; which was to keep things minimal and light, with a strong representation of women’s strengths in themselves and everything that they embody. That unfinished feel, as well as incorporating drawing strokes in my paintings all began with the ‘Poise’ drawing.
Do you have a real-life situation that inspired your artwork?
Zena: My oil portraits of several celebrities, one of them being Charlie Chaplin, were inspired by the passing away of my father in 2016. My childhood was completely shaped around the western and eastern pop culture that my father loved. He exposed my sister and me to many singers, artists, movies, and so on at a fairly young age. I wanted to pay tribute to his memory as a wonderful father by putting life to the people that he admired the most in paintings. Charlie was the first in the series. His famous expression in the portrait was also imitated by my father whenever he wanted to make us laugh and act goofy.
Are there any upcoming shows or workshops we should know about?
Zena: I do not have an upcoming show at the moment but will definitely be a part of some online art exhibitions for next year. I do have several online workshops coming up. One of them is dealing with the psychological impacts and pressures of being a woman in our society and how to vent it out through Fine Art at an Art Academy called LAPA in Kuwait.
Do you see your art as serving a purpose beyond art?
Zena: I think that all art serves its purpose that is beyond art for the artist and for the audience. I believe that I reach into my most inner introspective self to create my artwork and that serves its own catharsis. When collectors buy my work, I believe that they are serving their own catharsis by purchasing the aesthetic appeal as well as the symbolism that they are admiring.
What are you currently working on, and what is next for you?
Zena: Thankfully, a big commissioned project made most of my artworks sold, which left me with little else behind that I had created over the years. It also inspired me to create new ideas for my next project, which will be a collection of paintings both portraits and figuratives of women showcasing my new style. With the completion of this collection, I will be planning a solo exhibition, hopefully, in my hometown Beirut, Lebanon.
To learn more about Zena and her art, please check: