Cover Image: Olivia Howitt
Shumaiya Khan is a self-taught abstract expressionist painter and this week’s featured BLUP50 feature. She is also a multifaceted writer and poet, with her art also focusing on the emotional intricacies of interpersonal relationships and how we view ourselves. We revisited Shumaiya’s beginnings as an artist to where she is today.
She is now founder and creative director of 701.studios which is a London-based arthouse and creative studio specialising in contemporary abstract expressionism art, brand positioning and creative direction.
// DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN ONE WORD
// HOW DID YOU BEGIN YOUR JOURNEY INTO ART?
This is a long one, because really my journey with art has been ever present in my life since, probably age 4 or 5. I’ve always been that creative child and growing up I was actually really quiet. So it would happen, I would use art as a way to explore myself in a language I could curate and communicate.
It wasn’t until I was 18 and in Leeds College of Art when my mentors asked me what I wanted to specialise in and I was veered away from fine art and towards interdisciplinary design at Goldsmiths. Their reasoning being ‘you can always paint, and a lot of artists die poor.’
Now looking at that statement, I can say I’ve had and still have a great design career with 2 studios under my belt and some wonderful branding work. It wasn’t until the infamous lockdown 1.0 hit where I was put on furlough and I had just got divorced. I was living by myself in Hither green, I had no friends (at the time) around me. And I needed a really pure, creative outlet.
So, in April 2020, I ordered something shy of £100 worth of acrylic, got some lining paper and masking tape out. I got to work. I started posting paintings onto instagram and people started taking notice. I was getting reshared on different platforms, people wanted to buy and see my work. I soon realised I was completely compelled to paint. I started writing poetry and prose with almost each piece in August – and I have my first poetry book coming out soon called ‘A Year’!!
Now, over 2 years on, I’ve done 6 or 7 exhibitions, I have an agent, Stefan Becker in London and Galeria Azur whom I work with in Madrid. I’m an artist on a new platform called Interrupted Art run by ex-Tate Acquisitions Stephanie. She’s curated a wonderful group of so many talented artists. I’m painting bigger than ever and really getting comfortable with abstract expression while still running my branding practises with close friend and support Lexi Erhman.
In the longer run, studying Design at Goldsmiths really set me up on how to explore complex ideas, not just in the branding world, but in my own art practice. I don’t regret my decision in education one bit.
// BEING ON YOUR CREATIVE JOURNEY SO FAR, WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WOULD TELL YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
Be brave and be kind to yourself. It really doesn’t matter what anyone else says.
// WHAT’S YOU GO-TO SONG RIGHT NOW (OF 2022)?
I don’t think I really have a go-to song as I usually end up listening to anything in the past 20 years. E.g. anything between and beyond xxyyxx, Joy Crooks, Deftones, &ME, and NWA. However, Tangerine Dreams by Ojerme, and in fact that whole album has been on repeat the past few days. Beautiful voices with deep bass lines is the current vibe.
// WHAT’S A MOMENT OR PIECE OF WORK YOU’RE MOST PROUD OF?
I have a few. I will say though, there is a piece which I finally finished after 5.5 months called ‘The Fucking Sigh’ in my ‘Play’ series. I felt like it was time to do a series around, who would I look and act like or just be if I really just did life without a lot of external commentary.
My previous series ‘Meaning of a Song’ was all about diving into the reasons why various elements of my life had panned out the way they had; from family to astrology to self. ‘Play’ is an acknowledgement of that life and really settling into this energy.
This has meant my work has become a little more challenging to process – for me, there’s a certain level of vulnerability involved when producing abstract expressionist work. The piece is really an arrival of a woman in her 30s, and dismantling what that traditionally has been. When I look at this piece, I want others to feel the joyful, passionate, sensual, sexual, self empowered, give no fucks energy. Because truly at some point, that’s what happened. It’s the best self portrait I’ve ever produced.
The other pieces are ‘The List’, and ‘I Forgot How To Dance’. Both from ‘Meaning of a Song’, and the later was a lovely segway into the ‘Play’ series.
// IF YOU COULD SPEND A DAY & ENJOY DINNER WITH ANY PERSON IN YOUR INDUSTRY TO PICK THEIR BRAINS, WHO WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
I actually had the chance to do the following but I had to ferry art to an exhibition. It is the one and only, Tracy Emin. Marguerite whom I am a member of – this is a private members club for women and non-binary people – who curate these gorgeous events around fashion & art. They had an away visit to Margate to Carl Freedman Gallery, and Tracy Emin was there and invited the group to her studio.
A lot of her work centres around herself. There’s this incredible confidence and narrative around the realness of being a woman without the need to explain her existence in any other way. It’s something that I have been developing in my work for the past 2 years, and really, I think that level of self reassured ‘to just be’ only comes with practise. She’s known for drawing, doing installations, films, you name it. She is such an inspiration to me.
Honourable mentions to Cy Twomby and Nadia Waheed.
// APART FROM ART, WHAT ELSE DO YOU ENJOY DOING? DO THOSE THIGNS INSPIRE YOUR ART IN ANY WAY?
I kind of love the gym. It’s a happy place for me and has nothing to do with my work but it totally sets me up for the day. I am also an astrologer and tarot reader. I don’t do readings but I know an awful lot about transits, what each planet means in what house to what aspect and my work is littered with astrological references as well as astronomical weather, fauna and flora references. I love plants and buy far too many. I try to visit a gallery every 2-4 weeks to get inspired and just to support other artists. I often read philosophy which inspires so much of my poetry and prose writing. I used to cook more than I do now, so I have this huge – and growing – recipe book collection.
// WHAT’S RECENTLY CAUGHT YOUR ATTENTION ON INSTAGRAM / TIKTOK?
I mainly scroll through TikTok and insta reels looking at food and nail trends. The natural fresh, clean nail look has taken off and every now and again, I tell myself I’ll get a set of nude extensions but here I am typing away with my crimson almond shaped nails. I try to keep social media intake ‘light’.
// ON THE BACK OF THIS, IF YOU COULD COLLABORATE WITH ANY BRAND OF YOUR CHOICE, WHICH ONE WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
Probably not a brand, more a gallery, however, I am totally aiming high here – but if you don’t ask you don’t get. So, Unit1, if you are reading this, and my work hits the spot, hit me up.
As for brands, I would love to do a collaboration around anything feminine/female narrative driven as art of a campaign. Maybe it’s Loewe or Diptyque or even The Conran Shop (fun fact, graduate job there). But really, it’s probably Adidas. It seems I’m never not wearing them.
// WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO CONTINUE IN YOUR CRAFT?
In the purest way possible, I am physically and mentally compelled to continue to create. Be it to draw, write, paint, It’s who I am and a reason for living. At the same time, want to show up for the younger me to say, ‘yeah you have a certain background, and with that comes challenges, but here we are, we can totally do this.’ I’m hoping there’s other creative young asian, muslim women out there who look at my work and think ‘yeah I can do this too in my own way’.
// WHAT EXCITING PLANS OR THINGS ARE ON SHUMAIYA’S 2022/23 BUCKET LIST?
I’m actually in the middle of taking 2.5 months off for myself from exhibiting or participating in any event type things so I can actually make art.
Saying that though, I am planning to do a performance based project around my poetry and live painting. Each of the 3-5 canvases is filmed and turned into short films and a few other things – I want to keep the details tight for now. I’m hoping this happens in March.
Myself and friend Olivia Howitt are starting up our Reiki Soundbath & abstract art workshops on a larger scale soon called ‘Become’ where participants will be invited to produce abstract works while meditating.
I’d really love to do a solo show sometime in Spring 2023 too. Now that I’ve said it, I’m like ‘cool, this has to happen now’. Other than that, I should be having a few open studio dates, some art fairs (maybe even a really nice big art fair too) courtesy of Stefan. Some exclusive events I’ll be hosting with Interrupted Art. Maybe a collaboration with a dance studio. And, of course, my first book being released. There’s just a lot of planning happening at the moment. Watch this space.
FOLLOW SHUMAIYA’S JOURNEY
View more at her studio here at www.701.studio