After meeting final-year fine art student Tareq de Montfort at a 1 Granary party a while ago, I knew this guy was something special. You could feel it from how he spoke, what he was wearing, even from the way he danced. So when I met up with him for an interview, I was ready to be blown away. Seven hours and a couple of bottles of wine later, we had discussed using 24-carat gold facial scrub, growing up at his family’s museum in Kuwait, having the potential to be divine, the fact that red lipstick mimics a swollen vulva, doing Beltane rituals at Luisa Casati’s grave, the line between fantasy and reality, creating drawings of huge orgies, and pretty much everything in between. Just in case you were wondering – yes, I was blown away. And I came to the conclusion that Tareq is an – incredibly eloquent – Arabian storytelling prince. Which means two things: one, Tareq knows how to tell a tale and is a rather brilliant writer (he was nominated for an erotica award for a book he wrote at the age of 17); two, Tareq is a fountain of knowledge and has a lot to say about A LOT of things (in the most enchanting way possible). So I decided to let Tareq tell the story. Here is what he believes in and stands for, in his own words.
The main theme of your work is beauty. What is your definition of beauty and why is it so important to you and your work?
There is a hierarchy of beauty; it has many different forms so it cannot be defined easily. The best way I can put it is that at the bottom of the spectrum are things like vanity and material beauty and at the top are things such as kindness, compassion, empathy. I call these two sides earthly beauty and divine beauty. In my hierarchy the lower forms are interchangeable depending on the attitude and context. For example, if someone wears certain clothes in order to be ‘cool’ then they are appealing to a lower form of beauty than someone who wears an outfit for pure personal pleasure and expression.
Beauty is important to my work because it is my work. It has been damaged by artists and intellectuals and philosophers and I want to revive it. The penultimate goal is to reach for the divine which is the highest form of beauty; compassion is part of that height, as is serenity. Things that great spiritual followers such as Buddhist monks can achieve.
Could you explain what you mean by beauty through destruction?
Beauty through destruction has its roots in a Japanese idea called Wabi Sabi. For example, when a porcelain vase breaks and it is put back together and the cracks filled with gold, a new item of beauty has been created. I have destroyed myself in many ways, body and mind, reputation and relationships; who I am as a result is something I love and consider beautiful, but this is not vanity, it’s far more complicated than that banal form of beauty.
You are fighting for romanticism as a human right. Why is that? Is romanticism not part of today’s world?
I am fighting for romanticism as a human right because I believe we all deserve and have the potential to live our ideals. Romanticism can be found if you look for it but it does not hold much respect or merit. Romanticism is about reaching for an ideal and idealists are generally ridiculed or not taken seriously. Society has become too rational and concrete and this is not benefitting us. In the 19th century the romantic revolution infiltrated not only art but also politics. With the problems going on today I believe that romanticism has much to teach us and most importantly gives us hope for a better world.
You’re on a quest for ecstasy and will settle for no less. Could you explain what that means and how it translates into the fantasy you plan to turn into reality?
Ecstasy is a rapture in the contemplation of divine things, the things that embody the meaning of the greatest and the good. I have tasted delirious elixirs of pleasure and happiness, physically as well as mentally, earthly and decadent as well as divine and humble. I am on a quest for ecstasy because I know how it feels. The ‘fantasy’ I plan to turn into reality is manifesting my ideals and dreams. For my own sake but also to prove for others that it is possible and that they should go for it. But I am a rational romantic, I am very aware of reality and this is why I take pleasure even in the ‘bad’ or ‘hard’ things; I take control by putting them to use. I wish to create my life and person to fulfil my insatiable desire of how I want to be.
I’ve seen some of your massive drawings of orgies – where do they come from? What is the difference between art and porn?
The drawings of orgies have a cultural narrative. They are derived from my visions of The Perfumed Garden, the fifteenth century arab Kama Sutra. I wish to give back the Arab-Islamic world an art of sexuality, eroticism and sensuality. Something that has not been allowed to us due to conservatism and fundamentalism. Islam and Arabia are in fact very sexually charged and have a long history with sensuality and romanticism, but this relationship has been sullied; I wish to take the dangerous step of promoting Arab sensuality and eroticism. The difference between art and porn is determined by the context and manner in which it is communicated.
Where else does your work come from?
My work comes from my life and communion with the gods and goddesses. At different times it comes from different places. Right now it comes from a wild creature living in Vienna who abducts a lost prince; he rips off the jewels and fur and silk of the prince, who adorns himself with such things as armour. The prince finds great pleasure in being stripped and now craves this abductor even though he is aware of the destruction it can bring.
Which other artists have influenced you?
The Pre Raphaelites, firstly with their lives and ideas, then with their art, Damien Hirst with his enigma. And Rene Lalique, the artistic genius of glass/jewellery sculpture of the early 20th century with his other-worldly creations.
Do you ever worry about being original or contemporary?
That depends on who is deciding what is original and contemporary. I am original and I am contemporary. I am also the past and I am also the future; I am also timeless.
You’re from Kuwait and grew up in your family’s museum – how do you think your background has influenced your work?
Growing up around a vast wealth of stories, culture and art shows it self in my works’ aesthetic as well as my character (which is also part of my ‘work’). My creative priorities come from having grown up around a museum. The desire to create beauty as well as discuss it comes from my passionate relationship with artefacts in the museum. My desire to create sculpture that uses jewellery and craft is owed to the museum and our collection. My ambition is to achieve a skill worthy of being associated with the craftsmen who made those things who were my friends as a child.
You say the Arab world needs to develop – in what way do you think that should happen?
The Arab world needs to be more open-minded and begin a development of acceptance of those that don’t follow the status quo and the obvious things such as differing sexualities and ‘eccentricities’. But this is true for everywhere in the world.
Where do you think your unapologetic self-confidence came from? Have you always been this confident?
Yes, I have always been this confident. My family background has been a major influence on this; from them I have definition and complete self-possession. I know who and what I am and this knowledge is the essence of confidence. Confidence was also a tool of survival; I owe it much. Life was dangerous for me in Kuwait and rather submit to those who wanted to hurt me I won battles with my posture, poise and presence. And I continue to embrace it because it has been good to me. I also do what I love and when you surround yourself with what you love and those you love your confidence grows.
Tareq’s work can be viewed at the BA Fine Art degree show from 25 to 29 May, for more info on opening times go to http://www.csm.arts.ac.uk/about/degreeshows2013/show1/.