Who would be an artist? Long hours, little money, criticism… Oxford Brookes alumnus, Saad Qureshi ‘07 has faced up to the challenges of a life that chose him – and emerged as a confident, thoughtful and optimistic artist.
With two weeks to go until his degree show Saad was feeling very confident about his work – perhaps too confident. It was then that his tutor, Janice Howard, intervened.
“‘I hate it,’ she said, ‘it’s just not working.’ I was shocked. I was so convinced it was good,” recalls Saad before adding; “But you know what? She was right. I had to rethink and the final piece really was good. I still use images of it in my presentations today.”
Now, ten years after that installation – More Apparent Than Real – was displayed in the Richard Hamilton Building, Saad has been invited back to make a permanent commission, Assembly, five bird-like creatures for the Central Courtyard at Oxford Brookes.
Saad explains the ideas behind it: “It looks at Brookes as a nest and how it offers students mental flight. As an institution, it gives them wings, then sets them free to fly on to their next destination once they have achieved their goals here.”
When he flew the Brookes nest after gaining a BA in Fine Art, Saad worked for a year at Modern Art Oxford and then studied at the Slade School of Fine Art for his master’s, before becoming a full-time artist. But he credits a lot of his subsequent success to what he learned here.
“Brookes taught me that I can use art as a visual language to express my ideas. And I have lots of ideas,” he smiles, “so that was a game changer for me. In the last ten years I’ve visited and taught in many art colleges – and there is no other like Brookes. We have our own identity.”
However, his first impressions had not been so good. Having grown up in Bradford and the first of his family to attend university, Saad arrived at Oxford Brookes in September 2004 with high expectations.
Those expectations quickly turned to disappointment. “I didn’t understand what they were trying to get me to do. They were teaching art as a communication tool and I just thought, what is this rubbish?”
Saad nearly left at the end of his first year but just as she would two years later, Janice Howard changed his mind – “she made me see things in a totally different light.”
As a full-time artist, Saad’s first big breakthrough was a solo show in London. It was an intense experience for him – with ups and downs.
“I threw everything I had at that show, working round the clock and it was good. I liked it then and still do but the reviewer from Time Out London could not have hated it more!” He shakes his head at the memory, as if he still can’t quite believe it. “I remember thinking ‘Oh my God, this person hates my work. What can I do?’ But of course I couldn’t do anything. I just had to pick myself up and move on.”
He certainly has moved on – with subsequent shows in New York as well as throughout the UK.
For Saad, art is not just a profession or vocation – it’s an entire way of life. He typically works from eight in the morning until ten at night. Indeed, one of the things he fondly remembers from his time at Brookes is that the studio was open 24 hours a day. Perhaps surprisingly though, being an artist is not something he would recommend.
“This may shock you but if I had the choice, I would not be an artist,” he admits. “Instead I would do something that gives me stability, and the time to do things that normal people enjoy doing but I’ve never had that option. I didn’t choose to be an artist. I just am an artist.”
Earning a living from his art is an issue, but at the same time beside the point. “It’s a challenge, to be honest. At this stage it’s not about making money, it’s about making good work and putting it out there. You need to build up a name and critical respect.”
For anyone brave enough to want to be an artist, Saad has very clear advice: “You need to give it 100% and you need to be patient.”
He is confident that Oxford Brookes will continue to produce artists of quality and relevance. He was proud to help select works by Brookes students to be purchased for display on campus, and says of his alma mater, “Brookes has a signature style: we are of here and now – and of the future!”
Photography by Paul Tait
You can see the student works selected by Saad by booking a campus tour.
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