“Searching for the Blue” is a series of portraits conceived during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, its origins can be traced back to my final days in Alexandria, Virginia. The night before I was to return to my native Palestine, I looked carefully at my belongings. Much to my chagrin, I came to the realization that I would not be able to bring my full set of art supplies. Thus, I decided to give them away to my friends. As I held the last tubes of paint in my hand, I recognized that my love of blue exceeded my sense of generosity. Suddenly, the dictum of German-American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe popped into my head: “less is more.” At that moment, I made a compromise with myself; the ultramarine blue, the titanium white, and the ivory black acrylics would make the journey back home with me. I wasn’t sure how this limited color palette would inform my artistic practice, but I was optimistic that I could create something.
On March 5th, 2020, the Palestinian authority declared a national state of emergency due to the rapid spread of COVID-19. During lockdown, I transitioned to working remotely from home. Searching for something to do with my extra time, I sought out the suitcase that housed the remainder of my art supplies from the States. As I quietly contemplated the three colors, a flash of inspiration came to me: a series of portraits. Seeking the spirit of collaboration during a time of isolation, I decided to work with photographers who shared copyright-free images of their photos on various websites. In my portraits based on these works, I strove to capture an impression—not a likeness—using systematic brushstrokes, the bluish tones acting as a common ground between people of all backgrounds. This is especially important to me as a Palestinian. I believe that the search for connections with other cultures and people is a fundamental element of our shared humanity, which, in turn, allows us to bridge divides. Working with limited resources made me realize that anyone can use anything and everything at their disposal to create art, to express themselves. Despite one’s circumstances or lack of materials, the impulse to create always seems to shine through.