Faisal AlKheriji’s creative journey began at the age of six, when his mother enrolled him in a drawing institute with his sister in Jeddah. It was a simple school, in the residence of the artist Ola Hijazi. “It greatly impacted my love for art, which then continued to develop and grow with time,” he recalls. Slowly but surely, art became more than a hobby. Today, the cultural legacy of Saudi is present in all his works, and while AlKheriji is referred to as the Saudi Picasso for his cubist-style paintings, he is very keen to pass on his own message of heritage.
This is visible through characters, their narratives, and the history present in each drawing. “I recently started relating to different traditional costumes, where I explained in each drawing the name, origin, and story because much of the legacy may not be known. I am still learning so much through my research in culture, customs, traditions, and fashion,” he shares. “Explaining their story while showing their beauty in my work helps spread knowledge and preserve heritage and culture.”
AlKheriji’s work comes to life in his atelier. “Well, that’s actually funny. I don’t have a studio; I have a workspace,” chuckles the artist. While in Boston pursuing studies in business administration, he maintained a workspace in his small apartment. Upon returning to the Kingdom, he used his basement and “man cave” to create his pieces. “When people walk in, they can view my artworks that are displayed throughout the basement in a nice and neat way. I like to keep my workspace small and have my colors and brushes close,” he reveals. “I usually paint at night, alone while listening to music. I’m not comfortable being surrounded by anyone. I need to be fully focused and there are many distractions during the day.”
In December last year, AlKheriji partnered with luxury watch brand Richard Mille to showcase his fine art in Riyadh. The partnership included installations of an immersive and a multidimensional experience with AI and leap motion technologies. Attendees flooded the exhibition, giving Faisal a chance to meet visitors personally. “It was more than I could have asked for,” he says. The partnership was an eye-opener for the artist, who now considers the endless possibilities that AI can offer. “We started brainstorming different ideas and how AI can help. We discussed deconstructing and multilayering images – where you zoom in and out of a painting.” He also recommended artworks that could work best with each idea. These were then selected by Richard Mille’s team alongside the agency in charge of the creative work. Lastly, the team conducted a review with any of AlKheriji’s comments, to polish the desired results. “I think Richard Mille was the perfect partner to do this project with,” he adds. “I couldn’t have done it without them because I don’t have the expertise for that.” Throughout the process, his original works weren’t affected; they conveyed the same, initial messaging.
That message is a passion for culture. “It’s a huge inspiration of mine and I love it,” admits the artist. “I also love the fact that you can display it creatively in various ways, and that’s what I try to do.” In 2014, AlKheriji began incorporating elements related to it in his work. “I try to represent my culture in the best way possible. I try to show the world what our country has to offer, including the rich roots that we have in tradition.” He stresses the importance of the human hand. “AI can complement [authentic art], but don’t let it take over art. Let’s keep it creative. There’s no harm in using AI in art; but keep a human touch to it,” he says.
Now, after the success of his solo exhibition where almost all his paintings sold, he says he looks to elevate his work further. Faisal has recently married and is planning to organize two working areas in his new home. One to display his art in an immaculate way so that visitors can enjoy it without the mess. The other is a small workspace, where all the magic happens. “Moving forward, I plan to do different sizes of paintings, have collections, and create more sophisticated art. My next phase will be much better.”
Originally published in the June 2023 issue of Vogue Arabia