By Mike V. Derderian
Meeting artist, graphic designer and art director Rami Afifi was a bizarre experience. It was like gazing at one of his drawings and posters.
Did I mention it was fun too! An hour and a half was spent on a non-stop conversation about graphic art, drawing, freelancing in Jordan and comics in addition to Jordan’s rising young art scene.
I didn’t press the record button and fire away a flurry of questions as expected during an interview. We talked over beverages at Books@cafe’s terrace where Afifi’s voice was eclipsing the voices coming from surrounding tables.
“I thought you started that thing from the moment we sat! Well, I grew up watching lots of cartoons. I dreamt of being one—a cartoonist. I used to doodle a lot. My mother’s father used to draw caricatures. I thought it would have been cool to do that for a living. Something like creating games and building LEGOS for a living—I am not sure the later is legit!” Afifi started talking with a laugh, “I didn’t think it was going to happen. I told my father and he looked up graphic design which was under engineering so he told me to go for it.”
Long before meeting the creator I met his versatile creations at Foresight Art Center within a collective art exhibition entitled Freshly Squeezed.
I cannot recollect what Afifi wrote about himself in the brochure but I vividly remember loving his misshapen colorful monsters and his style of sublime drawing and graphic design.
A few years later and after a friend of mine invited me to join a social network called Facebook I found Afifi and added him as a friend hoping to meet him in person one day; that day arrived a few days ago.
Afifi wanted to study animation but he soon realized that graphic design was his true passion. “As much as I love drawing I am better at graphic design,” Afifi with a wink stated, “I love to design a character and then give it to an animator. It is easier that way!”
Whether its closed mouths did not hide a set of razor sharp teeth or oversized hands, elongated arms and legs gave it a harmless appearance, a monster is a monster, and believe me you haven’t seen monsters like Afifi’s.
“I just allow my hand and the pencil to guide me through. I don’t lift the pencil off the paper until it is complete. The lines interconnect,” Afifi explained to me how he drew his monsters, “it didn’t take me much time to realize that in addition to drawing them I loved coloring them. It was like going back to childhood coloring basics!”
After graduating from the Arts Institute at Bournemouth in England 2006, and upon returning to Jordan, Afifi joined Leo Burnett as their art director.
“Working at Leo Burnett means my career isn’t my hobby!” Afifi, whose art nowadays can be found on Philadelphia Skateboards, which is the first Arab skateboard shop, launched by Jordanian Skateboarder Mohammed Zakaria, in the Middle East,said with a smile.
Afifi’s parents decided to move from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to Jordan while he was studying graphic art in England. “I am now really comfortable in my life in Jordan. I met a lot of creative people while living here. I am able to do a lot of stuff that I wouldn’t have been able to do if I lived abroad,” Afifi said, adding that Jordan has a budding art scene that revolves around the big fish small pond principle.
Still Afifi acknowledged that sometimes the best laid plans aren’t the best at all. “Initially I wanted to work as a freelancer in Amman but after doing it for a while I didn’t want to do it anymore. Freelance has a lot of politics involved, convincing and trying to get paid. As art director I don’t deal with a client directly. Someone else does that and gets back to me,” Afifi admitted.
Afifi has so far designed six Philadelphia skateboard decks that have attained international fandom among avid local and international skateboarders.
Two of these decks have his bizarre signature monstrous creations, another has a mustachioed man wearing a cape holding a crooked boomerang, and the fourth is called The Three Wise Men, which showcases the faces of three mustachioed men wearing Arabian headpieces that are arranged vertically across the deck.
The new wave, a three deck collection, that was completed a few weeks ago reflect some of the Middle East’s funny clichés like a gray donkey with a word bubble that says “my camel’s in the garage.” The second deck has the hairy chest of an Arab man revealed through an unbuttoned shirt, while the third has seven sticks of dynamite that appear to be attached to the deck with the phrase, “Philadelphia is the bomb.”
Anything that promotes local culture is of interest to Afifi. The young artist has designed posters for local and international musicians and bands like Ramallah Underground.
If you were present during Go Nagai’s recent visit to Jordan and appearance that took place at the Royal Film Commission you would have probably caught glimpse of a mustachioed young man handing Go Nagai a poster of Grendizer waving a Palestinian flag; well that was Afifi.
“I had two exhibitions in England before the one in Foresight. Some of the pieces that I exhibited made it to Computer Arts Magazine, which was at the time the number one creative magazine.”
As we talked about the amazing cover art and artwork of Preacher, a series by writer Garth Ennis and artist Steve Dillon, Afifi acknowledged that he is a big comic and graphic novel fan. Preacher, 100 Hundred Bullets, Kick Ass, Watchmen, and All Star Superman, are among the 100 and more comics and graphic novels that he owns and that he advises comics and graphic novels fans to read.
From where does he draw inspiration? “I am inspired by many things in life but I cannot imagine how some people can work without listening to music, which happens to be one of my main sources of inspiration!”
So any upcoming projects? “There are so many projects that I am working on at the moment like art exhibitions and other creative stuff that I cannot talk about it yet,” Afifi concluded.
Well, keep a lookout for Amman’s cultural calendar entries for who knows when we might all end up singing a different version of The Automatic’s Monster, ” What’s that coming over the hill? Is it a Rami Afifi monster? Is it a Rami Afifi poster?”
To learn more about Rami Afifi and his art jump down the rabbit hole [go online]: