From a starry background to creating constantly changing art, time spent with Morocco-born, Chelsea-based artist Ghizlan El Glaoui is never dull
Words: Mark Kebble
We owe it all to Sir Winston Churchill. ‘He came to my grandfather’s office in Marrakech and saw one of the horses painted by my father behind a desk and asked who did it. My grandfather said, “It was my son, he’s crazy, he wants to go and study art when I want him to do politics”. Sir Winston, though, convinced my grandfather to let him study – and so he did.’
Born in Morocco in 1969, Ghizlan El Glaoui’s grandfather was the last Pasha of Marrakech no less, and after the intervention of one of our most beloved Prime Ministers, her father went on to become the renowned Moroccan artist Hassen El Glaoui. Glancing to my right, one of his celebrated horse paintings is hanging proudly from the wall, surrounded by the artwork of his daughter, whose studio just off Glebe Place in Chelsea I find myself in today.
Considering her background, was it a cast-iron guarantee that El Glaoui would follow in her father’s footsteps? ‘No, it was not advised,’ she laughs. ‘Our mum wanted us to be lawyers or doctors. She came from the modern Givenchy years where everybody was artistic, and her father was also artistic, but she felt there was so much talent out there that very few could succeed in a career as an artist.’
El Glaoui’s father, however, was a clear exception. ‘I grew up in the art room,’ she grins. ‘I was able to watch one of the masters paint from since I can remember. I ended up wanting to express myself artistically.’
My portraits change throughout the day,’ El Glaoui points out. ‘It is a piece of artwork, but also an installation that changes during the day
El Glaoui went on to study Arts at the Académie Charpentier and developed a style influenced by her father in the use of light and colour – and gave her a USP in this most competitive of worlds. Following a ‘golden ratio’ method of painting – ‘Mathematically creating a portrait on canvas,’ El Glaoui says – her work adopted a squaring method.
Add to this the fact she painted on the opposite side of the canvas, as she ‘doesn’t like painting on white’, and it gave her the idea to use backlights through the canvas. Working with a lighting designer, she uses a mix of remote controlled warm and cold light, so that when backlit, the light filters through the canvas to create a translucent effect and an ever-changing image.
‘My portraits change throughout the day,’ El Glaoui points out. ‘It is a piece of artwork, but also an installation that changes during the day.’
Her studio is the perfect place to see her work in its full glory. It’s a wonderful day outside and sun pours in through the glass ceiling above us, illuminating all of the work around me. In the course of the 90 minutes I spend with El Glaoui, when the sun dips behind a cloud, the artwork around me does indeed look different. It’s compelling and utterly beguiling.
‘Mosaics are part of my family’s legacy,’ she says on the portraiture style. ‘They are in my mind when I paint, bringing me back to my roots and the art, culture and colours of Morocco.’ And it’s all thanks to Sir Winston Churchill.
Ghizlan El Glaoui’s paintings are available with a range of framing options and as large scale installations. Prices start from £300-£10,000. Visit Glebe Garden Gallery, Chelsea SW3 5JE or see ghizlanelglaoui.com