APPRECIATION & INTERVIEW
Bashir Sultani and the art of transformation
Animation student Bashir Sultani uses non-traditional media like table salt, pencils and folded paper to make surprisingly clever pop culture portraits. His recent “never-ending” portrait of Breaking Bad’s Walter White (featured above) is the perfect combination of subject matter, media and technology. The 29-year-old was kind enough to talk with us from his home base at Seneca College in Toronto about the theme of transformation, the perils of using unusual media and why filming the act of making his art is critical to the end result.
You’re a self-taught artist. When did you start experimenting with and creating art?
I always used to draw, even before high school. I was sketching my classmates and making art projects for our class. I love to create and use any media that’s around. Mostly, I appreciate traditional art – when you have just a pencil and an idea. I like an idea or message more than drawing itself.
A lot of your work features transformation & evolution – loose salt transforms into portraits, portraits on pencils or paper transform into other portraits. Why is transformation or change central to your art?
I like the effect of surprise – when the audience doesn’t know what to expect.
Naturally, Walter White is a perfect subject for this theme. You’ve done several pieces featuring him. What do you like most about the character?
Walter White is a legendary character. He is powerful and inspiring. I often make drawings of notable characters from movies and TV, but he is one of the best so far. Especially, when you can see his transformation through the show.
What do you like most about Breaking Bad?
I like the idea of getting over your fears and taking responsibility for your life.
Your work predominantly features pop culture subjects? Why pop culture and how do you pick your subjects?
Pop culture (and art in general) always inspires people. A great actor or a talented musician change lives and brings joy. It’s always interesting to create portraits of great people. Not just famous, but really notable characters whose appeal spans generations.
I first became familiar with you through your salt portraits? Why salt. It’s a very unusual medium.
Salt is a very easily available medium. It’s the most common spice and not costly at all.
What tools do you use when making a salt portrait? How long does it take to create one?
I use just any piece of sharp paper, fine white salt and blackboard. I sometimes use colored salt. Each salt drawing typically takes about 2-3 hours, but larger ones can take up to 5 hours.
What’s the hardest part of working with salt?
The hardest part is to make sure to move your hands carefully, especially when it comes to creating portrait. A simple mistake can ruin hours of work. Also, the fact that you have camera above is tricky. I try my best to create so that everything can be seen by the camera. If I’m not happy with the result, I redo everything again.
Which portraits are your favorites?
I think it’s true with any artist when they like their latest work. I like my Breaking Bad portrait of Walt & Jesse. That was challenging because it was the first time I made two portraits in one piece and it was really large. I also like my Martin Luther King Jr., which took me 8 hours.
Let’s talk about some of your recent work. Lately you’ve doing these transformation pieces using pencils. Again, that’s an unusual choice. Why pencils?
I was thinking about the Joker character from The Dark Knight and how to create something fresh. In the Joker’s pencil trick scene, which is one of the most recognizable scenes, I thought about how I can use a pencil to make Joker portrait, but not just draw like many other artists already done. That’s when I first came up with the idea of making art using different sides of pencils as a surface.
You’ve also been making these paper-folding transformation portraits. The Walter White one was masterful. What do you call these?
I saw these paper flexagons and never-ending cards on YouTube, and thought of using it to make pop culture characters, just like I thought about pencils.
What’s the process for making one of these? How long does it take to make one?
Flexagons are easy to make. There are many tutorials on YouTube. It takes about a half hour to make one. They’re very simple, but fun.
The internet & digital technologies are an important tool for an artist like yourself because videos or animated gifs can help reveal the transformation. It’s like there’s two parts of your art – there’s the creation of the art, but then there’s the filming and distribution of it. Can you talk about that part of your process?
We see amazing art all around and people always want to know how the artist created them. They want to see the process from beginning to end. Unfortunately, often you see a super realistic drawing, but the artist cannot show how it’s done. It’s very difficult to show how something is made. Artists that film the process of their work will agree. When I started posting my videos on YouTube, I wanted to show the process, but my main concern was that I should make it entertaining to watch.
What advice can you give other artists who are thinking about trying work like yours? I’m just beginner artist, and I have so much to learn.
Advice? Well, don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be shy to share you art, because your art is only done when it’s seen by others. Challenge yourself. Always take notes when you have any ideas.
What’s next for your art? Have any new media in mind?
I am planning to learn animation. That is something I always wanted to make. I have endless ideas, so there are endless opportunities.
Follow Bashir: YouTube: Salt Art / YouTube: Pencil Art / Tumblr / Facebook / Twitter
– Interview by Shayne Bowman, Heisenberg Chronicles