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Bassam Jabry on Art

Even design professionals need to expend their creative energy somewhere.

“Art is my way of entering a universe unconstrained by rules, where it’s all about experimenting,” declares Bassam Jabry, creative director of design consultancy Chemistry. For someone whose job is to come up with new ideas, and who oversees an award-winning design team to boot, the statement seems to lack self-awareness.

That is, until he clarifies: “Art lets me be creative without, what we call, the client brief.”

The 40-year-old Scot of Syrian heritage paints and has 13 works in oil and acrylic under his belt. They hang in his Tanjong Katong home and depict his interests that range from Dharmic religions to jazz music and Arabic calligraphy.

It’s a hobby he’s had for over two decades – one which blossomed when he embraced art as an A-level subject when growing up in the UK. He moved to Singapore fresh out of university in 1997 to work as a product designer for Dutch electronics company Philips. Within four years, he won the prestigious Dutch Good Industrial Design Award, for the affordable Diva iron targeted at emerging markets.

Despite such accolades, he left for Chemistry in 2002 to pursue a creative career beyond the corporate straitjacket. Still, the client brief plays a big part. He says: “Work has a lot of constraints. Life has a lot of rules. Painting is a way of exercising my creative muscles without restrictions.”

Today, he doesn’t have a fixed painting routine, preferring to work in bursts when inspired. This usually happens when he returns from travels around Asia, as his pieces on Hindu deity Ganesha and Buddha will attest. A single painting can take anywhere from six hours to a few weeks, depending on how inspired he is.

His latest work, though, is no painting. He uses metal mesh to form the word “peace” in Arabic shaped like a dove – abandoning the paint medium for the first time, in his spirit of being experimental.

“Sometimes, the medium itself can shock the system more than the painting style or the subject,” says Jabry. “That’s the beauty of art. Everything is possible.”