Rimi Abu Hussein. Photo by Sander Roscoe Wolff.
Rimi Abu Hussein has a degree in Architectural Technology, so it isn’t surprising that he’s captivated by the beauty of buildings. His hand-drawn illustrations are informed by the training he received at London’s Southbank University, but they somehow transcend technicality and are, without a doubt, fine art. This paradigm is new to him, though, something he discovered intuitively after moving to Long Beach.
His work is currently on display at Modica’s, on the northwest corner of Linden Avenue and Ocean Boulevard, and one of his recent works will soon be hanging in the Mayor’s office.
Long Beach Post: How did you develop an interest in artistic creativity?
Rimi Abu Hussein: My dad always encouraged me to be creative, never making me feel tied into one train of thought. Legos, drawing, going to museums, and reading—especially classics—were central to a lot of things we enjoyed. He also gave me the love of noir films. Growing up watching those, alongside cartoons like superman, really gives you a varied sense of wanting to be creative.
What were your professional aspirations as a child?
It’s probably not a surprise but it went from astronaut to pirate, back to astronaut, then fireman. Doesn’t it always? Eventually, though, once we finished high school I started feeling drawn toward architecture.
Mom having moved to Dubai, and dad and I having living in England, I took in architecture ranging from 1000-year-old cathedrals in York all the way to gleaming towers in Dubai. I just loved buildings! I’d draw them, photograph them, and sketch whenever I got inspired. As often as I could.
What did you study at university?
In England, I got my degree in Architectural Technology. Back then, before the crisis of 2008, the construction sector was booming everywhere. After we graduated, it was all pretty dead, so I went back to doing what I had loved at university: Drawing and designing buildings. But I found myself developing a drawing style that accentuated a building’s shape, exaggerating its form. That lead me to work with increasingly abstract designs. I just loved working with ink, something so magical about seeing your ideas come to life.
Were you able to find a job?
Sadly not. What we were missing was a bridge between us and the companies. We had minimal help from the university in connecting with prospective employers. It was a struggle, to say the least. I’d send out resumes almost every day, not just for architecture work, but for anything from office, administrative, and secretarial jobs. I can type fast! But nothing came about so, in a way, the upside was having time to focus on my artwork. It wasn’t selling at first, so it didn’t make it anything more than a hobby back then.
What did you do, then?
My mom had moved back to Tucson by then, so she asked me to be with her. I moved back, hoping for better chances at starting a life. But I met the same difficulties in getting through to architecture firms. My base degree was pretty much useless, except for the knowledge it gave me maybe with regards to design.
It took a long while, maybe over a year, until I started looking further afield. That’s when I took a chance and came to Long Beach. That’s when, as they say, I found myself. Or rather, friends helped me find myself. My artwork, all of what’s happened since then.
Illustration of the Villa Riviera by Rimi Abu Hussein
How did that happen?
A series of random connections. People all seemed to work together, come together in a way I’d never have imagined possible. I’d been to Long Beach a couple of times and, after that, I’d fallen in love with this city! I’d start drawing things I loved: the Long Beach World Trace Center, the Villa Riviera, the Vincent Thomas Bridge.
On my trips from Tucson to Long Beach, I was taking so many photographs on the way over, here, then all the way back. Maybe 2000 to 3000 shots per trip. A friend here, Sophia, suggested that I set up an Instagram account. That led me to draw the attention of Trebor Nevets, a high end design gallery here on 4th Street. That, in turn, led me to get a job as a freelance designer with them.
Another connection happened because of Bryan Amburgey. He’d advertised about Walls: An ARt Walk, so I contacted him and he accepted my artworks as part of the show. Really that was my first ever “art show.” Those two connections fired off and helped me connect and showcase my work which, in and of itself, opened up doors to so much of what I’m doing now.
One of the most helpful connections was another friend I met, Jemila, who helped with a place to stay. As you can imagine, rent is a major issue. She helped me with having a place to be, to work from. I’m hoping to pay her back for the chance she gave me. If things work out soon I’d like to be able to pay my share, really help out. It’s not often that people go out of their way to give someone starting out like me that kind of chance. All that’s come after that I owe to the help she and others gave me.
I need to mention another person. All my work wouldn’t look half as professional if it weren’t for one last connection: Ms. Kristina Suhr-Williams at Artistic Edge Art & Framing. She did my framing and matting. People notice quality. I knew I had to make my work look the part, otherwise it wouldn’t be taken seriously. She’s helped me so much. I owe her a lot. She’s really done what I doubt a lot of framing gallery owners would have done with someone in my position.
Is there anyone else?
I want to thank one more special person, someone who’s special light has inspired my heart to write & draw beyond anything I could have imagined.
To whom do you refer?
They will know who they are.
Detail of The Current by Rimi Abu Hussein.
Let’s talk about your work. It really does ‘read’ as architectural, at least in spirit, but you also used the word ‘abstraction.’ Can you talk a bit about your process?
For me, it’s always crucial that people are able to immediately recognize the building in my artwork. We had a professor that once said you have three seconds to get people’s attention. After that, it’s hard to do so.
So when I “see” a building, my mind begins to draw lines, intersecting main features, main elements on it that I can highlight. Once I have that base idea in mind I’d begin an outline image. This will sound somewhat strange, but the drawing “talks” in a way. I almost feel the ruler telling me to have lines drawn in certain places, not others. The most important thing for me to keep in mind is that it has to be immediately recognizable. It can be abstract, but not so much so that people can’t distinguish anything out of it.
I’m hoping to expand my works to include landmarks in LA I’m currently working on a piece about the LA Metro, and hoping to develop an abstract/Art Deco idea for the Figueroa Street Tunnels.
What role does color play in your work?
It goes hand in hand with the base image. Buildings like the Villa Riviera, or The Current, have a very distinctive color scheme. I focus on making a palette that is visually identifiable alongside the original building. I can expand the shades, hues of certain colors but, taking The Current as an example, I can’t add things like teal, or purple as those aren’t seen on the building.
I want to give people a building they know, but in a form that makes them want to look closer, see more and more details, like a fractal pattern. The more they focus the more they see.
Illustration of the Queen Mary by Rimi Abu Hussein.
I understand that one of your works will soon be hung in the Mayor’s office. How did that happen?
Mr. Daniel Brezenoff, Deputy Chief of Staff from his office, had attended my show. He contacted me later about the possibility of loaning a print of the piece to the mayor’s office. I couldn’t afford to have a print made, so I decided to loan them my original piece until I replace it with a 36″x 24″ print. Daniel has really been helpful with that. He’s taken an interest, and having met him on the night of my show, he really wanted to find out about my work. He was genuine. Hopefully it’ll be ready sometime this week. We’re also hoping the Mayor’s schedule will allow me to meet him in person to deliver it.
What does this mean for you, personally and professionally?
I hope it’ll be a big step toward getting more exposure, and sharing my work with more people. It’s hard to branch out, to connect. Sadly, you need to know people to be able to find anything. I’m grateful I’ve met so many people that have wanted to help me, that have helped me. You can’t imagine how it feels to know my work is slowly getting out there, that people can see landmarks they’ve always seen, but in a totally new way. Hopefully, my passion may somehow come across to them.
Hussein’s work in in the midst of a 6 month exhibition at Modica’s Deli, which is open Monday through Saturday from 11:00AM to 9:00PM, and on Sunday from 11:00AM to 2:00PM. Hussain’s original and print works are for sale online at VangoArt.co. You can also follow his creative endeavours on Instagram.
Support our journalism.
Hyperlocal news is an essential force in our democracy, but it costs money to keep an organization like this one alive, and we can’t rely on advertiser support alone. That’s why we’re asking readers like you to support our independent, fact-based journalism. We know you like it—that’s why you’re here. Help us keep hyperlocal news alive in Long Beach.