All for the Love of Art

Bashar Al Shroogi, the founder of Cuadro gallery, talks about art and some of his other private passions

21 Mar 2014 words by Sandra Lane in The Lifestyle

As with many people who find their real vocation, Bashar Al Shroogi took 'the long way' to get there. He studied art history, trained in architecture, lived in Spain and was a banker before coming back to art. now, through Cuadro, his not-for-profit gallery, he aims to promote and support art in the region. All proceeds from the sale of works go towards Cuadro's Artist in Residence programmes and to support art education.

The genesis of Cuadro goes back a long way. "my parents always had an interest in art," bashar says. "they collected and my mother supported artists, albeit in an ad hoc way. When i lived in Spain i developed an affinity with artists in the region and got to know some collectors. Then, at a certain point, I decided to formalise my interest. I chose this location because it is a big space, and it's right in the middle of the financial district."

Having left the formal dress codes of banking behind, Bashar's style now veers from smart casual via tailored suits to thobes: "ties are my big no-no but I often wear a scarf, even to formal events. my look changes very little from day to evening - a scarf can be all it takes - so i always keep a collection to hand. Something i learnt as a banker is that socks are a good way to express one's identity - I amassed a huge collection and have never stopped. Contrary to the adage that you should never give socks as a gift, I love getting them!

For his thobes - invariably bespoke - bashar goes to omar Azure in Jeddah: "He designs some fun styles, slightly tweaked and modernised. I like to mix up tailored and off-the-peg clothing. I have a tailor in Dubai and one in London for my suits - and no, I'm not going to tell you who it is. It already takes such a long time to get things back!"

For Bashar the process of bespoke "is almost like art; the connection with the craftsman making the thing is so valuable. It can get addictive - as with my collection of cufflinks. Nadine Kanso has made me some, and I commission them from another jewellery designer too, often using found items, such as pebbles from the beach."

Bashar surrounds himself with beautiful and whimsical objects that he switches between his home and office. Tribal dolls sit with vintage cameras and sunglasses, well-weathered bags and leather-bound notebooks.

Art is a different matter and, despite his passion for bespoke, he never commissions it. "There's a big difference between my own collection and what I show in the gallery. For the gallery I am very rigorous in my choices: my starting point is always 'what do we want to say to the community here?' Artists and their work are historic markers so it's important to assess their work in a wider context. "My own collection is quite structured; when i add works it is to support a certain story line. Having structure is important: when you see a piece you need to ask 'how will it add to the overall collection and its story?' Contemporary art says a lot about you because you are buying into a concept, becoming a patron of the artist and his message."

My greatest pleasure in life is the unexpected things that people do for you - even the smallest gift counts for such a lot when it is given freely and for no reason other than that the person is thinking of you. 

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