Sketching a journey of rediscovery

(Photo courtesy of Shayer Rahman)

By Gavin Michaelson 
Medill Reports

Stuck in Los Angeles traffic for up to four hours a day, architect Shayer Rahman, 34, paused his passion: sketching. But the pandemic gave him the gift of time, and he revived his artistry.

(Photo courtesy of Shayer Rahman)

“I started drawing before I could talk,” Rahman said. “I got my first training from my mother. She’s not an artist, but she would draw, and I would trace her drawings and writing. I never had any art training — it just came naturally.”

Blurring the lines between iconic generational styles, inspired by the concepts of creatives from the past and present, paired with his raw primitive strokes, Rahman, the face behind RAHM — a shortened version of his last name to represent his artistic persona — will debut his first exhibition Sunday at Wicker Park’s Epic Art House, an event free for all.

Raised in Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital known for its culture and art festivals, Rahman felt encouraged to explore his gift. He competed in events, even earning certificates and awards for his creative endeavors in school.

But once Rahman entered university, life got in the way. He had to shift his focus to his studies and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in architecture from American International University in Bangladesh in 2012.

“Architects do a lot of drawings, but they are very technical drawings,” Rahman said. “In the very beginning, you can call on that inner artist who can do the concept. But at a certain point, it becomes very technical. You cannot afford to fall outside of the margin of error, every measurement must be perfect. Oftentimes you don’t get a chance to explore that artistic side of you.”

(Photo courtesy of Shayer Rahman)

After working as an architect for three years, he eventually decided to go back to school, move across the world to Burbank, California, and get his master’s degree in architecture from Woodbury University.

Rahman credits his mother and his wife, Mushfika Maknun (Jenny), for sparking and reigniting his passion for art. Shayer and Mushfika have known each other for nearly 23 years from school. However, they truly became close in about 2006, when they shared a class in high school. The two quickly hit it off as friends, but Rahman realized he wanted to be with her for the rest of their lives. They attended separate universities, but he proposed.

“She said she would marry me,” Rahman said. “But she said I would have to work hard for her. I was very sad that she didn’t agree immediately, but I told myself that I will get that yes.”

He did. The two married in 2014.

“After moving across the world, getting married and starting my career as an architectural designer, I knew it was time to slow down and make time for myself again,” Rahman said. “For the last couple of years, I’ve been trying to recall those feelings, that mentality, those habits.”

For Rahman, it all comes full circle. In the early stages of his life, his mother always encouraged him to discover himself through his creations. Later, his wife helped guide and support his journey back into the world of art.

A creation by Shayer Rahman called “Temporal Territories” to which he credits Stan Allen’s “Field Condition” as inspiration. (Photo courtesy of Shayer Rahman)

“My wife is not an artistic person,” Rahman said. “However, she has always pushed my boundaries. She would constantly make the trip to Michaels with me — talking about the fineness of pens, the quality of paper — it’s wonderful to have someone like her.”

Since last year, Rahman’s art production rate has skyrocketed as he created more pieces to add to his collection daily. He is exploring and crossing boundaries like never before — exploring historical and modern styles, including impressionism, constructivism, surrealism and, unexpectedly, comics.

“In architecture, our work has to be very precise,” Rahman said. “The margin of error is extremely narrow. When it comes to drawing, you can do the same thing, but you have the freedom to explore unique styles and techniques.”

Aside from Rahman’s mother and wife, Josh Sanabria, the director of Epic Art House in Chicago, is one of the most influential people in his life.

Sanabria and Rahman met in 2017 while working at architectural firm DLR Group. Sanabria admires the traits Rahman shares with his own father.

“My dad is an artist too,” Sanabria said. “They have the same kind of personality where they do not always know how to show it and do not always feel confident. I’ve always encouraged (Rahman) to promote his work on Etsy and Instagram, but this is the first time I have been able to directly help him promote his work.”

The bond they share has motivated Rahman to show his work to the world.

“Josh has always encouraged my artwork,” Rahman said. “One day when I was showing him a series of my work, he asked me to send him some scanned copies, which he even framed in his home.”

The next thing Rahman knew, Sanabria was asking him to put together a debut exhibition in Chicago. Rahman jumped at the opportunity.

“Seeing my mom and wife happy about the exhibition, I knew I wasn’t alone,” Rahman said. “People are out there for me.”

“Primitive Meets Generative” will be held at Epic Art House in Wicker Park on Sunday from 4-7 p.m. The exhibition will feature eight to 10 unique pieces that showcase diverse interpretations of architecture, urbanism and even personal explorations from Rahman’s inner psyche and his growth as a creator. 

“You always see yourself growing, especially when you’re happy and do what you love,” Rahman said.

Gavin Michaelson is a social justice graduate student at Medill. You can follow him on Instagram at gavin_mi.