DALLAS - When we first met Waleed Arshad last year, the Iraqi artist was working at Wal-Mart, and dreaming of the day he could return to his native Baghdad.
Today, the man living in exile is painting with a new perspective. "Before, my painting was like, sad story. Now, it is more hopeful," Arshad explains.
Arshad quit his job in January to devote more time to his craft. With a new canvas came a new appreciation for life in Dallas. "I had one painting, and I changed it...I need to [make it] more beautiful...I enjoy this life here."
The artist says his day to day life changed after viewers watched his story on WFAA-TV. "A lot of people [recognize] me in Wal-Mart and Whole Foods...my daughter, at school, [classmates] ask 'is your dad the artist?' It makes me so excited, I have big responsibility."
His responsibility is to make something beautiful for Dallas. Previous works featured a traffic light where he was waiting -- waiting in exile to go home. Now, there are new colors, and a new purpose.
"The difference now is waiting; waiting is for, like small home. Iraqi refugees need to own home, not rent."
Arshad's new vision quickly caught the eye of Craighead Green Gallery in Dallas, which offered him a first launch.
"The meaning, what he's been through, [is] something most of us have never experienced; and to share that message, along with beautiful artwork...that's what really got, kind of tugged at us to make this happen," says gallery owner Kenneth Craighead.
Craighead says he believes in Waleed Arshad, and sees something new in his work that was not there when they met in 2009. Back then, Arshad could barely speak English. Now, he is speaking English, and embracing his life in north Texas.
The gallery owner sums it up like this: "To me, and this goes back to such a personal opinion. To me, there's a little bit of humor in his work that wasn't there before...it's not as heavy...I feel that there's more life in it, there's more color. And, to me, when you put all those things together, it equals happy."
Now that Arshad's work is about to debut, he has one more thing to wait for. "Mostly I'm waiting for the people, [their reaction] to the exhibit. I'm so excited. I'm waiting."
Waleed Arshad's first launch opens to the public Thursday, March 8, 5:30 p.m. at Craighead Green Gallery. WFAA-TV will be there, and will unveil his final transformation to viewers in the coming days. Stay tuned.