Astad's brush with Adihex continues

ABU DHABI — With only a few days left for the opening of Abu Dhabi International Hunting and Equestrian Exhibition (Adihex), Mohamed Al Astad, a well-known national artist, is spending long evenings at his art studio giving the finishing touches to his latest painting.


Silvia Radan

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Published: Sat 2 Sep 2006, 8:35 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 8:15 PM

Like in previous years, he is going to have an art pavilion at Adihex, displaying various heritage and hunting related paintings.

The artist's latest work shows a young Arab man examining the catch of his falcon.

"I have to finish the wing of the bird, but I have a very good prop for it, which is a real falcon wing," said Al Astad, examining the intricate patterns of the feathers.

Mohamed Al Astad is one of UAE's most prominent artists. He graduated in graphic design and fine arts at the American University in Washington in 1998, which made him the first Emirati student ever to obtain a major in this field.

As soon as he returned from the US, he started working for Dira Al Watan, the UAE Armed Forces magazine.

He then moved to the Emirates Media, where he was the head of graphic design department.

Three years ago, Al Astad opened his own art centre in the heart of Abu Dhabi, called the Artistic Creativity Centre (ACC).

The studio is open to any artist who wishes to study painting, graphic design or photography. "I have really talented and dedicated students here. I normally teach them the basic techniques, which help them express themselves," Al Astad told Khaleej Times.

"The courses last till 9 in the evening, but some students are so passionate, they stay in the studio long after I go," he added.

ACC also organises monthly exhibitions of one or two local artists.

Since 1987 Al Astad is a member of the Emirates Plastic Society in Sharjah and every year he participates in their exhibitions.

His paintings and drawings were, in fact, displayed all across UAE.

The artist also had personal and group exhibitions in the US, UK, India, Morocco and Egypt and his paintings won numerous prizes in various national and international art competitions.

His work reached many royal homes, including that of the late Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and the Custodian of Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia.

Al Astad always had an eye for shape and colour. He remembers starting painting since he was four years old.

"Both my father and my grandfather were boat builders. In fact, this is what my name, Al Astad, means — to make boats. I grew up in Khor Fakkan and as a young boy I used to watch my father and grandfather crafting these beautiful boats."

"One day I started making drawings and when my father saw them, he immediately hung them on the wall."

"This not only made me very proud, but also encouraged me to keep going," revealed the artist.

In school years, the passion took a deeper root.

"I've started taking art classes and I loved painting so much I would stay in the school's studio almost every night, well past midnight. I had to jump the fence all the time, because in the middle of the night the school's gates were closed," recalled the artist.

Al Astad's paintings draw inspiration from reality, which he doesn't copy, but interprets it in an equally personal and creative way. His themes are as varied as they could be — portraits (people, animals or birds), landscapes, seascapes and still life. Whichever the subject, the artist's works are characterised by a powerful line, expression and colour.

John Singer Sargent, a famous American painter, once said: "Every time I paint a portrait I lose a friend".

Al Astad's paintings have quite the reverse effect. He uses warm colours in his portraits of women, thus giving his paintings luminosity and a dream like effect.

On the other hand, men, either famous or ordinary, are portrayed in a more powerful and determined way, using stronger lines and colours, as well as deeper shades.

Of course, many of his subjects are heritage related (falcons or Arabian horses), or they are inspired from UAE scenery, especially the Fujairah coast.

The Gulf wars too and their impact on people's lives filled up many of the artist's canvasses.

The latest Israeli attack on Lebanon and the death of innocent civilians are portrayed in a powerful painting, titled after the Quranic verse: "Why children die?"

"Ever since I returned from United States I wanted to open an art museum here, with exhibitions from local artists, high level art training and a souvenir shop, with catalogues, prints and postcards. This is my dream and I'm still working on it," Al Astad said.

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