Design maestro

“Painting, for me, is a natural act that requires no particular source of inspiration,” says Dr Taha Al Douri, an Iraqi artist and architect living in the UAE.

By Raziqueh Hussain

Published: Fri 17 Dec 2010, 10:42 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 1:24 PM

“In other words, I respond with painting to matters that someone else would respond to with words, with a song, with a conversation, or any other response. Art is a response to the various stimuli that life presents in its course. The beauty of art is in its documentary nature where a work of art could be visited time and again each time with a new vision and perspective,” says the artist who is the assistant dean at the School of Architecture and Design at the New York Institute of Technology, Abu Dhabi.

The artworks of Dr Al-Douri showcase the artist’s gradual evolution over the years. Progressing through a classical phase in which most of his work revolved around experiments in anatomy, illumination and mixed media, in paintings on both canvas and paper, his technique of choice has become a combination of charcoal, crayons and occasionally gold leaf.

Since 1995, his work has undergone a shift in the underlying subject matters addressed, moving toward theoretical reflections on questions of aesthetic expression and historic inquiry. “I doubt that there are recognised ‘kinds’ of artists. There are schools of art, and even those for the work of art critics. I doubt that an artist, when about to embark on work, would think, ‘I would like to do an impressionist or a classical or a surreal work.’ Art is far too personal for this sort of self- awareness.”

The most influential components of his life have been his parents. “My favourite painting is one I did of my mother. Interestingly it was considered unsuitable for the exhibition; a standing example of concerns other than pure esthetics being in effect regarding art. It was considered too “figurative” in an “architectural” setting. Clearly I disagree but, by the same token, I respect the decision and understand its point of generation,” says Dr A-Douri whose exhibition ‘On the Duality of Existence’ is on at Aspen in the Kempinski Hotel, Mall of the Emirates, till January 2.

In the Gulf region, the art scene is rapidly emerging with local artists finding their way to galleries and national, regional and international exhibitions. The most important aspect of the art scene in the Gulf region is the general awareness of the importance of art to the overall cultural scene and the development of identity in its most intimate and detailed sense, or its most global one.

“At the present time, art continues to be at the heart of life as it is meant to be and should continue to be and the present time seems to be marked with self definition again in light of much change and turmoil in the Arab world of recent,” he says, adding, “My prescription for a healthier art scene is to continue to enjoy public support — academic and financial — and to be considered an essential part of social identity and cultural message. Only with such investment would artists afford higher purity of expression and less concern over ‘pleasing’ a client, so to speak. More noble sentiments, such as belonging to place and people, would be literally and figuratively more affordable.”

Architecture is an old man’s profession in that an architect may spend decades in the profession before having the opportunity to design an entire building all on his or her own. Al Douri’s work in the profession has all been in New York City where little work is offered as new construction. He worked on many projects where existing buildings were converted from one function to another. The first of his was the renovation of a corporate office space in a landmark district portion of Greenwich Village in Manhattan.

As a teacher he has a unique style of teaching design. “My style, rather than technique, relies on a number of aspects, the most noteworthy of them — to me — is letting the student know whether they do well or not. I think that motivation is extremely important and a prevalent syndrome of management is to take the good for granted and only highlight incompetence. This reflects a lack of self-confidence on the part of a manager who might think that a compliment must translate into a raise of salary,” he says, adding, “In my opinion, a compliment could create satisfaction, loyalty and longevity that would far outlast the immediacy of a salary raise. By pointing out the positive as well as the negative, I teach them to accept critique and separate their own self-esteem from the evaluation of their work. Another component of my teaching is being as fair as humanly possible and treating the students equally while outlining how they can gain ground, primarily through dedication to working beyond the minimum required of them, and beyond the sad culture of grading.”

The French thinker Proudhon said if war did not exist, art would have invented it. “War and turmoil are the natural triggers for art in all of its forms. I have little concern that fellow artists have their hearts in the right place about life, war, and turmoil around them. The message has to go to the society in which artists live and breathe. Artists are often in the lead in terms of where a society finds its natural evolution; this notion, once understood, rather than restricted, could be of tremendous service to public life.” As you may note, the message is not to today’s artists, but to today’s society.

More news from