LIVING THE ARTIST'S DREAM IN ABU DHABI

Pursuing a dream in a world where money reigns requires belief and patience. Artists are among those who aspire to lofty ideals. But dreams need to be tempered with common sense. The desert...

By Tim Newbold (Staff Reporter)

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Published: Tue 7 Mar 2006, 12:01 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 4:45 PM

— by definition, a barren spot — might not therefore seem an obvious choice to set up your canvas.

Yet local British artist Andrew Field, 26 years of age, sees the wider perspective. "It's really difficult to be an artist in any part of the world. It's difficult here because there's no studio space. I have to paint at home."

Like most people, he has to strike a deal for a preferred existence with hard reality. This means earning enough money to pay the bills. In Field's case, it is a not unwelcome compromise, teaching art to school children. "I love teaching but you're juggling here. If you were selling art without a permanent job, it would be difficult to have a regular income.

"I'm only young. There are some artists who have been teaching for 25 years and then decide to stop to pursue their dream because they don't need to work any more. My ideal would be to buy a cottage in St Ives [in Cornwall in South-West England] to be able to just paint. But that's a long way off. I do enjoy teaching. At the moment I'm perfectly happy doing that.

"Art is a passion, a hobby. Whilst I'm still able to paint, I'm happy. It's not necessarily about making money. It's about how you're going to progress as an artist - whether you're happy with your work and whether people like your work."

He recounts what led him to the art world. "It started a long time ago when I was seven or eight in the backyard of my grandad's house - painting anything to do with nature. My interest in art is all to do with landscape. I combine my ideas with geography - erosion, breaking down of rocks, attrition, deposition... When you look at the paintings, you can see I've rubbed into the surface of the paper - not creating the way the environment works but as a reflection of how things happen.

"I'm a very outdoors person. I love walking; I enjoy being out and about. I don't like being indoors. I used to go fishing with my dad. Being outdoors, you've got your eyes open. You're always looking at nature and what happens down by the riverbank. That's where my inspiration comes from."

Field, who moved to Abu Dhabi in 2004 and received a first class honours degree in fine art and geography, says plenty of inspiration can be found in the UAE. "The corniche in Abu Dhabi is a fantastic area. It could inspire many artists. I've taken ideas from there. I've also taken ideas from behind Khalidiyah. It's like a lagoon. The colours of the water are of special interest - a great contrast to the sand.

"Down at Meena Port there's a lot of activity with boats... There's also, of course, the general desert which is fascinating because of the amazing sunsets, the different colours, the vegetation that you probably wouldn't expect.

"I take inspiration from the desert, the coastline. But it's very, very different. It's not that it isn't inspirational. As an artist, you have to somehow re-evaluate your style and approach."

He also likes his work to be open to interpretation. He looks at the landscape "not in abstract but in semi-abstract — so you can work out what's going on. It's about somebody interpreting for themselves what they'd like to see. When you're looking at abstract art, you can see many different things. It depends on the mood you're in, how focused you are on the painting. That's the beauty of abstract art.

"I like to paint seascapes as well. Water is a big part of my work. This creates a luminosity... That's what I try to create — especially with a piece called 'Storm Approaching'. It [depicts], as the title suggests, a storm about to approach. I have several hues of blue, green, some red thrown in — and splashes of paint. This is an idea taken from the abstract expressionists — American artists such as Jackson Pollock and William de Kooning. I take Turner, the American artists, put all these ideas together and try to create something of my own."

This young painter draws on various figures of the past to spark his creative impulses. Artist colonies such as the one — made up of Barbara Hepworth, Peter Lanyon, Terry Frost and Patrick Heron — that blossomed in the seaside town of St Ives in the 1930s and 40s. The prospects of such a community sprouting in the UAE capital are currently slim.

"In terms of feeding off other artists, you're very much on your own here. There's not a place where you can go, communicate your ideas with people and go off painting together. It'd be fantastic if there were an artists' colony — as at St Ives or New York where artists met, worked out ideas."

The art scene is made up of two galleries — Hemisphere and Folklore. "That's all there is here," Field says. "Considering Abu Dhabi is the capital, there really should be a lot more. The Cultural Foundation is great to exhibit work. But you need somewhere to communicate socially — talking with artists, discussing views. That'd be really good."

Local artists need to hang out together. "There are many artists in Abu Dhabi who are very talented but, unfortunately, I don't know any other artist. It seems to be the case where everybody is working individually on their own projects. But I think it'd be good for everyone to meet. I know artists are independent people. They like to have their own space, do their own thing."

One lady in particular, Hoda Al Khamis-Kanoo from Bahrain, is seeking to nurture Abu Dhabi as the cultural hub of the Middle East, Field says. Mrs Kanoo, who opened his recent 'Transition' exhibition at the Millennium Hotel, founded the Music and Arts Foundation.

She is looking to attract artists to the emirate. "World-renowned artists have been attracted to Abu Dhabi," he goes on. "There's Andrew Vickery, who is the artist for the Saudi royal family... Art in this part of the world is developing. There have been restrictions with regard to Islam. People have not been allowed to paint figures. Things are changing. The general attitude towards art is changing. People are becoming more open to figurative work. That's a good sign."

The keeness of hotels to explore all avenues to find that little extra publicity can be tapped into. "What I'm finding in Abu Dhabi is you can walk into a hotel and they'll actually listen to you. You go somewhere like the United Kingdom and they don't want to know because they can get art whenever they like. In Abu Dhabi you're kind of unique. As there's not as many people here, you find people don't close the door in your face. So, being an artist out here in that sense is not difficult." Perhaps being a bigger fish in a smaller pond helps to live the dream.



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