Retro Culture in Dubai

Zap! Pow! Art! Mel Pickup's Pop Art exhibition is coming to Media One

A show merging pop art with sci-fi icons injects fun into the Media One Hotel. Will Milner meets its creator.

‘There’s nothing political about my art. No religion and no hidden meaning. I just want people to have a sense of fun with it.’ It’s not just British artist Mel Pickup’s paintings that are vibrant and refreshing. Her outlook on the art she creates is also a welcome change.

Asking an artist about their creative process is often an invitation for navel-gazing and self-reflection. The stereotype of the tortured artist is not usually far from the truth. Not so with Mel Pickup, however, who breaks the mould.

‘I want my paintings to look good.

I love doing them and have so much fun in the studio that I just want people to feel that too, not search for a hidden message,’ says Pickup.

The paintings, a rainbow explosion of pop culture, Hollywood glamour and superheroes will form the basis of the Retro Culture exhibition at Media One Hotel in Dubai Marina this month. It will be Pickup’s first solo show in the city having previously exhibited at last year’s Comic Con alongside other artists.

It is an event most certainly close to the self-confessed geek’s heart.

‘I grew up with Star Wars and for me, that is the ultimate film. I still watch it at least once a month and have always loved it,’ she says. The daughter of a comic book enthusiast, the influence of sci-fi and superheroes is obvious. Movie characters, the Star Wars universe and stormtroopers in particular are never far from a Pickup canvas, but always with an unexpected twist.

The 1970s comic book parody may seem familiar with Superman and the boxer Muhammad Ali, but look closer and you’ll see heads have been replaced with a stormtrooper and sci-fi villain, Darth Vader. On other prints we see stormtrooper helmets on Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles posters or replacing Run DMC in an iconic hip-hop style and other characters that form hipster-style Russian dolls.

There is a DJ quality to the imagery, with contrasting themes and dreams being mixed together for dramatic effect. So we may see Marilyn Monroe, all white teeth and red lips, but splatted with paint and newsprint as well. Working with acrylics, ink, aerosol and collage on canvas, the approach is wholly carefree. ‘My paintings are a mash-up. They’re not like a landscape that is drawn from reality. It goes on in my mind and then I put it on canvas.’

There is a strong nod to pop artists of the 1960s such as Roy Lichtenstein, but Pickup is quick to point out her influences are as much modern as they are historic. Citing contemporary urban artists such as Trust iCON, King of Pop Art and Indie 184 as major influences, there is a serious side that contradicts the fun of the art. ‘I don’t think art in Dubai is underground anymore. Nearly every night of the week there is something arty going on and the scene is bursting with activity and creativity,’ enthuses Pickup. Well she should know, this is a lifestyle Pickup gladly immerses herself in. May the creative forces be with her.

Have a pop

For more retro-themes, head to:

Bookworld by Kinokuniya
This Japanese import has Dubai’s largest collection of retail comic books (including a fascinating selection of original Manga pieces) as well as collectable figures.
The Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai (04 434 0111).

Manga Sushi
For decorative art with a dose of anime-themed flavour, visit this Jumeirah sushi joint. Giant paintings, costumed staff and plenty of toys and accessories make it a comic book favourite.
Beach Park Plaza, Jumeirah (04 342 8300).

Sega Republic
Not exactly an artistic community hub, but a place to get in touch with your inner superhero nevertheless.
The Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai (04 448 8484).

The Lowdown

Exhibition: ‘Retro Culture’ at Media One Hotel, Dubai Media City (04 443 5403)
Runs: April 9-30
Artist: Mel Pickup
Prices: From Dhs3,000

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