David Paskett, former president of Britain’s Royal Watercolour Society, talks about his upcoming exhibition at the Majlis Gallery.
Visit Dubai Creek any day of the year and you will see something interesting. Groups of men noisily loading a dhow. Pigeons quietly pecking at a fistful of scattered seed. A bicycle propped against a wall. Souk traders peering out at passersby from precious pockets of shade. An English gentleman furiously sketching the entire scene.
Wait, stop. Something in that picture doesn’t quite fit. Yet if you had gone down to the Creek some time during December 2012, you would have been presented with the sight of renowned artist and former president of Britain’s Royal Watercolour Society, David Paskett, filling notebooks, sketchpads and even an iPad with memories.
Those memories, now watercolour masterpieces, form the basis of his first solo exhibition in Dubai at The Majlis Gallery in Bur Dubai’s Al Fahidi District next month. ‘It was a chance meeting that brought me to Dubai,’ says Paskett from his studio in Oxford, England. ‘My wife was there on holiday and found herself walking the side streets and market areas of Bastakiya (Al Fahidi district) and discovered The Majlis Gallery.’
There, she met gallery owner and long-time Dubai art patron, Alison Collins. A conversation became a friendship and within months, Paskett himself had accepted an artist-in- residence offer and was strolling
those same streets.
‘Before painting a place, I like to absorb the culture. See the sights and people, but also to touch and experience it,’ explains Paskett. Those experiences include a whistle-stop tour of the emirate, taking in sights such as the Burj Khalifa, camel farms, yacht clubs and, of course, artistic hubs in the city. But constantly the call of the Creek is what attracted the watercolourist to pull out the paints.
‘I was drawn to the waterways and quaysides of the Creek. The souks and bazaars, the elegance of the Al Fahidi historic neighbourhood with its sunlit courtyards and dramatic shadows,’ says Paskett.
For an artist with an illustrious reputation in China, where he has had many exhibitions, collections and commissions, the opportunity to experience a new culture and visual dynamic was an experience.
‘I was very aware when painting in Dubai that it is more reserved than places I had sketched before. It wouldn’t be appropriate to go to somebody and just start taking pictures and making drawings.’
Within days of appearing on the Creekside, however, Paskett believes he became more accepted by people in the area. ‘There is a great sense of multiculturalism with people from all parts of the world making up the community there. Many were quite interested in what I was doing and came to look although I didn’t feel I could set up a canvas and paint on the spot,’ explains Paskett. When he did get back to the Majlis Gallery courtyard, however, the images flowed readily and the painting combined a twin passion for both still life and capturing moments of vibrancy.
All told, of course, through striking watercolours that bring detail and an evocative sense of place to the canvas. Considering his lauded position at the Royal Watercolour Society, it is no surprise that Paskett has a love of the form, but he is keen to address lazy misconceptions about painting in this style. ‘There is sometimes a belief that watercolour may be more timid than oil. But I believe it has more energy. It is down to the painter who can choose a very detailed and studied way of working. Or they might choose to work in gestures and the painting has a feel of the physical action.’
His next visit to Dubai will include a concerted effort to paint at the Burj Khalifa (having already baffled bystanders by whipping out long sheets of paper to sketch at the top and bottom of the tower already) as well as a further trip to view camel racing. But it is the Creek and its myriad of arresting sights that change as the day goes by that has the strongest pull for Paskett. In particular he says, the way the light changes the character of buildings throughout the day fascinates his artistic sensibilities.
‘Looking down from balconies and narrow alleyways upon daily tasks being performed with both old buildings and modern architecture as a backdrop. I am always intrigued by back streets where it may be the momentary theatrical effect of strong light and shadow upon some otherwise unremarkable wayside paraphernalia that imbue it with a sense of drama.’
Exhibition: ‘Drawn to Dubai’ at The Majlis Gallery, Al Fahidi (04 353 6233)
Runs: May 3-24
Artist: David Paskett
Prices: From Dhs3,500