Writing on the wall

Dubai-based artist Vivek Premachandran has been holed up at thejamjar for the past week. He shows Chris Lord around the debris of his first solo show

Vivek Premachandran has carved out a very specific niche in Dubai. The artist, also known as Ubik, has spent seven years championing the city’s burgeoning but ever spluttering underground art scene. In that time, he’s created the ‘portable gallery’ single-sheet magazine Cliché and, as he now reveals in his first ever solo show, been fashioning a uniquely corrosive style of painting. ‘One reason I wanted this exhibition was to show that I’m every bit [as much] an artist as those weird Iranians that they call artists out here,’ he told us last week, just days before starting his residency at thejamjar. Like his canvases, with their layers of residual images jettisoned and drawn over in the background, it’s necessary to cut through Premachandran’s relentless speech as we talk. ‘I hope it’ll be a lot of fun,’ he says when we ask what he hopes to get out of 10 days spent painting in the gallery. ‘I’ve got no plans, just a lot of wood.’

His search for wood, his preferred form of canvas, has seen him grabbing MDF, smashing crates, salvaging doors and ripping apart tables. ‘I stamp on them, keep them out in the sun for a couple of days, throw stuff onto them and just scuff them until they develop a weathered look.’

The effect is a decrepit, warped surface, onto which he directly applies his paint. This is often resistant to the spray paint he uses, and so it creates a dripping, melting effect that builds into an overall image. He calls this ‘visual decay’. It’s this decay that, in its natural form, is found on the walls of many cities around the world and, Premachandran believes, is missing from Dubai. He says its absence partly explains why Dubai remains an inhospitable place for underground artists. ‘Anything old is getting ripped down here; take the view on Satwa. Also, Dubai is constructed in such a way that people can’t walk. For street art to be successful and interactive you need people walking on the streets.’

He’s also critical of the lack of any visual street culture here, but recognises that you can’t have the good without the very bad. ‘It’s scary for Dubai, because you can’t shut off the bad graffiti, the vandalism aspect of street art. You see stuff in K-Town (Karama),’ referring to the strange emergence of Tupac Shakur in-memoriam tags that have appeared around the city as of late. ‘It’s stupid spray-painting and I call that vandalism.’

But Premachandran has insisted that this ‘bad graffiti’ has an equally important place in street art. It all relates back to his ideas of visual decay, the idea that, as differing artists vie for attention on a wall, some are covered, lost behind the next more outspoken wallwriter, but also contributing to a rich visual history embossed on the wall. He claims that without this natural process street art just isn’t going to happen here. ‘But then I think it’s the rules as well, I wouldn’t want to be put in jail just for doing a mural out on the street. But, if I do a killer piece out there, can I get away with it by calling it art?’ His solution is to emulate the inherent decay of a city environment on his wooden canvases – taking the decrepit street inside.

We got a quick look in before the show opens this week, and the collection is shaping up. But what Dubai will make of this heavy, grimey geometry remains to be seen.

At thejamjar (04 341 7303). Until August 22

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