Monday, November 21, 2011

Abu Dhabi Art

Street Art, Photography, and Forward Planning
Art? Or graffiti?
This past weekend we went to Abu Dhabi Art at Saadiyat Island where Deb and I participated in a Saadiyat Seascape painting workshop.  We were both excited to go, because we've both studied art and painted. When we got there about an hour before the workshop began we found that most of the exhibits wouldn’t be open till later in the afternoon. That’s how Abu Dhabi time works – like Europe, things begin and end late. Here, it has a lot to do with the prayer schedule.

Mark and Dana came in with us but they were planning to leave, do some errands and pick us up later for lunch in town. Then we noticed this big polka-dotted wall with a slot in it, a huge photo dropping out, and a man rolling it up and taking it with him. Hey what??
This photo booth on steroids was part of “Emirati Expressions,” which explores the inherently global Emirati identity using images of Emirati artists and the public. It’s an ongoing event from October 19 - January 28 and features Emirati artists and guest photographers.
Emirati Expressions photos by JR
Of course we got our photos taken, thinking that they would look great on the barren walls in our apartments. When the photos came out, it was a little horrifying to have this high definition picture of myself, about 10X life size. Deb and I got ours first, and as the initial shock began to wear off she said “Well, this is what we look like now.” And I figure no matter how it feels to look at this photo today, in a few years we’ll be thinking, hey, I looked pretty good back then.
This project is the work of an enigmatic artist who calls himself JR. He’s a French artist who considers the street “the largest art gallery in the world” and he posts his large black and white photos around the streets much like graffiti. You can learn more about this wacky artist at For Abu Dhabi Art, they were posted in the halls and on boards outside. I wonder if we made the display?
I wish I had known more about this before we had our photos taken; we would have come up with some kind of whimsical expressions to wear. (Cherie Sogsti, where are you when we need you??) But it’s such a delicate balance, doing research ahead of time or discovering what a place has to offer by just going there and doing it. And you never really understand the impact of where you have been or what you learned until you have been there and gone, and had time to reflect on it.
The iconic dune-shaped UAE Pavilion was on display at World Expo 2010 in Shaghai,
then relocated to Saadiyat Island this year. It  housed Abu Dhabi Art gallery exhibits.
Manarat Al Saadiyat Plaza and building, where presentations
and discussions were held. Our workshop was inside.
Two kinds of "street art."
Abu Dhabi is positioning itself to be an art, culture, leisure, business, and tourism center that people from all over the world will come to visit. The Abu Dhabi 2030 Urban Structure Framework Plan,did=90378.html is ambitious. Saadiyat Island, one of many islands adjacent to the main island and center of the city of Abu Dhabi, is being developed according to a Masterplan for that area that includes the Saadiyat Cultural District, Beach, Marina, Reserve, Promenade, Lagoons, and Retreat. Plans include a Guggenheim Museum and a Louvre. The Plan also includes two golf courses.
This island is just one of many that are being developed in the greater Abu Dhabi area, and each one could be the subject of a blog post. I studied planning at the University of Nevada, Reno, so I’m interested. Just like South of Market San Francisco when I was writing my graduate paper, things are happening so fast here that if you blink you might miss it. I have the feeling that I am in a place that is on the cutting edge, the fast track. How will it all turn out? It reminds me in some ways of San Francisco during the gold rush, filling San Francisco Bay to create more land. The Emiratis have filled in the edge of the island and moved the Corniche waterfront further out to sea, and they are bringing in loads of sand to fill other places as well. Thousands of workers from other countries have been brought in to help with the building. Certainly, there are differences as well as parallels. There's a lot for a geographer to see and do here.
So, for my art class friends, back to the painting.  It was a blend of what I learned in high school and what I learned from Tina Tyrrell at BAC. We drew a grid on the photo that we were painting and our canvases were primed with orange paint – a complementary color to the blues that we would be using for our seascapes – and they also had a grid. We used only three colors of acrylic paint: red, blue, and yellow, plus white. As I worked, I began to hear Tina’s voice. “Where is your light source?” “You’re working from a photo with poor color reproduction, so don’t try to recreate these colors.” “Connect shapes.” “Use darks to define and describe.” “Don’t put in your highlights until the end.” “Use pure color to make it pop.” And, finally when time ran out: “You need to work in some different values; highs and lows. Right now you have all medium.” Ok, time to go find some acrylic paints so I can finish this painting. But Deb and I are inspired, and we plan to paint more. I found some paint and canvasses upstairs at Carrefour . . .
I would gladly have traded my painting for this gorgeous bamboo easel.

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