Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Wasel Safwan is used to expressing himself on flat surfaces but was persuaded to get into the Grand Prix spirit by decorating a replica Formula One car in his distinctive abstract style at the Marina Mall in the capital.
Wasel Safwan is used to expressing himself on flat surfaces but was persuaded to get into the Grand Prix spirit by decorating a replica Formula One car in his distinctive abstract style at the Marina Mall in the capital.

A brush with speed

Nobody is immune to GP fever, it seems - not even the artist Wasel Safwan, who explains why his latest canvas is a replica F1 car.

Wasel Safwan prefers his transport unadorned. "When I buy a car, I don't like to put anything on it, even on the glass," the Emirati painter explains. "I was always the person who was against putting anything on the car." And yet here is Safwan, standing on a podium outside the Ferrari store in Abu Dhabi's Marina Mall, having just spent an evening subjecting a life-size replica of a Formula One racer to his trademark painterly style.

He calls it "UAEism", a jagged, brightly coloured school of abstraction which is intended to evoke the diversity and promise of life in the Emirates. You might have seen his work featured in this year's Emirati Expressions show at the Emirates Palace: giant canvases traversed by splashy trails of paint. Usually the edge of the canvas is as far as those trails go. Still, the Grand Prix is coming to town and, in the spirit of diversity and promise, Safwan let himself be persuaded to join in the programme of festivities.

"When they told me to do this, it was not like: 'Yes, let me do it'," he confesses. "I told them, maybe someone can do it better than me, because I've never done something like that and I don't want them to lose this opportunity." In fact, other artists are also getting their turn. The all-female art collective Mizmah have been working on a car of their own at Zayed University. Other artists scheduled to participate in The Art of Racing later this month are Dana Saif al Mazrouei, Jalal Luqman and Khalid Mezaina.

Still, the event organisers persevered with Safwan. "They kept explaining, and they really wanted me to be involved and just to use my style," he recalls. "I said OK, I will use my style. I will not change." At the time of writing it's difficult to say what the results will be: Safwan had spent just the first evening of four working on the project. But his signature swirls and bands of colour were indeed unchanged. And apparently the state of visionary absorption in which the artist prefers to work was not compromised by the presence of curious shoppers.

"Some moments, I forgot who was around me," he says. "I forgot that I'm painting the car. I just focused on the lines and looking from different angles, how to connect these lines together. And I tried to hear the wheels, you know?" Safwan came to motor racing late in life. "When I was a child I used to go with my uncle to camel races," he says. "Later on we started to like car races... We used to watch it on TV. I'd never seen a Formula One race car before. And all of a sudden, I am painting one."

This has not been without its challenges. "It's different shapes!" he exclaims. "It's like speed shapes, sharp shapes. There are some curves but it's built for speed. I used to paint on objects but it's my first time to paint on a car." All the same, he trusts that inspiration will come. "It's unconscious," he says. "When I finish it, I will know that I did not create it; I just discovered it. It was somewhere else and it's now here. From a psychological point of view, I never create anything. I just discover it and attract it and make it real to our eyes."

And he knew where he had to start. "When I came in the beginning I said: 'What should be the first touch?' I said the first touch I should do is to write Abu Dhabi." And so, across the car's rear spoiler is emblazoned the name of Safwan's home emirate. He wants to make sure it's visible from every angle, so that any photographs unambiguously commemorate the home of the first UAE Grand Prix. For his part, however, Safwan is not content to stop at decorating cars. He used to be an architect and wants to see UAEism displayed on an even grander canvas.

"I would be happy in the future if I could paint a tower," he says. "If they give me a tower, I could paint the whole tower." Anybody with a spare one is invited to get in touch. The Art of Racing continues throughout October. See www.yasalam.ae for details.

Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 This comparison image shown on Reddit annotated the objects with vehicles from the movies.

What Star Wars fans say is going on in Abu Dhabi’s desert

We may still not know exactly what The National caught pictures of in the Abu Dhabi desert last week, but the online community has had plenty to say. Here are some of the best bits.

 Jennifer Grout will compete against seven other celebrities in Your Face Sounds Familiar. Joseph Eid / AFP

Jennifer Grout on competing in the new show Your Face Sounds Familiar and her rise to fame

Jennifer Grout is set to wow Arab audiences once again in the new MBC talent show Your Face Sounds Familiar. Saeed Saeed speaks to the American about her success story

 From left to right: Greg Churchouse, Roy Stride and Peter Ellard of Scouting For Girls. Ian Gavan / Getty Images

Sandance returns in May

Sandance is heading back to Dubai in May with a line-up that includes Arrested Development, Scouting for Girls, the Pet Shop Boys and Fatboy Slim, plus the Saudi DJ Omar Basaad and local acts.

 Jedi Master Yoda in 'Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith'. Lucasfilm / Twentieth Century Fox / AP

Star Wars shooting in Abu Dhabi rumours gain traction

What started out on Sunday as an optimistic rumour that Star Wars Episode 7 is set to shoot in Abu Dhabi is seemingly gathering traction as the week progresses.

 A boy waters plants in the yard of a restaurant in the Colombian village of Aracataca. Yellow butterflies make an apperance in the book. Eitan Abramovich / AFP photo

Mourning and memories in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s languid hometown

Mourning and memories in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s hometown of Aracataca, Columbia.

 Shah Rukh Khan plays a shot during a friendly match between the members of the support and administrative staff of Royal Challengers Bangalore and his Kolkata Knight Riders cricket team. Dibyangshu Sarkar / AFP

When the worlds of Bollywood and cricket collide

With the first game of the Indian Premier League beginning today in the UAE, we explore the league’s Bollywood connections, which are as glitzy as they are controversial.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National