ABU DHABI // Three art students were stopped short as they applied blue paint, depicting the sea, on a graffiti-style mural taking shape on a wall at Zayed University. Their mistake, according to the visiting expert Boyd Hill: they were using the wrong shade of blue. When Hill saw the young women's crestfallen faces, he quickly added, "mistakes are good, because mistakes are how we learn".
Many might consider much of graffiti a "mistake", but Hill, a graffiti artist from London, suggested the students could take artistic inspiration from their city and their culture. For more than four hours, 20 students worked on a large mural in a corridor at the women's campus on Delma Street. Using acrylic paint and marker pens, the mural depicted the word "Zayed", two trees and various decorations inspired by street art and Arabic calligraphy.
Hill, 39, who has been commissioned to paint murals at the airport, in the run-up to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, hoped to help the women appreciate their surroundings and widen their perspective on art. "The main thing to be inspired by, as an artist, is the city you live in," he said. "Whenever I go to a new place I take photographs and use that as a basis for a sketch book. Everyday surroundings are a huge influence.
"The purpose of teaching these girls about graffiti and street art is not so that they roll up their sleeves and start spray-painting the sides of random buildings, but to get them to think of art beyond the limitations of a canvas. I want them to think big." Hill said the women could also take inspiration from Islamic art and architecture. "Although graffiti art from London might not seem to fit in with the culture in the UAE, I think there is a great similarity between Islamic art and the art I do," he said. "The patterns are very free but very complicated and therefore difficult to understand. I like to study that and I think it is what can make street art here different from that in London or New York."
The women's psychology professor, Dr Justin Thomas, said one of the reasons he invited Hill to the university was the connection between Islam and art. "[Graffiti] is very similar in form to traditional Islamic art forms," he said. "It is as much about the outside of buildings as what is on the inside and the decorative calligraphy in Islam is similar to the lettering." Naz Shahrokh, the assistant professor of art, suggested that the mural could inspire the students.
"We don't expect many of the girls to use the skills they learn here today directly on buildings in the same way that Boyd does in the UK," she said. "All skills transcend. They are learning different techniques and how to work with different materials, and it will help them realise that art can be used in many ways." firstname.lastname@example.org