Artists of every calibre find a welcoming space to test their skills at a unique studio in Dubai. As Faisal Al Yafai discovers, thejamjar provides an outlet where creativity, camaraderie and inspiration flourish in a setting that stresses accessibility and creativity.
Creativity flows at thejamjar
It is here, in a warehouse, that thejamjar operates. A gallery and studio that opened in 2005, thejamjar tries to be a space for the artistic community in Dubai: in addition to the gallery, thejamjar runs various events, across film, theatre and music.
In the largest space downstairs, thejamjar runs an open art studio. Anyone can turn up and start painting. For a one-off charge, thejamjar offers two blank canvases, unlimited paint and access to brushes, books and a growing community.
Thejamjar (yes, the usage is one word, lowercased) has an accessible feel: brushes are pleasingly bunched together, marked by their use in many paintings; there are rows of paint pots to be used and piles of books for inspiration. It feels like the home of an artistic family member, the sort of place one would feel comfortable experimenting.
Rachael Brown, 29, the head of special projects at the gallery, says that is exactly the feel the gallery is aiming at.
"We've got a lot of first-timers and I think people feel comfortable with us, because we're not intimidating," she says. "We're a creative art space and because we've always had the approach of making art accessible, people are less intimidated to come, ask questions and learn."
One of those artists is Flordeliza Pesigan, 38, a regular attendee originally from the Philippines. Pesigan, pictured above, has been a full-time artist for almost two years and started exhibiting her work in Dubai in May this year. Even though she has a studio at home, Pesigan still comes to thejamjar.
"I don't have a big space at home [and] when you enter thejamjar, it's just vibrant. You feel you're in a creative space. I feel myself surrounded by artists."
Pesigan's work is impressive and impressionistic. When I visit, she works on a large canvas of a dancer in motion: against a layered blue background, spots of yellow mark the path of the figure's movement. It is the sort of image that becomes clear only from a couple of feet away, the distance of a viewer from a gallery artwork.
"You don't always meet a lot of artists at thejamjar, but through jamjar activities. It's interconnected. You meet performers and artists. It's one of the most important places in Dubai. You feel part of the Dubai art community," she says.
Christopher Mills, 40, is another attendee, a weekend artist who finds thejamjar a haven. Mills, a facilities management consultant who worked on the Burj Khalifa, goes to thejamjar for something different.
"I work in a pretty stressful job and it allows me to express myself," he says. "I used to do a bit of painting before I arrived in Dubai. Thejamjar makes it easier because they provide all the equipment. I don't have to make a studio space in my apartment. At home, I've got kids and it's a recipe for disaster."
Mills says going to the studio helps him to focus. "You can't go down and mess around. You have to be serious. If you want to get something done, it really pays to have something in mind."
One of the attractions of thejamjar is that it forms a space for different types of artistic disciplines. That is unusual in Dubai, which still maintains a commercial edge.
"The DIY studio has naturally pulled together people who are interested in painting and people have found like-minded people," Brown says with evident pride. "People come to Dubai for work but they are interested in art and the art world. People who attend our events say this is exactly what they're looking for."
My rewarding experience at thejamjar
I have an easel. Normally people who have easels also have overalls covered in paint, piles of brushes scattered around their home and keys to a small studio in a gritty part of the city. I have none of these things. Sadly.
That’s where thejamjar comes in. For a part-time artist, the attraction of thejamjar is not only that I can occasionally paint outside of my apartment, but also that I can be part of a bigger community.
Personally I prefer to be around other artists, whether they are visual artists or musical artists. I find it helps my creative process. It is the discussion, whether that discussion is visual or aural, that helps. It sparks off ideas.
The warehouse in Al Quoz has a odd combination of calm and community. Whenever I have gone there to paint, I’ve found myself in interesting discussions with other artists, who provide me with thoughts and ideas I couldn’t have formulated otherwise. Creativity is a community activity and thejamjar provides a space for that community.
Faisal Al Yafai
WHAT Canvases, paints and easels provided to people of all age groups and skill levels
WHEN Daily 10am-8pm, Fridays 2-8pm, Saturdays 10am-8pm, closed Sundays
WHERE thejamjar, Al Quoz, Dubai
COST Dh95 for two hours for children, Dh195-220 for four hours for adults
CONTACT 04 341 7303, www.thejamjardubai.com