Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 March 2019

Simon Coates is making sound and vision from his Dubai studio

The English artist emphasises a professional approach for producing results.
Simon Coates. Satish Kumar / The National
Simon Coates. Satish Kumar / The National

Primarily a video artist but also a painter, Simon Coates is currently holed up in the studios above Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre (Ductac) as part of its residency programme.

"This place gets very busy and a lot of people passing through for the classes drop in and see me," he says.

"It's an open studio, but I'm also doing some workshops after Ramadan in here; more of the critique-style set-up that you would get in a fine art degree, with artists bringing in their work to discuss.

"It's sort of aimed at art students or those who want to go to art college and want criticism that is honest, untrammelled but constructive."


Coates's style is remarkably dark: hollowed-out zebra torsos, flailing bandages and flicks of paint. The influence of the more visceral mid-20th century painters is obvious, certainly the kind of corporeal contortions found in Francis Bacon's work. However, sound and video art remain his focus: "I've just had two sound artworks played at an experimental radio festival in Portugal. One of these was a half-hour version of Jenny from the Block by Jennifer Lopez. I found an a cappella section in it and started to break that down. It came out like a half-hour journey into hell and back."

Working week

"I treat the studio like an office," says Coates. "It's a proper 9-to-5 because if you don't put the hours in and have a disciplined framework, you're not going to get the kind of results you're looking for.

"Because I show abroad a lot, there's a lot of admin involved. I don't have a gallery representing me, and having an agent would make my life easier."

Though the heart of the artist's studio is his computer, which he uses for producing his video art and sound pieces, the paintings and sketches dotted around the space appear like a way of thinking and working. "I know I'm not a great painter, I know I should stop altogether, but there's something inside that tells me to. I can draw and I'd like to get to the point that I'm painting with the same confidence and ease," he says.


A recent show at Ductac including works by the Emirati conceptual artist Hassan Sharif made Coates sit up. "I find Sharif's work genuinely moving, partly because of how hard he has worked to get his skills recognised. There's an element of Joseph Beuys about his work that really resonates with me," he says.

"I've done a piece recently that, in my mind, is very similar to the way Sharif wraps things. It's like with the bandages that you can see in my paintings, or in the films there'll often be images of people gagged or wrapped - there's a strong theme of containment in my work and how that can operate as non-verbal communication."

Getting seen

From August 6, Coates has two video pieces at Conway Hall in Holborn, central London, as part of a group exhibition titled The Museum of Virulent Experience. One of the works, If You Like, is a scattered patchwork monologue that captures the cut-up contortion of language that Coates says he's aiming for in his work - we stumble across phrases that feel just out of our reach. Interestingly, he got the British comedian Bob Mortimer to read the words.

"Lisa, Bob's wife, is an old friend of mine, and I was struggling to find someone to narrate the piece," he says.

"I've also got two paintings showing in Pennsylvania in August, both of which are for sale."

But Coates is quite clear that he's expressly not a commercial artist: "The commercial galleries in Dubai, for me, are shops; they sell products. I'm currently helping to set up an art platform back in the UK as an outlet to show off my design work - it will offer stuff for sale, but on the website you'll have a lot of free stuff, allowing people to print off my work for free. There'll be sound work on there. The new platform is an outlet for more business thinking."

To see more work by Simon Coates, go to www.simoncoates.com or visit him above the Gallery of Light at Ductac, Mall of the Emirates. For more information on the workshops, visit www.ductac.org

Updated: August 1, 2012 04:00 AM