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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Desert scenes awash with colour in painter Enoc Perez's first Dubai show

Puerto Rican painter Enoc Perez has reimagined some of the UAE’s landmark buildings for his first show at Leila Heller Gallery

Enoc Perez painted the new Louvre Abu Dhabi (2017), from the photograph of a model, adding tropical flourishes. Enoc Perez / Leila Heller Gallery
Enoc Perez painted the new Louvre Abu Dhabi (2017), from the photograph of a model, adding tropical flourishes. Enoc Perez / Leila Heller Gallery

The painter Enoc Perez describes himself as an architecture “fanatic”, and Dubai, he says, is a “gold mine”.

“There is so much good architecture here,” he enthuses.

“It was only when I arrived that I realised how important architecture is to society here. The taxi driver told me the story of so many buildings, just on the way to the hotel.

“For me, that’s my kind of town,” says Perez.

It was the artist’s first trip to Dubai, a place where people orient themselves by the names of buildings rather than the streets, and take huge pride in the towers and urban landscape around them.

Perez, who was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 1967 and has long been based in New York, is currently exhibiting in his first show in the region, at Leila Heller Gallery, Alserkal Avenue, Dubai.

Working mainly in painting, Perez has become well-known for his images of Modernist buildings, which rise up in his works against a vibrant, often non-natural colour palette: skies of egg yellow, streets of purple, or deep red washes over both building and background.

For his Dubai exhibition The Desert Bloom, Perez represents a number of striking works of architecture from across the region, from the well-known to lesser-known buildings that, as he notes, “should have more attention”.

The structures he chose vary from religious sites such as the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque to governmental buildings, like the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the National Parliament House in Bangladesh, as well as hotel and entertainment venues like the Grand Lisboa in Macau.

“I’m not an architecture scholar,” he says. “I don’t care what’s in the canon or not in the canon. I just care about the wonder of architecture – that feeling that you get when you are in front of something amazing.”

In Sheikh Zayed Mosque (2017), Perez softens the building's classical symmetry with his colourful rendering of Kevin Dean's floral mosaics in the courtyard. Enoc Perez / Leila Heller Gallery
In Sheikh Zayed Mosque (2017), Perez softens the building's classical symmetry with his colourful rendering of Kevin Dean's floral mosaics in the courtyard. Enoc Perez / Leila Heller Gallery

Though his criteria might be personal, Perez says he did his homework before deciding which buildings to include, and even then struggled with the selection. “It took me a while to choose the buildings, and then I realised – I’m from Puerto Rico, which is a colony, and so many countries in the Middle East have a colonial past. Once I realised that it was very easy to move ahead and make the show.”

The influence of Puerto Rico can be felt in other ways too, namely in the cloudless blues of the skies behind the paintings. “I’m child of a very sunny area,” laughs Perez. “The sun is a major factor.”

The colours in the exhibition, titled The Desert Bloom, will be familiar to anyone who has watched the sky here change throughout the day: from the morning’s thin grey to deep blue at noon and back again.

In The National Parliament of Bangladesh (all works 2017), depicting the stunning brutalist building in Dhaka designed by Estonian-born architect Louis Kahn, the building seems to float between the blue sky and the green-tinged water, its geometric windows looking almost cartoonish in Perez’s dark black rendering.

Enoc Perez's National Parliament House of Bangladesh (2017). Enoc Perez / Leila Heller Gallery
Enoc Perez's National Parliament House of Bangladesh (2017). Enoc Perez / Leila Heller Gallery

In Sheikh Zayed Mosque, the symmetry of the classically designed building is softened by the washes of coloured floral motifs in the tile work of the courtyard before it, giving the usually placid complex a sense of restlessness and energy.

The exception to this daytime setting is the painting of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, in many ways the stand-out of the show. Executed at a larger scale than the other canvasses, it confronts the viewer with Jean Nouvel’s already iconic white dome, a black sky behind it, and a line of palm trees in front. (“Talk about wonder, it looks like a spaceship has landed,” says Perez).

In the foreground of the painting, greens, oranges and yellows are reflected in the dark water – the kind of colour play that might grab a visitor to the institution to take a late-night snap. Except, of course, the Louvre Abu Dhabi hasn’t opened yet, and no visitors have been around to capture it. Likewise, Perez didn’t base the painting on first-hand experience with the museum, but rather worked from a photograph of a model, which he said he liked because it showed the museum surrounded by palm trees.

“I grew up in the tropics and so it was a chance to put a tropical landscape in the middle of the desert. It has oranges and colours that probably are not there. It was a chance for me to paint myself.”

Enoc Perez's Soho House Istanbul (2017). Enoc Perez / Leila Heller Gallery
Enoc Perez's Soho House Istanbul (2017). Enoc Perez / Leila Heller Gallery

This idea of accessing the buildings at a remove from direct knowledge is also a factor of Perez’s technique. In fact, it’s a misnomer to call them “paintings” at all: “there are no brushes used in the process,” he says. Instead, he employs a method that is closer to rudimentary print-making.

Working from a photograph of the buildings, Perez first separates the colours into different renderings. “I made drawings for every colour that goes on the paintings. And then I apply oil paint on the back of the drawings, and the drawing passes onto the canvas, kind of like carbon paper.”

The buildings, in effect, become separated into abstract blocks of colour before resolving themselves into their shapes again. The technique underlines the importance of colour to Perez, even at such an early stage, and also leaves traces of its process, with a smudge here or there. The images build themselves up bit by bit, much like the cities he chronicles and, ultimately, renders personal.

The Desert Bloom by Enoc Perez is on show until November 4 at Leila Heller Gallery, Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz, Dubai See www.leilahellergallery.com

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Read more:

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