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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Michael Arnold’s first solo show depicts UAE buildings through a blend of architecture and art

For the exhibition From the Art of Architecture to the Architecture of Art at Showcase Gallery, Michael Arnold has taken recognisable buildings from Dubai and Abu Dhabi and used monoprinting to create abstracted renderings, which take on their own life and form because of his unusual printing technique.
Michael Arnold's Awe, a rendering of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Courtesy Michael Arnold and Showcase Gallery
Michael Arnold's Awe, a rendering of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Courtesy Michael Arnold and Showcase Gallery

Thanks to what now seems like serendipitous timing, Michael Arnold progressed through a successful, 40-year career as an architect without ever having to become computer literate.

When he began as an office boy in his teens, his job was to pour ammonia into the printers. As he worked his way up through the ranks, he drew every design by hand and when computer programs were devised to make the sketching and rendering process easier, Arnold had already risen to managerial level.

This meant that when he retired in his 60s, his architectural-sketching skills were finely honed – and set to launch him into a second career as an artist.

However, that is not giving him the full credit he is due, because he also needed the sensibilities of an artist to produce the pieces in his first solo show – From the Art of Architecture to the Architecture of Art – which is running at Showcase Gallery.

Using the technique of monoprin­ting, Arnold has taken recognisable buildings from Dubai and Abu Dhabi and created abstracted renderings, which take on their own life and form because of his unusual printing technique.

Arnold begins with a sheet of tinfoil, which he covers in black paint and then lays a sheet of paper on the top. Using a pencil, he sketches on the paper and then, with a series of tools that include a spoon, a comb, a roller and his own thumb, he applies pressure to the paper and, when he is ready, peels it off to create a unique print.

The unusual thing about this technique is that the print, the sketch, the sheet of foil and the negative image on the back of the paper are all really interesting versions of the same image. On display at Showcase are combinations of some or all of these iterations, which make for compelling viewing.

“It is always a discovery,” says Arnold. “The way I apply the paint, the way my hand touches, the thickness of the paint and the sketch itself – all affect the final result, so every time something I don’t expect comes out of it.”

Some of the prints have also been highlighted with touches of gold leaf, giving them a finish that is somewhere between the precision of architecture and the creativity of art – hence the name of the show.

“I have created a bridge between architecture and art and that is why I have got so excited about it,” says Arnold. “I want to keep my connection to my architectural roots but explore my artistic side and see what comes out of it.”

Arnold had to work hard to loosen his tight grip on the pencil, which he had perfected during his professional life as an architect.

One of the first steps he took towards this was embarking on a six-month apprenticeship with Trevor Waugh, a British watercolour painter who took Arnold under his wing after a short course in Dubai. Arnold stayed with Waugh in the English countryside for the first half of last year, learning how to paint in oil and how to produce much more loosely rendered images, which Arnold has an incredible innate talent for.

After receiving this guidance, Arnold began finding his own path and that is when he began creating his monoprints. Sharon Harvey, the manager of Showcase Gallery, fell in love with them when she saw them and gave Arnold his first solo show, less than two years after he became an artist.

“I feel as if I waited 40 years for this,” he says. “The timing had to be right, I needed to be here, I needed to be in this environment, I needed the people around me – now this is just the beginning. This is my contribution to art in this region and I’m not sure where it will all go.”

From the Art of Architecture to the Architecture of Art runs until November 5 at Showcase Gallery, Dubai. Follow Michael Arnold on Twitter: @idrawalot and Instagram: @arnold1470

aseaman@thenational.ae