The American architect turned artist finds creative fuel in everyday life in the UAE
Words by Laura Cherrie Beaney in The Lifestyle · May 23rd, 2022
UAE-based artist Mike Arnold worked as an architect for over four decades contributing to some of the Emirates’ most notable structures before succumbing to a lifelong desire to capture the social and built landscape that surrounds him as an artist. Mike works across pastel, graphite, oil paint and watercolour to produce works on canvas that reflect the MENA region's rich social and cultural fabric. We step into the artist’s Al Fahidi studio to discover his journey in art and the profound influence that the UAE has had upon his visual language and artistic trajectory.
Mike: I arrived in the Middle East 18 years ago to open Granary Associates, our architectural and project management offices in Dubai, UAE and Doha, Qatar. I was one of the founding partners and architects at Granary Associates. We specialised in the planning, design and project management of healthcare facility projects on a global scale.
Mike: I grew up in the Philadelphia region of Pennsylvania, USA and received my Bachelor's and Masters's degrees in Architecture from Penn State University.
Mike: The Philadelphia Museum of Art has been one of my most significant influences. I took weekly art classes there (between the ages of 5 and 14) and afterwards I would spend countless hours roaming the institution’s collection of artefacts, sculptures, tapestries, ceramics and masterpiece paintings spanning almost every era and movement. There, I developed my love and broad appreciation for beauty and form.
Mike: There was an expectation that I would become an artist/painter at an early age yet various interactions and influences changed my professional path and I redirected my focus towards architecture. At the age of 16, I landed my first work experience with a design firm and went on to work for that company for the next 44 years.
Mike: I studied architecture in Firenze, Italy in the early 1970s. My exposure to extraordinary museums and architecture as well as the art collections of Italy felt transformative. The Uffizi Museum and the Accademia Galleria in Firenze were among my favourites.
Mike: Granary was involved in creating some of the region’s most iconic healthcare buildings. I was delighted with the challenge of bringing the grand visions of the rulers to life and setting new standards in healthcare design.
Mike: In 2012 I completed my four-decade career in architecture to pursue a lifelong passion for painting. I exchanged my drawing board for an easel and my design office for an artist’s studio. I now paint in my studio in the historic Bur Dubai section of the Al Fahidi historical neighbourhood where my studio and Villa #10 is alive with my art and the output of fellow TASHKEEL artists. I'm represented by Mestaria Gallery and have been an active member of the TASHKEEL art community for the past nine years.
Mike: My art is an expression of my spirit and the energy that I perceive in other people, animals and buildings. I have always been intrigued by the eyes of individuals - eyes capture light and form a portal into the mystery and spirit of life that lies beyond the eyes.
Mike: I paint animals because I’m fascinated by their form, anatomy, muscular structure and movement - there’s something truly majestic and elegant about horses: so full of power, energy and spontaneous reactions and movements. My other subjects come from my explorations of my surroundings and the expression of that which I encounter through colour and form; I’m interested in motion, energy and capturing the moment.
Mike: A deeply influential impact, at the beginning of my artistic adventure, was a six-month apprenticeship with Waugh at his studio in England in 2013. The internationally known British watercolour painter took me under his wing after our introduction at an art workshop held at Allison Collin’s Majlis Gallery in Bastakiya in Dubai in late 2012. Waugh works in an impressionistic, Al Prima artistic style that brings light and life to his subjects, that included scenes from the Middle East. Waugh’s artistic influence, creative style and mentorship along with his historical art perspectives and philosophy, continue to influence and inspire my work to this day.
Mike: Nelson and Leona Shank’s Studio Incamminati is modelled on the traditional Italian accademia and French atelier, Studio Incamminati is a Contemporary Realist art school in Philadelphia, whose curriculum blends classical traditions of the Renaissance era masters, luminous colour of the Impressionists and a contemporary sensibility. The art instructors, trained by personally by Nelson Shanks, have given me the enthusiasm and confidence to explore and push the envelope when it comes to colour, form and composition.
Mike: My artistic practise is evolving daily, almost hourly. I’m constantly looking to explore new concepts and approaches, speak with and share new ideas with fellow artists and most of all experiment and push my artistic hand, palette and perspectives to capture something new, invigorating and engaging.
Mike: My recent Odyssey series was dedicated to the journey that all Emiratis and ‘we’ as an expat collective have taken - physically and spiritually - to arrive at the Emirates at this particular moment in time.
Mike: For Odyssey, I painted monochromatic scenes inspired by a deep connection to the UAE’s richness - its history, its peoples, and its dramatic character. I used my canvases as a platform for interpreting individual and collective journeys in the Middle East, exposing the unique light reflected both in common as well as spectacular landscapes and personal moments. My paintings are structured in a way that might honour the feeling of distant images in the present moment.
Credits: Creative direction by Aneesha Rai