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Look: This artist created pop-art inspired by rulers of UAE

Julian Castaldi is the first Dubai-based artist to create artwork of this kind

In the UAE, every institute from a school to a restaurant, in between and beyond, takes pride in expressing their gratitude towards the leaders of the land, with a display of their images on the walls of the space. Call it a protocol, but the residents agree that it’s more a gesture of respect. Often, these images are either photographs or traditional portraits, so it was a surprise for us when we walked into the lobby of Hyde Hotel Dubai, Business Bay, and witness ed the aesthetically beautiful portraits of The President, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan; His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai; and Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Dubai Executive Council.

The line sketches with a touch of neon colours caught our eye, and we scanned the QR code next to the portraits to learn more about the artist behind the same. Julian Castaldi, born in Wales, UK, is an artist and photographer, based out of Dubai, and the creative behind the same. The first pop art-inspired portraits of the Rulers of the UAE to be ever installed in a hotel in the city, is aptly titled Visionaries. “I always aim to make my paintings unique. So, when Zeina Salloum, the art consultant for Hyde, approached me regarding the Rulers’ portraits, I instantly wanted to create a more up to date look and feel rather than the traditional portraits, but be equally respectful and in line with tradition,” he says. We learnt more about his work in the series, his views on the changing face of photography, NFTs and more.

Tell us more about the Visionaries... your favourite moment from the series?

One of my other favourite pieces to paint was a vintage photograph of Sheikh Zayed, Father of the Nation, in the desert in his car. I redrew it again in a pop art style and have created it in silver and gold leaf and various other mediums. One large triptych commission is hanging in The Crown Prince Court, Abu Dhabi, which is such an honour.

How did you land up in Dubai?

We were back in Cardiff, Wales, after having spent many years travelling and photographing musical acts across the globe. We were looking at settling down in Los Angeles or Barcelona, but we came to Dubai in 2013 to house-sit a friend’s cat and we never left!

Did you study arts as a subject?

I am self-taught, I left school at 16 and all I wanted to do was move to LA to create, skate and be immersed in the LA music scene, which eventually happened. Personally, the school was stifling for me.

Where would you say your early inspirations came from?

Definitely from my time in LA and the surf, skate, BMX scene (I think I’m the oldest BMX’er in Dubai). I travelled through every state in the US, Canada and British Columbia multiple times, with amazing road trips and views.

Tell us about your work in mixed media...

I create a varied mix of styles including traditional paint on canvas, but also use screen-printing, plasters, gold and silver leaf and reclaimed wood and steel. I am sporadic and experimental. I use plaster and sand in some paintings and have fun seeing how they turn out. I use a lot of driftwood and reclaimed steel and have painted a lot of reclaimed surfboards, anything that I can save from going into the landfill.

How has your experience of working as an artist in the UAE been?

It’s been incredibly busy. As with all work there are ups and downs, it takes time to build your business. Instagram has been amazing and a lot of commissions have come through social media. Working with the hotel, is of course a highlight, seeing my hard work acquire a pride of place in the lobby was a proud moment for me. But these things took time, it didn’t and doesn’t happen overnight.

In the age of mobile cameras and IG filters, what do you think is the future of photography?

I worked as a photographer and filmmaker for 20+ years and remember the dawn of digital photography. It’s amazing we now hold a 12-mega pixel camera in our phones. Personally, I still love film and polaroids, etc. The future of photography is limitless.

It’s a tough life for an artist, what’s kept you going?

I think self-employment in any realm is similar, you have to keep your head down and keep going. The world needs more creativity in schools and more empathy, generally.

What’s your one tip for anyone hoping to make arts a career?

Self-belief and tenacity. Keep knocking on doors and push, push, push. Just start today, do not wait.

Tell us about your upcoming projects?

I have an archive of polaroids that I have taken over a period of 25 years. I plan to create an exhibition of these. I’m also planning a show of my Vintage Arabic ads; creating a book of the same art.

Lastly, what’s your view on NFTs?

Ah, I’ve been asked to participate, but so far, I have held off, mainly as I love to use paint and canvas and am lucky enough to be busy creating tangible art. This brave new world doesn’t really excite me, to be honest.

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