Straight to the art

Soak up the creativity of some of the legends of street craft in a gallery located in upscale Jumeirah 1Image Credit: Supplied

Soak up the creativity of some of the legends of street craft in a gallery located in upscale Jumeirah 1

You’ve seen it sprayed across New York’s trains and the metro in Paris, neighbourhoods in Miami and abandoned buildings in Detroit: street art is anything but subtle. It is complex and its message is often hard hitting.

Looking beyond the more controversial facet of the form, you can clearly see the writing on the wall: street artists want to fill the world with colour and make art accessible to everyone, using stencils and spray cans instead of a traditional paintbrush and easel.

Dubai is warming up to the idea of street art being seen as mainstream thanks to the efforts of Stephane Valici and Thomas Perreaux- Forest. The Dubai-based art connoisseurs are the founders of Street Art Gallery, the UAE’s first centre dedicated to this bold, contemporary art form, which includes the use of graffiti, mixed media, cubist and abstract influences, pop art, cartoons, 3D images on two-dimensional surfaces, and graphics.

Housed in a spacious villa and located in the upscale neighbourhood of Jumeirah 1, the gallery might seem an unlikely setting for showcasing street art, but once you walk in, the minimalist interiors with white walls, welldesigned viewing areas and designer furniture perfectly complement the works of hotshots such as Jenni Perez, Godzilla and Hec One Love. The villa’s exterior walls also pay homage to the art, having morphed into canvases for visiting artists.

“We wanted to show clients that you can have modern or classically themed interiors and still integrate street art into these settings,” says Valici.

“It’s also why we chose Jumeirah 1 — people are surprised to find such artwork in a traditional villa. He adds that it was precisely this lack of exposure to street art that prompted him to start the gallery with Perreaux-Forest a year ago.

“I have been collecting street art for more than 20 years. My partner Thomas is also an art collector. A year ago, I commissioned a piece from a French street artist for my private collection. Instead of getting the piece shipped, I invited him to come to Dubai to deliver it. When he came over, I discovered more of his work and was impressed.

“We decided to hold an exhibition to showcase his creations and rented a space in Al Qouz. The media coverage and response motivated us to open a gallery dedicated to street art. It took around four months to find this space and renovate it to our specifications. We opened the gallery last May and are pleased at how well it’s been received.”

Since opening, the gallery has hosted many successful exhibits including Wynwood Goes Dubai, which was inspired by the Miami neighbourhood where street artists can spray-paint without any legal implications. One of the other shows, Calligraffiti, had artists visiting from Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. “This was an attempt to show the community that  calligraphy traditions can merge with street art and graffiti. We had more than 400 people visit the exhibition and sold 70 per cent of the exhibits,” says Valici.

The gallery can display 50-80 pieces in a solo exhibit, which is spread across two rooms. French artist OneMizer — who creates portraits and comic-inspired work — had 70 exhibits during his solo show. Genevabased mural specialist Bandi also created special works for the gallery. The villa has two more rooms that display the works of others such as Yazan Halwani, Omen, Denial and Inkie. These international artists have built quite a following with aficionados regularly buying pieces to add to their collections.

“We promote street art and offer value to people who are interested in collecting such pieces. Most of our works are less than $10,000 [Dh36,675], which doesn’t reflect the value of the international market,” says Valici.

He adds that the gallery offers an instalment plan for people with limited budgets.

Street Art Dubai also has interesting shows planned for the year. “We are hosting a young artist from Miami called GJ. This Venezuelaborn star is very promising — he’s already sold 100 pieces in New York and Miami. We will be the first gallery to host him in the Middle East in September.

“In April, we are also looking forward to welcoming the super talented Charlie Anderson, a mixed media artist who creates large-format collages using newspapers and spray cans,” says Valici.

The fact that artists of this calibre are looking to  come to Dubai holds great promise for both collectors and local talent, who can be inspired by the techniques and creativity of their international counterparts.

For us, it is the opportunity to escape to a vibrant world, where ideals share space with icons, dimensions converge, and fantasy clashes with reality.

Source: Neesha Salian, Special to PW

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