Mike Arnold: from architect to artist

Mike Arnold fulfilled his long-lost dream of becoming an artist, after 40 years in architecture. He talks to Vision about how his background has inspired his free-spirited sketches of Dubai

As a child, Michael Arnold was enthralled with the magic of the paintbrush and the imagined reality it can create by applying colorful strokes on canvas. After studying the masters in his youth and dreaming of a lifetime spent in front of his easel, rationality set in and he decided to pursue a career in architecture.

More than 40 years later, Arnold set off to recapture his childhood dream of becoming an artist. Aided by the experience of established artists and the desire to learn, he immersed himself in developing his art, and 18 months later held his first exhibition in Dubai on September 15, titled ‘From the Art of Architecture to the Architecture of Art’.

There’s no place in the world that has more fascinating and interesting architecture than Dubai

Drawing inspiration from his architectural sketches, Arnold’s first exhibit at the Showcase Gallery in the emirate’s Al Serkal Avenue was dedicated primarily to his mono-print works. The pieces depicted buildings from old parts of Dubai, as well as modern structures such as the Burj Khalifa and the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Each mono-print combines layers of pencil drawing over oil paper, placed on an oil painted foil on glass. The mono-prints, some incorporating gold leaf, transform architectural structures into otherworldly objects, with the help of pencil, paint, paper and foil and the “free spirited movement of a new artist's hand”, as Arnold described it.

“As I left the architectural realm and moved into the painting and the visual artistic side, I see the mono-print process as being that bridge between the architectural and the artistic,” said Arnold. “I can still use my sketch capability, but there is something that happens – I sometimes refer to it as magic.”

Mike Arnold Al Serkal Avenue
'Infinitely', by Mike Arnold

On the opening night, the gallery welcomed crowds of art aficionados and visitors intrigued by the new artist’s works. The show runs through to November 6 and showcases some 30 mono-prints, in addition to a number of Arnold’s oil paintings of camels and horses.

Arnold spent the first half of last year painting seven days a week, 12 to 18 hours a day, and is now seeing the fruit of his labour. In his small studio in Dubai’s Al Fahidi District – formerly known as Al Bastakiya – his sketches come to life and give way to mono-prints, as well as watercolour and oil paintings. The artist draws inspiration from this old part of town, where he can take leisurely strolls in its narrow alleyways and interact with other artists who have found refuge in its creative environment.

Being in Dubai has been instrumental to Arnold’s success both as an architect and now as a new artist.

Mike Arnold Al Serkal Avenue
Guests peruse Arnold’s first exhibit at the Showcase Gallery in Dubai’s Al Serkal Avenue

“Dubai was probably the prefect place to do it first because of my foundation in architecture and there’s no place in the world that has more fascinating and interesting architecture than Dubai and the UAE in general,” he said. “But also art, art communities and the whole understanding of art is at its infancy here. With the new museums coming up in Abu Dhabi and with regional artists that are finding their voice and their creative spirit to pursue certain areas, everyone is starting from new… [There’s] no better place than Dubai and the UAE to be pursuing this. It’s just fantastic.”

After this show, Arnold is set on developing his skills as a realist painter, as he learns about painting portraiture and animals. “I don’t see myself painting buildings other than just very quickly, but I want to capture the spirit the light and energy and that’s what I’m trying to do both in my mono-prints and my oil paintings,” he said.