Julian Castaldi is the first Dubai-based artist to create such works
In the United Arab Emirates, every institute, from school to restaurant, in between and beyond, is proud to express their gratitude to the leaders of the country, by displaying their images on the walls of the space. Call it protocol, but residents agree it’s more of a gesture of respect. Often these images are either photographs or traditional portraits, so it was a surprise to us when we entered the lobby of the Hyde Hotel Dubai, Business Bay, and witnessed the beautiful aesthetic portraits of the President, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al. Nahyane; His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates 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 splash of neon colors 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 in Dubai, and the creator behind the same. The first pop art-inspired portraits of the rulers of the United Arab Emirates to be installed in a hotel in the city are aptly titled Visionaries. « I always try to make my paintings unique. So when Zeina Salloum, Hyde’s art consultant, approached me regarding the Rulers portraits, I immediately wanted to create a more current look rather than the traditional portraits, but be equally respectful and in keeping with tradition. he says. We learned more about his work on the show, his views on the changing face of photography, NFTs and more.
Excerpts from an interview with Julian Castaldi:
Tell us more about The Visionaries…your favorite moment from the series?
One of my other favorite pieces to paint was a vintage photograph of Sheikh Zayed, Father of the Nation, in the desert in his car. I redesigned it again in a pop art style and created it in silver and gold leaf and various other mediums. A large commission of triptychs hangs in the Crown Prince Court, Abu Dhabi, which is such an honour.
How did you end up in Dubai?
We were back in Cardiff, Wales after spending many years traveling and photographing musical acts around the world. We were thinking of moving to Los Angeles or Barcelona, but we came to Dubai in 2013 to babysit a friend’s cat and never left!
Did you study arts as a subject?
I’m self-taught, 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, school was overwhelming for me.
Where would you say your first inspirations came from?
Definitely from my time in LA and the surf, skate, BMX scene (I think I’m the oldest BMX in Dubai). I have traveled several times to all states in the USA, Canada and BC with amazing rides and views.
Tell us about your mixed media work…
I create a diverse mix of styles, including traditional painting 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 look. I use a lot of driftwood and reclaimed steel and have painted a lot of salvaged surfboards, anything that I can keep from going to landfill.
How was your experience working as an artist in the UAE?
He’s been incredibly busy. As with any job there are ups and downs, it takes time to build your business. Instagram has been amazing and lots of commissions have come through social media. Working with the hotel is of course a highlight, seeing my hard work gain pride of place in the lobby was a proud moment for me. But these things took time, it didn’t happen and it doesn’t happen overnight.
In the age of mobile cameras and IG filters, what do you see as the future of photography?
I worked as a photographer and filmmaker for over 20 years and remember the dawn of digital photography. It’s amazing that we now have a 12 megapixel camera in our phones. Personally, I still love cinema and Polaroids, etc. The future of photography is limitless.
It’s a tough life for an artist, what kept you going?
I think freelancing in any field is similar, you have to keep your head down and keep going. The world needs more creativity in schools and more empathy in general.
What is your advice for anyone hoping to pursue a career in the arts?
Self-confidence and tenacity. Keep knocking on doors and push, push, push. Start today, don’t wait.
Tell us about your upcoming projects?
I have an archive of polaroids that I took over a 25 year period. I plan to make an exhibition of it. I also plan to broadcast my Vintage Arabic commercials; create a book of the same art.
Finally, what is your opinion on NFTs?
Ah, I was asked to participate, but so far I’ve waited, mainly because I love using paint and canvas and am lucky enough to be busy creating art tangible. This brave new world doesn’t really excite me, to be honest.