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Visionary Eccentrics —What Can They Tell Us?

Society has often had its eye on eccentrics, particularly visionary ones who display sharp instincts for adaptability and resilience. They’ve been personified as formidable beacons of endurance and bearers of idiosyncrasies, allure and considerable joie de vivre. Compiled here are insights into their private worlds.

Twitter wasn’t around in 1965 to catch Picasso’s debonair attitude, ‘No regrets about dead or past: We must go on — even if it is madness’.

The Spanish artist fortified his reputation as a visionary when he painted the famous author Gertrude Stein.“Everybody says that she does not look like it but that does not make any difference, she will”, declared Picasso at age 23. 

Queen Elizabeth’s sister Princess Margaret was determined to marry Picasso, according to Craig Brown’s biography Ma’am Darling: Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret which also stated, ‘Yes, I’m sure he’s awfully sweet, darling, and you know how much I love pictures — but they tell me he’s desperately Spanish, and one can’t help but worry that he simply won’t fit in – protested the Queen Mother’.

When the iconic photographer Cecil Beaton had visited Picasso, then 84, at his villa, he described crowded sitting-rooms with ‘a marvellous litter of papers, drawings, posters, early photographs, illustrated books, joke toys, newspapers, poetry, profiles cut out of metal, stacked canvases and every sort of unaccountable bric-a-brac.’ In the spirit of endurance, Picasso had told Beaton, “Oh, the number of paintings! Sometimes seven a day! Almost as many as you must have photographs!” 

Those scatterings have become metaphoric pillars of museums, galleries, private collections and auction houses. One such scattering was brought out in May 2022 by Bonhams in London, New Bond Street, in what was the second edition of Picassomania —an expansive oeuvre of the most influential artist of the 20th century. 

Contemporary luminaries  

Artist Andrew Scanlan with a painting of Putin

Zeitgeist artworks of the early 2020s? I’d press a date-stamp on two paintings titled Lockdown and Putin, both created in Dubai by an award-winning British Artist Andrew Scanlan, a jolly fellow, really, who’s developed his own style of painting known as Cellular Art. “The other Putin painting was called Fire Starter”, declared Scanlan. “How right I was.” 

The Winner of the World Art Dubai Emerging Artist Award admitted on Dubai Eye Radio 103.8 that he’s quite claustrophobic. So when the world went into lockdown in 2020, painting served as a release. “Lockdown [the painting], voiced Scanlan, “was born out of that period.”

“Cellular Art”, clarified Scanlan, “is a meticulous process of painting, and a finished piece can take up to 200 hours to produce, one dot at a time.” Which is why he could score a Guinness World Record for painting the most number of circular cells. However, [Mister] ‘I’m-from-Nottingham-where-Robin-Hood-comes-from’ has been on a different mission. This time, he’s dressed in war paint. 

His son-in-law Evjenij (pronounced Jenya) is stuck in Ukraine since the war began on February 24th. Scanlan, in his protest, has been applying acrylic paint to miniature replicas of human skulls, the treatment of which collectively reveals a larger picture. In this case, it’s the face of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Scanlan’s portraits are indeed, provocative; they swing fresh paint onto the bold, the controversial, and the beautiful. 

It’s fair to say that Cellular Art has become a champion among the art community for its impressive capacity to depict a subject. Upheld by Scanlan’s narrative which is ‘to create order out of chaos’, the technique resembles Pointillism which originated in 19th Century France. His paintings have sold for AED 40,000 a piece, some of which have a whopping 40,000 cells of individually mixed portions of acrylic paint.

Dubai’s future is bright

For a man in his mid-fifties who’s spent nearly half of his life in the UAE, Scanlan remarked that he has enjoyed following the lives of its rulers. “Dubai Crown Prince His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, affectionately known as Fazza, under which he published his accomplished poetry, is adored, particularly by Dubai’s younger generation. He is wise beyond his years”, observed Scanlan, “and has a warm persona of approachability and caring. Dubai’s future is bright”.

The Spirit of Faces

Portraits, though finished, are often bearers of unfinished stories. Scanlan’s portrait, for example, of Sir Winston Churchill was in view at his former gallery at the DIFC during his interview on Zayed the Inspirer.

The late British Prime Minister was known to be entirely faithful to his wife Clementine —until a book released in April 2022 titled Doris – Le secret de Churchill by French author Stéphanie des Horts and French publisher Albin Michel, flung open the doors to discuss his secret affair with a glamorous English socialite of the time. During their rendezvous, two portraits were painted of Churchill and Doris Castlerosse. She is the great-aunt of the model Cara Delevingne. It is said that Doris later used them during WW2 to secure for herself a route out of troubled waters. The two portraits might as well have been titled Adaptability and Resilience.

Article contributed by: Melissa Randhawa, a UAE-based journalist for 27 years. Born and raised in Dubai, she writes with fondness about this dynamic hub and its wonderfully diverse community.

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