When there’s a new arts space or exhibition opening in town, we’re always excited to find out all we can about the venture. This month, FACT’s Shabana Adam meets Dohabased British artist, Stephen Watkins, to talk technique, inspirations, and his solo exhibition at the brand new The Corridor in Grand Hyatt Doha…
Stephen Watkins has always been more of a technical drawer. From the age of 10, he was sure that his future lay in architecture and designing buildings. “I remember I used to design houses on a drawing board and loved doing all the architectural plans and elevations,” Stephen recalls. “I’ve always been reasonably good at art and I studied A levels in the subject. Unfortunately I didn’t get very good grades as I was always more interested in the technical side rather than the free flowing styles that most artists used,” he adds. “I remember my Art teacher telling me to stop being so technical and be more free and expressional in my art.”
It was in his mid-twenties when Stephen explored his art teacher’s advice, and combined his professional freehand skills with his love of art, something that also grew out of spending the evening doing some painting with his wife, Verity, when nothing good was on the TV!
I produced a couple of pieces of our local skyline (Portsmouth UK) with vibrant background colours,” Stephen says. “I never displayed my early work and I was surprised when one day our neighbour came round saw the painting and immediately wanted to buy it. With that encouragement I decided to work up more paintings based on a similar theme. “One day when I was at work my wife secretly took a few of my paintings down to a local gallery – a couple of weeks later I found out that they had all been sold,” he continues. “From that day forward I embraced the style of my painting and focused more time on producing more pieces.”
Stephen, with his family, moved to Qatar in 2009, and saw this life change as the perfect opportunity to develop his artistic style. Stephen explains: “Doha has one of the best skylines and I love using and experimenting with vivid colours, along with my technical style, to depict landscapes and structures. This contrast works well and allows me to work with the fluidity of painting along with the more structured side of architectural drawing. “The benefit of living in the Middle East has encouraged me to be influenced by my local environment and develop my painting style into more Arabesque pattern styles and experiment with more abstracted views of the Doha skyline,” he adds.
Stephen’s solo exhibition, currently displays around 20 of his pieces, both older pieces and new ones, at the newly created arts space The Corridor, in Grand Hyatt Doha. “This exhibition has given me a great opportunity to expose my work to a greater audience and not just the expat community,” Stephen says. “The range of work depicts the style of my work from my early years to more recent experimental pieces. The exhibition shows a story of my time in Doha and how I have evolved as an artist whilst being influenced by my cultural surroundings.”
“With my paintings, I am trying to portray an alternative side of art – one that steps away from its more traditional style to a more contemporary and technical route,” he tells us. “Doha is changing everyday – it’s modern, contemporary and infused with old traditional culture and styles. I’m trying to bring this all together and voice that they can be infused as one.” Stephen’s tools and techniques involve, mainly, acrylic on canvas, which, as a flexible material allows him to use heavy free lines and fine detailing. “I would love to start experimenting in other styles and methods,” he says. “My paintings are getting bigger and more detailed and I feel other tools and materials could enhance my style. Getting into sculpture would be a dream, especially to work with metal to create abstract architectural style sculptures.”
It is very clear that, for Stephen, his biggest inspiration is his family and next it’s his surroundings here in Doha. “Painting is a great way to relax and because my wife paints as well we can spend evenings together instead of just sitting in front of the television for a few hours,” he explains. “We have three children aged four, six and eight, which takes up a lot of our time, however, they love to sit and watch us paint and I hope that that they learn a lot of the skills just by seeing us working on a piece of art. Sometimes we will give them a canvas and we will all sit down as a family and just paint,” Stephen adds. Stephen’s work is bold, vibrant, and carries an architectural twist that is quite rare in contemporary artworks. He has a genuine appetite for learning and creating art, with his own style, and sharing it with the world. This, art enthusiasts, is the epitome of a modern-day creative with a true passion – and, now, you can go and view the artistic flair for yourself at The Corridor.
GO: Stephen Watkins’ solo exhibition will be on display at The Corridor, Grand Hyatt Doha until March 19. Call 4448 1234 for more information.