The Order within the Chaos

Oscillating between the personas of a modern-day philosopher and a pop-culture enthusiast, Andrew Scanlan is an artist par excellence. His paintings compel his audiences to hold their gaze on them, as their minds slowly unravel the hauntingly beautiful parallels it draws with human life, discovers Ayaat Attar

Man is a fascinating creature. He often finds himself trapped within adversity, struggling, and lost. It’s only when he takes a second and zooms out to look at the larger picture of life, does the chaos string together, and a discernible pattern appears. A pattern he can work with and a pattern that he learns to embrace. 

Andrew Scanlan, the winner of the World Art Dubai Rove Hotels Emerging Artist of the Year 2019-20, is the creator of the technique he calls ‘cellular style’, a method where thousands of cells of acrylic paint are mixed and placed individually with a brush onto canvas. His work feels abstract at close quarters but delivers startling clarity as the viewer pulls back and views from a distance. 

This, however, is by no means his only style, and he paints in an eclectic range of techniques to meet his mood and how he wishes to express a subject. Much like the strokes of his brush, the artist too has been flowing through the unvarnished portrait of life, going where the big picture takes him, one painting at a time!

Although Andrew comes from humble beginnings, memories from his early life reflect a household alive with sibling banter and a strong familial bond. Intuitive and perceptive, he has always been artistically inclined, and exposure to music and pop culture were early contributors to the palette he today draws from. 

Recalling his childhood, Andrew says, “I was privileged to be born at the beginning of the ‘swinging’ 60s when Britain was undergoing a rebirth and expressing itself through music, fashion, style, and art. I remember my elder brother leaving the house to go to a party, wearing a full red tunic like the Beatles Sergeant Pepper Album Cover, sporting the Beatles mop-top hairstyle, drainpipe jeans, and Lennon round-framed glasses. My father would look over the top of his newspaper and shake his head while I was in absolute awe of him.”

Faza - HRH Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum
Shush (Bowie in the Matrix), Acrylic on canvas painted in cellular style

Like siblings playfully do, his brother would flick him out of the way when he got too close. But when he was out, Andrew would sneak into his room and play his albums on the small revolving turntable – The Beatles, The Stones, The Kinks, all brilliant to his inexperienced ears. “I remember loving the Album covers and it was often those stunning artistic designs that first attracted me to listen to the contents,” he recalls.

In the following decade, he became a huge fan of David Bowie, massively influenced by his style. Shortly after the news of the singer-songwriter’s death, the lifetime fan that he was, Andrew created the portrait, ‘Goodbye Major Tom’, where he tried to cut through the celebrity and his various personas to capture David Bowie, the man. “It was my way of saying goodbye,” he adds with a smile.

He may come across as the life-of-the-party, but much like his art, Andrew himself is heavily layered, having a subdued side to himself that lets him plunge into the depths of the craft. “I guess, when I look back, art has always been there, bubbling under the surface. I have always been creative and the one to turn to for an alternative view,” he recalls.

 Tracing back to the inception of his love affair with the canvas, the artist says, “I have always found solace and peace in being alone with my thoughts, scribbling or doodling or writing. However, art did not emerge until it was truly ready, and it burst from me just six years ago. I simply had an urge to paint.” The artist felt a sudden overwhelming need to express himself through color and imagery. He bought canvases, paint, and brushes, locked himself in a room, and started playing with paint. It was an epiphany, and he became so self-absorbed with the creation of these pictures that time stood still for him. “So here I am six years later still painting, immensely satisfied creatively. Most evenings, I can be found in my studio, music cranked up, the door firmly shut against the real world.”

A Tormented Mind (Joker) — the painter try to capture torment of Joaquin Phoenix in the Joker movie

 The explorer that he is, Andrew describes his equation with the craft as “a wonderful journey of trial and error and experimentation.” He further adds, “With each painting I feel I learn something new.” In much the same way someone cannot pick up an instrument and simply play it, he is wired to look at things from alternative perspectives and loves to experiment with new techniques and styles.

 It can be hard to imagine the creator of spectacles like ‘The Saloon Bar Smith’ and ‘Street Fighter’ being anything but a master of colors, but it’s interesting to know that Andrew came to Dubai in 1995 and worked as a manager for an insurance brokerage for several years. These years of self-actualization and evolving with the scape around him have enriched his perceptive soul with experiences, reflecting in his spellbinding craft, that not just resonates but stays with its viewers. 

“The UAE was a very different place 25 years ago. I would spend many weekends investigating the oldest parts of Dubai and soaking up the atmosphere and culture.” As he drifts back in time, he vividly remembers the mosque he discovered in a little enclosed square, totally covered with blue and white ceramic tiles with colorful flags blowing in the wind on the top of the minarets. He also fondly recalls his almost weekly visits to a small Iranian restaurant run by a family of a father and three brothers, open since the early 70s, serving just two or three menu options. “Basic but wonderful!” he reminisces.

He also has memories of another Yemeni restaurant frequented by locals and fishermen that served only one thing – fish baked in a charcoal oven, burned black on the outside, but one could crack open the skin to find beautiful white flesh beneath. “I have no doubts that these experiences contributed greatly to my future art destiny,” he chuckles.

Saloon Bar Smith — the portrait of Hugh Smith who the artist met on Instagram

THROUGH THE LENS OF AN ARTIST

All heart, Andrew views the world through a surreal lens, drawing inspiration from wherever the soul is stirred – travel, cultures, people, faces, feelings, loss, happiness, love, anger, music, nature, world events, science, all merge to fuel his creative process. “I have lived through so many experiences that I now have a vast palette of emotions that I can draw upon when creating my art.” He tries not to be influenced by other artists as he enjoys experimenting and discovering his own styles. However, he admits to deeply admiring the work of Tamara De Lempicka. “If I was ever wealthy enough to collect art, it would be her.”

As cathartic as he finds the journey of creating a piece from its inception, he would consider his job well done if it translates straight to his audiences and turns into a lived-in experience for them. “Artists do ultimately want to have an impact on people. I love it when someone takes the time for the image of my painting to wash over them and connect on an emotional level. It’s not just about the aesthetics or the technique, but it’s also about expressing the soul and the emotions within the subject,” he says.

Grace — for this portrait Andrew used much smaller cells of color to create the image

David Bowie had been the soundtrack of his life since the early 70s and although he didn’t know him personally, Andrew felt a profound sense of loss when the singer passed away. “I found myself exorcising my grief through two paintings, ‘Goodbye Major Tom’ and ‘Shush’. With the latter, I brought together two iconic images of Bowie’s famous ‘shush’ pose and the movie Matrix.”

Continuing with his admiration for Bowie, “His lyrics often incorporated science fiction and so the idea sparked to not have Bowie die but instead to merge into the Matrix where his essence lives on. In the painting, he is motioning his desire for us to keep his secret.” The artist has a portfolio of over 40 paintings, each with their own story and motivation.

Andrew is a thinker and philosopher in himself and has devised his own way of looking at things and theories that find their way into his work. He used to have a simple microscope as a kid and loved discovering new things to look at under the lens. “Everything we see is represented by countless small cells of color. The closer we view these cells, the more random they appear. Then when we pull away, the brain stitches these cells together to generate an image. It is this phenomenon that I use to create many of my paintings,” he explains. 

Each painting he creates is a laborious journey, with up to 40,000 individually mixed and painted cells of color, and some paintings taking as long as three months to complete. The technique generates depth or 3D quality to the paintings. He finds the process therapeutic as day-by-day; the subject slowly emerges from the canvas. “I do paint in various styles depending on my mood and what I want to express, but my Cellular style continues to generate the most interest,” he remarks. 

Most pieces of his art are portraits. Be it the close-up study of an athlete or his take on the iconic member of the Beetles, what intrigues him most about people, he admits excitedly, are faces! 

“I love faces! The whole character of a person is there in their face if you look closely enough. I choose subjects and characters that I bump into as I go through life. I also paint other characters; for example, I was recently inspired to paint Joaquin Phoenix as the character ‘Joker’. His performance in the movie was astounding, and it left me so moved that I turned as always to my art to release the emotion it stirred in me.”

Andrew Scanlan Gallery at the Avenue at DIFC

THE PICTURE SO FAR 

Andrew was enjoying the creative space that he was in, working on one magnificent piece after another when World Art Dubai Rove Hotel’s ‘Emerging Artist of the Year’ happened to him. “My wife came across some information about the competition and encouraged me to enter. I felt a little reluctant at the time as some amazing artists were exhibiting at the World Art Dubai Exhibition, but I agreed to enter one of my most popular paintings, ‘Saloon Bar Smith’. Unfortunately, I could not attend the exhibition as my mother was very sick in the UK. It was a massive surprise to get the call from my wife to inform me that my painting had won. It felt like an important endorsement for my work. My prize was a free stand at this year’s World Art Dubai, which proved to be a fabulous event and showcased my art to a vast audience. Rove Hotel’s support for local artists through this prize is terrific, and I know this year’s winner will also enjoy the recognition that this prize brings.” The title has put him on the map along with the rarest in his field of work. 

I love faces! If you look closely enough, the whole character of a person is there in their face. I choose subjects and characters that I bump into as I go through life”

Beneath the layers of a passionate artist, true to his upbringing, Andrew is a grounded family man. Talking about his family, he says, “Between myself and my wife Lyudmila, we have 5 children and one grandchild. As expatriates our families are scattered over the globe which can be distressing at times but it really makes us appreciate the times when we do get to be together.”

The future holds a greater expedition for the artist, because the way he looks at it, he has greater heights to scale. “I am enjoying my art and will continue to paint and see where it takes me.”, he says. “I love that others appreciate and find a connection with my work. The most exciting thing on the immediate horizon is the opening of my small gallery in the Avenue at DIFC. The gallery will display my original paintings but they are also available as very affordable limited edition prints which makes them available to everyone.”, he gleams.

Having had an exciting, creatively enthralling first innings, Andrew desires a surreal setup post retirement. His simple desires include a cottage in the South of France, with a studio where he can paint, a river where he can fish and a vineyard nearby

SHADES OF SCANLAN

When not behind the canvas, Andrew likes to spend his time travelling – discovering new places and meeting new people. “I have a backlog of destinations that Covid stole from us this year. I also enjoy discovering new restaurants with my wife and despite being here for 25 years, we still manage to discover new ones all the time.”, the artists smiles.

If you ever look at the stars, they seem random, but they are not. The further we see into space, the more we begin to see structure and order

An artist of his calibre, we were curious to know what he considered ‘greatest work of art of all times’. “It’s an almost impossible question to answer because art is so subjective.”, he answered. “It’s something we ingest so differently from person to person and of course our tastes and influences change over time. I would say the last art that moved you is currently the best piece of art in the world. My most enduring favourites, if I had to choose just one right now, it would be John Singer Sargent’s, Madam X. It’s a stunning painting but also a great story. Worth a google.”, he chuckles. 

Scanlan is deeply passionate about the work he does, and admits that he can’t imagine a life any different from the one he is living. He jokes, that if he wasn’t painting, he’d slowing be descending into madness.

He lives and operates by the motto, ‘There is order within chaos’. When asked how he would deconstruct the phrase for his readers, he explains, “If you ever look at the stars, they seem random, but they are not. The further we see into space the more we begin to see structure and order. If we look at the smallest particles and atoms they seem to collide and shift randomly but in fact they follow a strange but obvious order. Even something as random as chance can be given order by applying the laws of probability. If you look closely at my cellular paintings the colors seem random, until you pull back and see them merge to form the sum of the whole. And so, I like to play around with the idea that there is an order within chaos.”

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