Academy Awards - Interview with Michael Meadors (MFA 2010)

By Claire Cushman

For our “Farthest show from the Academy” Award, we’ll be featuring Michael Meadors, (MFA 2010), who currently lives and works in Dubai. Meadors arrived in Dubai last September, after accepting a job to teach art at the only Fine Arts program in the UAE: The University of Sharjah. Below, he answers some questions about his experience abroad.

What brought you to Dubai, and when?
I arrived in Dubai last September, where I accepted a job to teach art at the only Fine Arts program in the UAE: The University of Sharjah. Since my arrival I have been teaching personal and professional development, along with senior critiques, painting, drawing, and foundations. The professional development course has allowed me to discover and engage with the art world here.
With a student next to her artwork in a group show 

Can you tell me about the Dubai art world? Artist community?
There is quite a lot of activity and local support for the arts in Dubai, especially in Sharjah. The Emirates see art as an important part of cultural promotion. This is exemplified by Art Dubai (the annual international art fair on par with fairs in NYC), the Sharjah Biennial, in it's 13th running, Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation, which supports promotion of the arts, and the soon to be opened Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi, among others. There is also a cadre of local and international galleries across two major art districts in Dubai – the Dubai International Financial Center and Al Serkal Ave. Across the 40 or so galleries there is a bustling art scene with art nights and other community events. Most of the work would be at home in a lot of the Chelsea or LES galleries. The shows tend to skew towards Contemporary or Modern Arab/Gulf artists, but at least a third are International artists, so you see quite a wide range of nationalities.
One of the streets in Al Serkal Ave gallery district early on an opening night    

How has your work evolved since the Academy, or since living and working in New York?

My work has shifted a lot since the Academy. I moved away from the 'history' paintings I was struggling with during my studies, partially due to space and time constraints from living and working day jobs in NYC and partially due to the medium not answering the questions I had at the time. Since I graduated in 2010, I have been interested in stripping down my work to an exploration of illusion and depth, flatness and form. This has led me to concentrate on Graphite paintings on paper. I can create them rapidly and return to them easily, so I'm able to balance my day-jobs and family life while investigating the conceptual territory of depictions, propagated imagery, and the picture plane surface.

This body of work was cemented when I was an artist in residence in Berlin for 4 months in early 2013, along with Matthew Woodward and Sarah E. Hall, both Academy alumni and great artists. Having the time and space to focus and develop my practice, I found a way to balance the constructive and destructive tendencies of my relationship to media and objects, barriers and entries. In one piece I can both sincerely enjoy hyper realizing rendered human form and have the joy of color, emotional expression, and obliteration of form that also excites me. I owe a lot to my studies at NYAA, the great colleagues I worked with, the extremely generous and knowledgeable faculty, and access to the NYC art world.

'Three Page Spread' 2015 Painted graphite, stabilo pencil, enamel, and collage on paper. 39x44"    

In 2012, your work explored images of the body through Rococo decadence and contemporary advertising. How has Dubai’s decadence played into or expanded this exploration?
Dubai is a very interesting mix of many inspiring elements: The embrace of spectacle in the malls gives me a sheer volume of western advertising displays and imagery to base my work around. Hyper images for my consumption. There is also the rich mixture of cultures and people to be inspired by. All the different cultural ideas of beauty and personal presentation enrich my practice. I am constantly learning about myself. The amount of hospitality I have felt has been a welcome reprieve from leaving my country. In the same day I can drive over sand dunes in one of the most arid deserts, visit the world's tallest building, and swim in the sea. 
My friends in the desert. Drove up one of the smaller dunes.   
How much of your work is influenced by your surroundings in Dubai, and how important do you think location is to an artist’s work?

Location is incredibly important for an artist. We're all sensitive to a lot of things but space seeps into us. Living in the New York area meant living with a lot of struggle; missed trains, constrictive expenses, cold feet from stepping in the curb slush during winter. After a while it was hard to balance the joys of my creative friends and art against the hardness and cynicism that the city nurtured in me. Coming here has allowed me to shed certain struggles and given me room to experience passion and joy with art again. I'm very thankful for this experience and excited about my studio work. Now if I could only do something about the 120-degree temperatures.


Visit our 2015 Alumni Reunion page to see a full list of Academy Awards.

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