Jack Lee, Abu Dhabi based Chinese artist with his portrait paintings of Shaikh Zayed. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Finding inspiration in what he calls the mystique behind Bedouin tradition in the UAE, a Chinese artist based in Abu Dhabi puts his passion for the emirates into his paintings.

A UAE resident of 14 years, Jack Lee’s paintings have fetched him plaudits and recognition from Emiratis, with the artist finding himself busy meeting requests from both government agencies and private citizens for his portraits of UAE’s leaders and landscapes of Bedouin scenes.

“When I came to the UAE, the culture was so new to me and very different from my own,” he said. “I was intrigued and wanted to learn as much as I could about the local culture, I was very interested in everything like the food, the clothes, the lifestyle and all the traditions.

“As an artist, I try to add my own perspective to my paintings, and I do this by adding colours to make the painting stand out. My painting can be a simple scenery of the desert with a man and a camel, but it is with the colours that make the painting look nice and interesting,” he added.

I didn’t know a lot about Shaikh Zayed when I moved to the UAE, but over time I learnt about him which made me realise what a great man and leader he was.

- Jack Lee, Chinese artist

“All of my paintings represent different aspects of the Bedouin culture and the UAE — the desert, the camels, the traditional clothing and historic buildings like the Qasr Al Hosn Fort. All of these paintings tell the story of the UAE through the form of art.”

Lee said his portrait paintings of the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan are among his favourite works.

“I didn’t know a lot about Shaikh Zayed when I moved to the UAE, but over time I learnt about him which made me realise what a great man and leader he was. The way he developed the country from the desert was an amazing achievement and so I really wanted to express my appreciation for him through my paintings.

“The portraits are based on real pictures that I convert to paintings. I had to do a lot of work and research to collect and find pictures of him, and even when I had the pictures, I had to closely study them to understand all the little details to make sure my paintings were a good reflection,” he said.

“Many of the pictures I have in my collection are in black and white from his younger days, and so for these pictures I paint them, adding colours and also put in some other features like a cup for example.”

Lee said art was an essential and powerful tool for cultural enlightenment.

“Art is a strong tool for cultural exchange,” he said. “It allows people to know about different cultures and countries in an interesting and innovative way.

“With art it’s not just looking at a book and reading, you look at a painting that shows you what the culture actually looks like, and so people can get an understanding of the story behind the UAE through a painting.”

And with the availability of social media, Lee says his paintings can now reach a much wider and global audience.

“When I started painting there wasn’t Facebook or Instagram like there is now, and so when I post one of my works on these platforms I am getting to reach a worldwide audience. And so now I am reaching people of all nationalities introducing them about the UAE and its culture through these paintings. “I’ve received many messages from people who said they didn’t know much about the UAE but learnt a little thanks to the paintings they saw, and that makes me very happy,” he added.