This month, the eyes of the international art world are on the capital. The focus will be on the future, but the UAE has been a refuge for years to artists who visually represent their heritage a world away from the place they call home.
One such artist is UAE-based Jose Toledo. His artwork graces the halls of The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal, this November in the first in a series of art exhibitions planned by the hotel.
Toledo’s artwork is of unique interest in this city full of transient people as he is the quintessential expat. Born in Mexico, Toledo trained to be a civil engineer. He then shifted gears, moved to New Delhi and enrolled in a college of art to follow his dreams of becoming a painter. Toledo says, “I had always been attracted to art, especially paintings by old masters and modern artists. When I moved to India, I finally had the chance to express myself as an artist, and it was a revelation.”
While transitioning from engineering to painting may seem incongruous, Toledo says, “I think the two disciplines complete one another. I share both the role of the engineer and the artist in my soul so, depending on the time, my mood or my energy, either can emerge more prominently than the other.”
And this comes through in Toledo’s paintings, which flow from abstract to realistic as effortlessly as Toledo shifts his medium. From acrylics to oils, his still lives are picture-perfect while his whirling dervishes are dreamy and loosely arranged. His abstract paintings, meanwhile, are mesmerising and complex.
When asked the daunting task of describing his artwork, Toledo explains, “I have painted for more than 20 years. I am more convinced every single day that I must resist the urge to label myself or identify with any specific art movement. I am not an artist working within any rigid parameters. Instead, I am an artist influenced by traditional and contemporary artworks and artists – my art defies classification.”
Though Jose deflects the question of movement affiliation, he is quick to offer his inspiration. “As with most artists, there is a story behind all of my paintings”, he says. “I am influenced by moods, emotions and experiences that I face in my life. I am most influenced by my trips, my feelings, my friends, my beloved ones and the different cultures in which I’ve been immersed. “Travel inspires my artwork. I consider myself very lucky to have had the chance to travel and live in so many different countries. I have enjoyed learning from the many different cultures I have experienced, especially the Arab world, which continues to inspire me visually and emotionally.”
On working with the Ritz-Carlton for its first art exhibition, Toledo says, “It is an honour and a privilege for me to be the first artist to exhibit in such a fantastic venue. I am very grateful to the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal, for giving me this unique opportunity to exhibit here and to further explore Abu Dhabi.
“I have been touched by the landmarks of this beautiful country such as the Grand Mosque, the Mangroves, the desert and the sea.”
Get yourself on the art scene and visit the Ritz-Carlton to tour Jose Toledo’s artistic world on the ground floor until the end of November.
Free. On exhibit 24/7. Nov 1-30. Lower lobby, Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal, Khor Al Maqta’a (02 818 8888).
Jose’s unusual subjects
2014, oil on canvas, 80x10cm.
This is part of a series that reflects Sufi dance – the mystical arm of Islam. Toledo recreated the movement with fine and clean traces.
2003, oil on canvas, 71x84cm.
Jose Toledo lived in Palestine, and this painting recreates the stunning desertscapes he grew accustomed to seeing every day.
2008, oil on canvas, 80x60cm.
This is a realistic painting from Toledo’s time in Palestine where he was so delighted by the freshness of the fruits and vegetables that he painted them.