TIME OUT; The Gulf Today/Thursday November 29, 2007 Muhammad Yusuf reviews A BOOK THAT TAKES ONE ON AND ARTISTIC AND LITERARY TRIP ACROSS THE GULF AND BEYOND Take two very talented artists, give them a sponsorship and put them in Arabia and its surroundings … What do you get? A wonderful coffee table book called “AI Khaleej and beyond, reflections of two artists”. The artists are Peter Lawrence and Mike Shepley, two names which should be familiar to those in the art world here. Lawrence is an environmental engineer who has helped build many a water and sanitation facility in the Middle East. He says it was his wife's prompting that made him take up painting. There is a Churchillian touch to his life, since he took up the excitement of "wet in wet" rather late in life, like the late British PM. He lives with his wife, to whom we are highly indebted, in Dubai, along with his family. Shepley has had formal training in art since he is a graduate of the Edinburgh College of Art. He is the chaos to his friend Lawrence's orderliness, 'both in life and art. While Lawrence sticks to the straight and narrow, Shepley is never at home in one place or medium. He became interested in painting (though he graduated in architecture), took up filmmaking and still photography, is an excellent cook and also a mariner of sorts. Both artists, according to Motivate Publishing ,which has brought out the book, have lively painting styles that complement each other. It isn’t too difficult to identify PL and MS from their works. The former is cautious, while the latter is exuberant. Lawrence also tends to be picture postcardish, while Shepley is impressionistic. Together the duo has put together a feast of pictures that gives one a wonderful glimpse into the colour and vibrancy of the region as Jonathan Griffiths, Motivate’s General Manager says. Not only that; both artists are riveting raconteurs. Their comments and observations on people, pIaces, nature and wildlife are not only apt but also humorous. They combine sharp eyes with tart tongues! Just as bowlers (for those who know their' cricket) hunt in pairs, it is just as well that MWH, the global water and environmental consulting engineering company, sponsored the two artists together. Why is two company in the art world? Let Lawrence give the answer. "One of my greatest pleasures," he says, "is to work with other artists. Sit a group of 12 painters in front of the same scene and you'll get 12 different pictures. It can be both fruitful and revealing to analyse the reasoning and background which leads each artist to see different aspects of a view." One has only to lake a look at the Old Sana'a scene (pages 84 -85) to see how painters differ from each other, even when painting the same scene. The artists are not poorer for doing this and we are the richer for it. Viva la difference! The book is a cornucopia of artists, ornithologists, natives, flora, fauna, boats, camels gardens, water and history. It takes you from the Arabian peninsula to Al Sham and from Yemen to Turkey via Egypt in 128 pages. It may look like a sprint across the region. But it is nothing of the sort.
Al Khaleej and beyond actually drifts along at yesterdayâ€™s pace through a region shooting past us at tomorrow's speed. The artist-writers have captured the MENA (Middle East North Africa) region's changing texture where mosques now co-exist with malls, through paint and word. They have drawn the minarets, souks, forts, native customs, mountains, wind and water towers, women and children, Dubai Creek ("Manhattan of the Gulf') and Shibam in Yemen("Chicago of the Desert"), with loving care and detail. It could only come from their, commitment. But they can be irreverent too, if only to show tbey are not painting the ideal picture. They always have a wry grin to spare for the local follies and foibles. For example, Shepley says that "The Violent Restaurant which he has drawn, is one of his all-time favourite restaurants in the UAE. "But I never ate there," he says. "Who woold date with a name like that? He however adds that he knows what they are trying to say. Lawrence is particularly good when he draws children. His pictures of the young novice stretching him-self to hurl a stick into the air, at a local dance(page 33), the painting of a young child at the doorway of his house (page 67), or the portraits of children chasing his steamdriven paddle cruiser down the Nile, are studies in child psychology. Their cry for attention and the dare-to-do dash on their faces are very well done. It is not only well-known pIaces or things that we come across in the book. At appropriate pIaces the artists reverently mention famous names like those of explorers like Bertram Thomas and Sir Wilfred Thesiger, artists like David Howell, Murray Zanoni and Trevor Waugh and photographer, Ronald Codrai. There is something that sparks off a riot of colours from "pale Britishers," once they are in the East. Lawrence and Shepley are no exception to this rule. Al Khaleej and beyond, besides being a record of their artistic and literary pilgrimage in the East, is also a way they discharge their debt to a world that embraced them as much as they embraced it.