In 2006 I landed in Abu Dhabi, excited but also nervous about continuing my expat journey in this Arabic coast town.

As I stepped outside, I was greeted by the smell of hot tarmac, the blazing sunshine, and the extremely mixed architecture of the city. I marveled at the towering skyscrapers and the sparkling waters of the Arabian Gulf. I felt a sense of excitement and anticipation as I set out to explore my new surroundings. I always thought that the rush of immigrants diving for pearls back in the 19th century and the rush of expats for jobs in the 21st century shared a lot of similarities.

The theme of pearl diving has been a popular subject in fine art, particularly in painting, for centuries. In the Western world, pearl diving is often depicted as a luxurious and romantic activity associated with wealth and privilege. Paintings often feature serene, idyllic scenes of pearl divers in pristine waters, surrounded by exotic marine life and lush tropical landscapes.

In the Middle East, however, the depiction of pearl diving in fine art is often more realistic and gritty.

Pearl diving and gold-digging rushes were two distinct economic activities that emerged in different parts of the world in the 19th century. Both were labor-intensive and had a significant impact on local economies and cultures, but gold rushes were generally more globally significant and less dangerous than pearl diving.

The activity is shown as a challenging and dangerous occupation, requiring great skill and endurance. Paintings often depict pearl divers in harsh and unforgiving environments, such as the arid Arabian desert or the rough waters of the Persian Gulf. These works often focus on the physical and mental strength required for pearl diving and the cultural significance of this tradition in Middle Eastern societies.

Despite these differences, both Western and Middle Eastern art share a common appreciation for the natural beauty of pearls and the unique cultural practices surrounding pearl diving. From the opulent depictions of the Western world to the more raw and authentic portrayal of the Middle East, the theme of pearl diving continues to inspire and captivate artists and viewers alike.

Fascinated by the concept of diving into the deep, I looked at the costumes and tools from different countries.

Some had full-body cotton suits like the wetsuits of today. Mostly in countries like Japan where the waters are colder, but also to protect them from jellyfish.

The contrast between the rough life above water and the beauty and simplicity or the elegance of the divers under water.

Sometimes the divers only had a nose clip for their dive into the deep.

Diver (finalized Dec 2021) - (69 x 90 cm) Acrylic and uni paint marker on canvas

Diver (finalized Dec 2021) – (69 x 90 cm) Acrylic and uni paint marker on canvas.

The divers were made up of quite a diverse crew.

A lot of divers originally came over from the African continent.

Diver (finalized Dec 2021) – (69 x 90 cm) Acrylic and uni paint marker on canvas.

I based this painting on an old photograph of a guy hanging on a rope in the water, just before or after a dive.

I wanted to play with the colors and depth of the water without making it too obvious, so it looks like he almost doesn’t have legs.

Initially, I wanted to use blue, green, yellow, white, sepia, and purple tones but eventually stayed more on the blue side with spots of light.

Divers (finalized Oct 2021) – (140 x 100 cm) Acrylic and uni paint marker on canvas

In this painting I wanted the diver to look like an upside-down angel in that cotton suit. Going down and reaching the bottom of the ocean.

It is also about human confinement and the limitations we have under water and in general.

Old deepsea diving suits almost looked like Verneian space costumes.

Imagine the blazing sun of the Gulf on the surface of the water.


Related work

Theme IV: The Couple

Theme III: Hat Men