Ramy El Zaghawy has established himself as one of the finest mural artists in the UAE. His artwork has been surfacing up all over the country and his signature blend of realistic and street art is instantly recognizable. We sat down with Ramy to understand how he taught himself to use spray cans and what are the opportunities available to such artists in the UAE.
Where are you from and where did you grow up?
I’m from Egypt but I was born and raised in the UAE.
What was your first experience with art?
I'm a fan of Tom and Jerry. When I was young I would watch it a lot and it’s probably still the best for 2D art, ideas and colors. I remember grabbing a pen and pad to sketch these images while they were moving. This helped me a lot in my later life and in university because I was good at speed sketches. All artists must learn this technique and to be great at it your hand must be well connected to your mind.
Did you have any formal art education?
After I completed my high school in the UAE I went to the University of Fine Arts in Cairo and graduated with honors. My major was Mural art (mosaic, glass, stein glass art, trumploi art, acrylic, fresco). I found inspiration in books mostly from the era of famous artists such as Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Michelangelo, Matisse, Goya and Picasso.
Did you find it easy after university to get into the arts field?
Not really. After my degree I came back to the UAE hoping to work as an artist. I couldn’t find anything and worked in the graphic department in Mubadalat Abu Dhabi for four years and later as operations supervisor in Fujairah freezone for three years.
When did you quit your job to work as an artist?
It was spontaneous. I remember sitting in my office and looking around me. I saw people working in the same position for over twenty years. I knew I had to go out and do something creative and there it was – I instantly resigned not knowing what my next step was.
When did you get your first break?
I started my first graffiti art on the longest graffiti art wall in Jumeirah, this massive art piece by multiple artists was ultimately awarded the Guinness world record in 2014 and that was my first experience with spray paint. Being able to combine my academic love of realistic art with street art was very rewarding and I found it to be the most suitable way to express my passion and energy for art and life. From then on every wall was another addition to my skill and it is still is an ongoing experience to challenge myself more with each project.
How did you learn graffiti?
I love self-education. I have studied over 25 different software’s and also read a lot of books on the masters. As a mural artist all I needed to know was the technique of spraying, using different caps and so on. I purchased canvases and practiced at home. I didn’t have a large space so I would advice against it because I did get sick from the tainted air.
Who are your favourite artists?
My style is realistic and therefore my favorite artist is Rembrandt. His use of black still amazes me. I also like Van Gogh.
What inspires your artwork?
I love drawing faces and I'm inspired not just by looking at people in real life but also through movies, newspaper and other media. There was a period when everytime I had a dream I would wake up and immediately draw it.
Is there a lot of work for artists around the UAE?
Yes, the creative industry in general is booming in the UAE. Both the government and private sector have been very supportive of its development.
What is the future of this industry?
When I first started out art supplies were not readily available but now you can find them everywhere. Mural art in general is not going to slow down. I think it has only started.
What is your advice to young artists?
University, study and research will only give you directions. Therefore practice constantly and educate yourself.
For further info on the artist visit https://instagram.com/t.ra.my/