FACT chats to Emirati multidisciplinary artist Maisoon Al Saleh about her inspirations and her latest project, The Paintly Store.

Why did you decide to become an artist? 

It has been my passion since I was a child to create art. I always had my crayons and colouring book with me anywhere I would go, and in some cases, I would end up scribbling on the house interior walls, and that drove my mum crazy. As I grew up, I told my mum how I could relate to my wall scribbles - I was creating a mural!

Have you always had a keen interest in the arts? 

Yes, I feel I reached a stage in my career (exhibiting in 16 countries so far and at around a 100 exhibitions) that it's time to give back to the community with the knowledge I've gained by supporting emerging artists to grow in their artistic careers. That's why I established The Paintly Store back in 2018. 

How does it feel to be one of the most celebrated Emirati artists in the country?

It wasn't an easy journey. It was a lot of time spent working on my artworks and moments where I had serious injuries during my work process. For example, an aluminium sheet fell on my head from the fourth floor of one of the buildings where I was working on a mural, and I ended up in the emergency room. My hands got cast a couple of times from regularly painting for long hours, and that resulted in injuring my hand muscles. I also remember once when I went for a dive to create artworks underwater. I had an issue with my scuba diving equipment that resulted in seawater bursting into my mouth and nose, and I couldn't breathe. I was lucky to be alive and pulled up by one of the divers. Looking back at all that happened to me, it was worth it. 

Who are your inspirations in the art world? 

I get inspired by my daily surroundings. Either friends, family members or even strangers I may come across during my travels. My works reflect on true stories that have been created in a surreal way.  

As the owner of The Paintly Store, could you please tell us about the concept?

During my experience exhibiting internationally, I noticed that there are so many hidden talents within the UAE-based artistic community. However, not many have the know-how to break into the international art market. The Paintly Store was established to transfer my knowledge to emerging artists and help them grow towards exhibiting at a global level. 

What can visitors expect when they visit the store, aside from the range of artworks by UAE-based artists?

The Paintly Store hosts artist open calls and that's where we get to select the artists. We hold virtual workshops (some are free and others cost only AED 20 AED) and art service packages to support artists in either writing their artist statement, one to one virtual meetings to tackle down specific points of focus. Plus advice on how they could price their artworks and build their portfolio. 

You recently launched Mystery Art Boxes, where unknown creative art supplies are delivered straight to your door. What was the idea behind this, and how have customers taken to the challenge? 

There is so much to create out of limited art supplies, and it just allows you to step back from your day to day routine and break it with a Mystery Art Box. We also support in selling the best pieces and those that are worth sharing on our online store. We've had customers buying the boxes as gifts for family members, and some purchased it for the whole family as they found it to be a great way to unite everyone together on one table and have a good time. 

How do you discover local artists to showcase, and how is it working with local talent? 

Artist open calls happen now and then, and these help to discover talented artists. I recommend any artist interested in subscribing to our website so they can be notified of the next opportunity. 

As a renowned artist yourself, you have participated in over 100 art exhibitions across 16 countries. How do you feel representing your country for the art world when you travel? 

It's an honour. 

What's the greatest honour or compliment you've received as an artist? 

It's the little things in life that I consider the greatest, like giving someone advice and getting to know down the line how it rippled positively across their career. 

You have been known to paint underwater. Can you please explain how this came about and your creative process when creating these artworks?

I was sitting in the living room with my grandfather and was listening to his story of how he survived the Dara passenger ship incident after it sank. I decided to get my scuba diving license back in 2010 and started to create part of the artworks inspired by the story underwater. I used waterproof, heatproof and against UV light materials to make it. 

Do you have any quick advice for young artists in the UAE looking to start a career?

Do what you're passionate about, and failing is just part of the process. Failure helps you to grow further in your career, so never give up trying. 

Who do you admire most in the art world, and why?

I can't specify one person I feel each artist is unique in their own way. 

Can you please tell us your thoughts on the flourishing arts and culture scene in the UAE? 

Compared to when I first started until now, I have noticed how the creative economy in UAE has been increasing, and new museums opened up. 

Where are your favourite places in Dubai to experience the arts?

Al Serkal Avenue, a great place to catch up with my artist friends.

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