DUBAI: Sotheby’s Dubai will close out May by hosting what might at first seem a surprising event: a solo exhibition of paintings by Michael Chow, the famed Chinese restaurateur-turned-artist who has recently taken up painting after a 50-year break at the age 83.
Known as “M” from May 30, Sotheby’s Dubai will present a series of the artist’s abstract expressionist paintings and works on paper that will run until July 1.
Chow, who is the son of Chinese national treasure and legendary Peking Opera Grand Master, Zhou Xing Fang, has brushed sleeves with artists such as Andy Warhol, David Hockney and Jean-Michel Basquait. During his youth, Chow moved to London to study architecture at Saint Martin’s School of Design. On Feb. 14, 1968 he opened his first restaurant in Knightsbridge called MR CHOW, which became an instant celebrity and artist magnet. Restaurants in Beverly Hills, New York, Miami and Las Vegas followed.
“I was born into a very cultural family, and I definitely believe in destiny,” Chow told Arab News. “I have always been in the right place at the right time: from the Swinging Sixties in London, alongside Hockney and the Rolling Stones, to my life here in LA. And so, my motivation has always been very international, and I like to think there are no borders to what I do.”
Throughout his life, the famed restauranteur has participated in many forms of creativity — from architecture, to food, installation, film, and poetry — and the best examples are his restaurants, which he designed himself with a modern twist, and which serve as an amalgamation of his various creative pursuits.
“I first started painting in the late 1950s, and continued to do so for around 10 years,” he told Arab News. “I took it up again recently, encouraged by Jeffrey Deitch and Julian Schnabel, and haven’t been able to stop since!”
Artworks on the walls in his restaurants include portraits of Chow himself by the likes of Keith Haring and Jonas Wood and Lalique glass doors. During the 1980s, when Giorgio Armani went to MR CHOW in New York, he was allegedly so impressed by Michael’s architectural design that he sent tuxedos for all of his waiters to use. In return, Chow designed Armani’s Rodeo Drive Boutique in 1987.
“I believe my strength lies in spontaneity and instinct, particularly given that I am self-taught so every element of my craft and technique was built myself and is unique to me,” he told Arab News. “My works on paper in particular are painted very fast, in line with the very Chinese concept of finding perfection in a split second (from calligraphy to martial arts to even cooking).”
Chow has already debuted his artworks in China. His upcoming show at Sothbey’s Dubai constitutes the artist’s first exhibition in the Middle East and in the Gulf region — a part of the world he is venturing into also with his restaurant business. He’s recently announced that his restaurant MR CHOW will open in Riyadh next year.
“It is so exciting to be making my artistic debut in Dubai as I truly sense a hunger for art in the Middle East, which echoes my own pursuit of creativity in all aspects of my life,” he said. “I am very much looking forward to visiting Dubai again, and hopefully exploring a little more of what the UAE cultural and dining scene has to offer!”