While restaurateur Michael Chow has been depicted by some of the most famous artists of our time, including Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, his own path as a painter has been less than straightforward.
Chow studied architecture at Saint Martin School of Design in London and, in his early 20s, then sought to establish himself as a painter. But the harder he worked, learning and applying techniques of the Impressionists he was so enamoured by, the more disillusioned he became with the art form.
It was the early 1960s, and Chinese immigrants, Chow tells The National, were expected to work either in the restaurant or laundry business.
He chose the former but, wanting to show the richness of his native culture and usurp prejudices, Chow chose to introduce the theatrics of the Beijing Opera, where his father had been a featured performer, to the western culinary scene.
He opened his first restaurant in Knightsbridge, London, on February 14, 1968, and it quickly became a magnet for artists and celebrities. Mr Chow restaurants followed in Beverly Hills, New York, Miami and Las Vegas.
Chow remained heavily intertwined in the worlds of art, architecture and design. He designed his restaurants himself and would hang contemporary works by his friends Keith Haring, Jonas Wood and Julian Schnabel on the walls.
In the 1980s, Giorgio Armani visited at Mr Chow in New York and was so impressed with the space that he sent Armani tuxedos for all the waiters to wear. In return, Chow designed Armani’s Rodeo Drive boutique in Beverly Hills in 1987.
Chow also injected artistry into the restaurant business. “High-end restaurants had got it all wrong,” he tells The National. “They weren’t restaurants, they were like banks. Restaurant is closest to a musical. My restaurant is run like a musical. We have a leading man, we have the music, we have the costumes, we have the performance.”
And in the last decade, after a 50-year hiatus, Chow has returned to painting.
From May 30 to July 1, Sotheby’s Dubai will host a solo exhibition of paintings by Chow, known as "M”. The showcase in DIFC will consist of two sections. The first floor will present a series of large-scale mixed-media canvases, each created using a wide variety of precious and household materials, including gold leaf and silver, paint sheets, acrylic, plastic, and other found items. The second floor will present a series of works on paper. The title for this series is One Breath.
M’s approach to paintings combines European and American strands of abstraction with a Chinese conception of space and texture, and an appreciation for the tradition of calligraphy. He made his debut with his works in China and this is the artist’s first exhibition in the Middle East.
Before the exhibition, Chow revealed his keen interest in this part of the world, and revealed plans to bring his restaurant chain to Riyadh next year, and then Dubai.
“[The Gulf] is booming with art, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE. It’s very rich,” he says.