Atul Panase is used to being alone. The Indian artist has been living as a bachelor in the UAE for the past two decades.
But even he has found the self-isolation that's come as a result of the coronavirus pandemic difficult to take. "This is one of the toughest times I'm going through," he tells The National. "It's tough because we cannot visualise what is there in the future."
To keep himself occupied, Panase started painting. “I realised this is the best time for me to paint,” he says. “That is the only way of surviving for me. It was like a therapy.”
Panase, who teaches drawing and watercolour, collects striking images from newspapers and magazines, so he started with those, using the clippings as inspiration for his work. At first, he simply did this for himself, but then he began sharing with fellow artists, friends and students. “They really liked it,” he says.
A friend then asked him to post his paintings for seven days and so began what he calls the Pick Any Pic And Paint campaign, a social media challenge that invites artists to choose any photo they spot in a local newspaper, and turn it into a vibrant, colourful work of art.
The idea is that each artist who shares their work should invite a number of other artists to get involved.
“I thought, why don’t I ask people to choose pictures from newspapers? But don’t look for a very special picture – instead, make any ordinary picture look special,” he explains. “It got momentum when people started appreciating the paintings and sharing them… It doesn’t take long nowadays – in one click you connect with so many people.
"We have more than 50 paintings of pictures from The National newspaper alone already."
Look through the photo gallery below to see more artist interpretations of images from The National:
Panase is already planning to turn this into an exhibition.
As the head of a group of UAE watercolourists, who take part in Italy’s Fabriano in Aquarelle, or watercolour festival, every year, Panase decided to reach out to the group in Italy to see if they wanted to get involved with his new project. “They were very interested to participate,” he says. “If everything goes well, maybe we’ll have an exhibition of paintings for this challenge across the world.”
While he envisions this will begin with a virtual event, he hopes it will eventually become a physical one, too. “But I can’t talk about that yet with everything going on,” he adds.
From his own batch of seven paintings, Panase was particularly proud of one that depicts the current situation in Pakistan. “My first few pictures were based on Pakistan and how one common man is going through the lockdown and their misery,” he says.
“Most of the time, the relationship between Pakistan and India is shown in a very bad light for no reason… but I have so many Pakistani friends who I meet all the time. I was just trying to give a positive message, that’s all.”
He's also kept himself busy during the UAE's national disinfection programme by starting up his own online art classes, which have drawn interest from people across the world. "I'm known for watercolour mostly, but also drawing from life," he says. "My classes are based on watercolour techniques and how to draw portraits or landscapes." He hosts these live using Cisco Webex Meetings and they cost between Dh200 and Dh300 per session. Each one lasts about three hours.
“This is the right time to practice art,” he says. “It helps to reduce the anxiety we’re going through. Art is like meditation; it’s like therapy. So, if you haven’t tried this yet, you should.”