Latest exhibition by Dubai-based painter was inspired by endangered animals

The next in our summer series of visiting artist’s in their studios is Matt Ryder, a British painter whose passion for wildlife is bringing him success.

A painting by the Dubai-based British artist Matt Ryder. Jaime Puebla / The National
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The stack of canvases building up in Matt Ryder’s studio at home in The Springs, Dubai seem at first to be simply covered in contoured black paint. But when you focus, the shapes of The Big Five – Africa’s largest game animals – appear to emerge from the darkness.

The Black Series, as it is called, is Ryder's newest project, begun last year after the artist read a book by Nick Brandt about the plight of elephants in Africa.

“It is a dark story, so I decided to paint the animals in black and developed my technique from there,” he explains, adding that he gives a percentage of his sales to the Big Life Foundation, the non-profit organisation whose mission is to help animals that are close to extinction, which Brandt founded in 2010.

But Ryder’s fascination with animals, particularly large and powerful ones, began six years ago when he visited Kenya and saw them in the wild.

“I’ve always loved wildlife but that trip changed the way I looked at things,” he says. “I began to paint with a lot more emotion.”

The British artist, who first moved to Dubai in 2005 to work in recruitment, has always had a skill for realistic rendering but back then he only thought of it as a hobby.

“I started off by drawing caricatures of people in the office,” he says, “and then someone asked me to draw live at an event called the Covent Garden Market.”

Soon, he was being asked regularly to perform at corporate events or weddings and getting personal commissions.

After moving to Ireland in 2010, Ryder set up his own company dedicated to the art of caricature.

When he returned to Dubai in 2012, he quickly discovered that the art scene had dramatically improved in the short time he had been away and while he continued to pursue work as a caricaturist, he soon found himself being drawn more and more to fine art.

“It was then that I began painting on canvas and started to spend more time in this studio,” Ryder says as he gestures around the small spare bedroom in his villa.

Since 2012, Ryder has exhibited in many galleries and public places across Dubai.

He was part of The Wild Things show, which exhibited the work of 20 illustrators in FN Designs on Alserkal Avenue, and he also designed a robot-like toy for an exhibition in The Dubai Mall.

Notably, Ryder’s work is part of a 140-metre mural that is painted on the wall of the Dubai Ladies Club on Jumeirah Beach Road.

Ryder was one of nine artists commissioned to paint the wall in what is now one of the most striking landscapes of the city.

Earlier this year, his painting The Bull sold at Pro Art Gallery's exhibition titled The Big Picture. Slowly, Ryder is establishing a name for himself as an artist.

“My way of working as an artist has completely changed in the past two years. I have developed my own style and I think that is really important.

“I don’t think of myself as a traditional wildlife painter. I want to use that as the base, but make it more contemporary and give it my own stamp.”

It was with this in mind that he began The Black Series, which is made with acrylic paint continually sprayed with water to achieve the effect of the animal emerging from or disappearing into the canvas.

“I think there is a place for aesthetic paintings,” he says reflecting on his work. “I am painting for the beauty of it and the more I paint, the more I’m sure of that.”

• To see more of Matt Ryder’s work, visit his website,