Music-inspired portraits inspire artist Maddy Butcher to quit job and dance to a different tune

Meet Maddy Butcher, the Dubai-based musical artist making waves with her striking portraits of iconic musicians.

Dubai-based artist Maddy Butcher. Antonie Robertson / The National
Powered by automated translation

Meet Maddy Butcher, the musical artist who is making waves. We’ll call her a musical artist, partly because she sings and paints (sometimes at the same time). But mainly because much of what she paints is music-themed.

Not only music, mind – she also creates abstracts and illustrations, skyscapes and still lives. Her slogan runs “fine art, street art, everywhere art”.

But right now, after a very sudden career change, it’s her singular visages and vignettes of musical icons that are raising eyebrows across the emirates.

You might already be a fan of her work and not even know it. It will be familiar, for example, to anyone who has paid a visit to The Dek on 8, the rooftop hangout at Dubai’s Media One Hotel, where a huge series of her large-form portraits hang.

At 70 metres in length, The Wall of Fame is said to be the largest hand-painted mural in the Middle East, an epic work chronicling the faces of 15 iconic musicians. Crowd favourites include Daft Punk and Pharrell Williams, alongside cult figures such as Gilles Peterson, Moodyman and the late great Frankie Knuckles.

Unveiled last September, it was meant to be a one-off for Butcher, a frantic, 60-hour burst of creative energy, completed on time off from her normal day job working in advertising.

But thanks to that single, epic, hard-to-miss artwork, the referrals came flooding in – and in December, she made the decision to quit her office job and work on her art full-time. And so the musical artist was born.

"Doing that wall is what made me quit advertising," says the British expat. "I was doing 12-hour days for an agency, and then doing six hours at the Wall – and all day at work I was looking forward to getting back to the Wall."

For her wall murals she works with emulsion, pen and ink, spray paint, masking tape and stencils. She also uses emulsion on her canvases.

Much of the work that has landed in Butcher’s inbox since then has been for private installations, which will sadly never be seen by public eyes.

The dance-focused Wall of Fame was followed by The Rock Wall, a collage of vintage stars, including Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne, Guns n' Roses's Axl Rose and Queen's Freddie Mercury, at a private penthouse in Dubai Marina. The same client later requested a Wall of Hip-Hop. Another home commission features Miles Davis's hands snaking up a wall.

“I’ve always loved doing portraits, and it makes sense for me to paint people that deserve to be celebrated,” says Maddy. “I pick acts who have a lot of energy, people who are always true to themselves. So it would be hard for me to paint, say, Iggy Azalea.”

Butcher – a fine arts graduate from Edinburgh University in Scotland – has also begun exploring street art. She has embraced the form quickly and reverently, and has been spotted spraying live at high-profile events including Street Nights at JBR, DXBeach musical festival, World Art Dubai and The Middle East Film & Comic Con. She also completed a few “cheeky throw-ups” of “questionable legality” in France and Spain.

“I gave up art for advertising because the world of fine art wasn’t creative enough,” she says. “Being in Dubai has reminded me of the pleasure I originally found in art. There’s a very supportive community – they put a can in my hand and gave me a piece of wall to spray.

“I think we’re all totally in the right town at the right time. I’ve lived in New York and done art there, and you have to market yourself as a genius before you can even begin. In the UAE it’s smaller, but there’s very much a can-do attitude – and whether you’re an artist, musician or writer, living here is the biggest opportunity.”

Butcher is also a gigging musician – a soulful, free-styling vocalist regularly spotted on the mic at jam nights in the city and at the former Sunny Vibe-Up parties. She has recorded with local producers, and is writing a concept album – about bugs.

But art is the main focus right now. The 32-year-old is working on the Alternate Role Model series, a collection of canvases celebrating iconic women including Grace Jones and Die Antwoord's Yolandi Visser. On the horizon is a commission to paint a huge mural on the side of a hotel in Goa.

Further afield, Butcher is planning an outreach project in Nepal with friends. She hopes to spend time in communities affected by April’s earthquake, sharing private donations with those who need them and using her art to celebrate fallen community figures on what remains of damaged buildings.

“I’m in advertising by trade, and a painting is the most simple vehicle to send a message,” says Butcher. “There’s a lot of people that deserve to be celebrated in these communities, and street art can do this. It’s a chance for me to pay tribute to these real-life heroes. To use art as a force of good.”

Find out more at