The Essence of Arabia: One of Britain's Most Highly Regarded Contemporary Orientalist Painters, , Talked to Pat Lancaster

By Lancaster, Pat | The Middle East, May 2005 | Go to article overview

The Essence of Arabia: One of Britain's Most Highly Regarded Contemporary Orientalist Painters, , Talked to Pat Lancaster


Lancaster, Pat, The Middle East


GROWING UP, JUNE BARTLETT frequently contemplated becoming a professional artist, "I don't remember a time when I wasn't drawing or painting something," she recalls.

Her first professional sale was of a work displayed on the railings in London's Bayswater Road, a famous weekend haunt of artists who lack the recognition or the facilities to exhibit to a wider public. This first sale earned her 13 [pounds sterling]: "I remember it very well. I was so delighted to have sold something I took all my friends out to celebrate and spent the lot."

It is easy to imagine such a gesture from June. There is an effervescence and joie de vivre about her that belies any sense of the serious or subdued, except where her work is concerned; and she is very serious about her painting, as are the growing number of people fortunate enough to have an original June Bartlett in their collection.

After deciding to "go professional", June made her mark painting portraits and scenes of the Scottish Highlands.

"There is bleakness about the Highlands that I love, it makes you feel very small painting there beneath masses of sky; it's a bit like the desert."

Despite growing commercial success in London--June had a yen to expand her professional horizons. And it was with this in mind that she first travelled to the Arab world in 1979.

"I had just had a successful exhibition at the Victoria Embankment in London, which funded the cost of a one-way ticket to Dubai. I had friends living there so it seemed a good place to start," she said.

During her five-month stay in the UAE, she fell in love with what she saw about her. "I was like a sponge. Everything around me was so different to anything I had known before. The places, the people, religion, culture, clothing, even the food, it was an amazing experience."

As June points out, the UAE of 1979 bore little resemblance to the vibrant bustling entrepot of today but while much about the region has changed, June's fascination with recording it has remained constant.

"I began painting local scenes and portraits of local people, sometimes from photographs or sketches I had made earlier. I borrowed a car and trawled around the supermarkets selling cards with local scenes--dhows in Dubai and boat builders in Ajman--to make a living. Fortunately, the Intercontinental Hotel in Abu Dhabi, which was then under construction commissioned me to do a portrait of Sheikh Zayed to be hung in the main reception area. I knew then I would be back.

June returned to London after five months to complete a commissioned portrait of Queen Elizabeth's relative Lord Louis Mountbatten, killed in an IRA terrorist attack in Ireland. …

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