13 Feb, 2010

My nine to five: Nasser Azam

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

The painter and sculptor on skipping breakfast, working through the night and a forthcoming trip to paint in Antarctica

My day is split in two: the creative part and the administrative part. I’ll be working on my admin from 9am, but I’ll be painting during the night – I’m lucky if I get more than four hours sleep. I live and work from my studio in north London. I’ve been here for four years; it’s an old printing press conversion with a glass roof. It’s like a loft apartment – except for the fact that I’m on the ground floor.

My fridge is usually empty. I never have breakfast but I do drink about 20 cups of tea or coffee a day. I end up eating one meal a day. I never exercise, but then again, when I’m painting, I’m on my feet all day.

I’ve just finished my time as artist-in-residence at the County Hall Gallery after two and a half years. It was tremendous to be given the artistic freedom to exhibit what I wanted to. Most of my paintings are allegorical and my inspiration is all personal. Painting is a private relationship between me and the canvas, and the only time I can do that uninterrupted is during the night. There have been times when the creative juices are flowing that I really can’t stop – once I stayed awake all weekend and produced a dozen paintings.

I worked in banking for Merrill Lynch for 20 years. I travelled extensively and worked long hours. That routine of working until late has really stuck with me. I don’t miss office life though.

The BlackBerry habit from Merrill’s hasn’t changed – I’m still always checking my emails and often in front of the computer. I’ll liaise with galleries, and I’m a patron of several art societies and charities so there are always emails to go through.

I’m heading to Antarctica for five days to paint; I’ll literally be painting nine foot canvases standing on the snow in sub-zero conditions. The aim is to explore the creative limitations of the environment, something really raw in a wild, strange landscape. It’ll be light 24 hours round the clock, which I’m not used to at all, so I’ll be sleeping even less. The snow we had in London made me realise I don’t have enough of the appropriate clothing at all – I’ve been doing a few practice runs of painting in extreme cold in a huge heavy duty refrigerator. The application of paint while wearing gloves is yet to be determined, but I’ve been exploring the use of anti-freeze paint.

I’m divorced, and my ex-wife and teenage children live outside of London. My daughter and son sometimes come down on the weekends, although it’s less now that they have their studies. When they are here, I don’t paint – I never paint in front of anybody. I’m probably not an easy person to live with.

When I paint, I usually put trance music on in the background. I used to live in Tokyo and DJed with Paul van Dyke and Nick Warren who were just starting out then. I still have the mixes. I love to watch cricket while I paint too – it’s usually on in the background. Maybe my love for cricket is part of my Pakistani roots, although I’ve been here for most of my life.

I don’t really have a five-day working week set up; I don’t really have a concept of a weekend. But I do try and take Sundays lightly, which means no evening appointments with gallery owners – I’ll see my children or my parents, relax and chill out.

Nasser Azam (azam.com) will be travelling to Antarctica to complete a series of performance paintings from 18-27 February.

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