As her work travels to the region for an upcoming exhibition, A&E chats to Suzi Fadel Nassif about how she came to be an artist and the struggles she has had face.
Raised in Lebanon in a time of unrest, Suzi Fadel Nassif had a world of emotion to draw inspiration from; “all the comedies and tragedies” of life, as she explains.
After spending her childhood fascinated by the world of visual art, it was this period in her life that became the catalyst for her own creative output – Nassif painted passionately during the uncertain times.
Since then, inspiration has come to her from very different walks of life – from the people and cultures that she is exposed to during her travels, the popular culture that surrounds us all to ground-breaking artists of the past.
Ahead of the exhibitions in the region set to showcase her work – in both COYA Abu Dhabi and COYA Dubai – Nassif sits down with A&E to lets us in on her artistic mind.
A&E Interviews Artist Suzi Fadel Nassif
Tell us how you first fell in love with art?
From a very young age, I was aware of my orientation towards visual arts. My notebooks were filled with various sketches, artistic fonts and vivid colours. I always took pleasure in finding beauty in everything.
Everything started in 2006; It was “War” again, I felt like I was stuck in a cage, yet in a beautiful garden called Lebanon. The awakening of my artistic journey erupted for 33 horrifying days, I found myself painting recklessly, endlessly and helplessly. I had rediscovered the art of painting; I knew that I had again found my calling. It was my only exile, but also the birth of a journey.
In February of 2015, I decided to have my first solo exhibition. My work had expressed all the comedies and tragedies we encounter in our everyday lives, and I wanted to say it out loud. Art took me to a different dimension. I had the ultimate freedom to express through colours, textures, faces and figures.
After all, it is my own unique planet. When I paint, I enter a trance – I give my all to art, and art gives me back everything in return. It is a mutual understanding, a passionate adventure where we are exposed in every aspect.
It’s a deep kind of a relationship. When we are in love, we give our everything with no limitations – we win some, we lose some, we get rejected, we get rewarded, and we face all sorts of paradoxes and challenges in one moment or maybe in eternity. This is the beauty of it, it keeps you alive and breathing – it’s an infinite heartbeat. This is art for me in all its facets and phases.
Was this always the career path you wanted to take?
I always knew that my career path was to be an artistic one but I could not figure out which form of creativity was going to win me over. So I studied music, photography, and graphic design, all but fine art and funny enough, fine art discovered me.
How would you define your work?
Francis Bacon, a 20th-century artist, wrote: “Real painters do not paint things as they are… they paint them as they themselves feel them to be”.
I mentally collect gazes and expressions and then represent them in my paintings with a twist of surrealism in order to awaken emotions in the viewer and tell a different tale in each painting, I like to think of myself as a storyteller in the sense that I tell stories on canvases.
I am fascinated by surrealism. There are two elements in life: reality and dreams. When we are asleep, we dream, and some dreams could be strange or questionable and totally different from our reality. I like to portray the poetic realistic/surrealistic connection that exists between these dreams and reality.
I am calling it #suzism because I am so fascinated by people who can immediately distinguish my art amongst those of other artists.
Which other artists, past and present, inspire you?
When I first started painting, I copied the mind-bending artworks of Salvador Dali. I found myself awed by his art and how he takes the viewer on reality-twisting journeys. As I learned more about other artists and eras of art throughout history, I also became fascinated with the works of Khalil Gibran, Van Gogh, and Egon Schiele.
My fascination with Latin cultures also has a major influence on my paintings. After a trip to Cuba, I realized that a major part of myself belonged to their world. I started to scour every possible medium for material about their history, and in the process, fell in love with the art of Frida Kahlo. She defined her uniqueness with no apologies or limitations. She is to this day a big role model for many female artists.
Where else do you take inspiration?
I see art as a magical result of my feelings, emotions, experiences, and beliefs. It is a collective result of what I consciously and subconsciously grasp on a daily basis using all my senses. I am totally inspired by our “reality shows” that we experience in our everyday lives when we read articles, or watch the news or movies, listen to speeches, or converse with others or even with ourselves.
Yes, there is always something happening every day in our world; a vicious circle of major events. As an artist, sometimes, I portray it in a face, a figure or use of a certain colour to create a surrealistic piece based on this reality. It is a visual representation that becomes visible to me in the form of enlightenment, and then later shows up in my paintings.
What’s your favourite piece you’ve ever created?
A mother would never favour a child of hers over the other. The same applies to my paintings, they are my children and I love them all regardless of their colours, textures, size or subject. They are the ultimate creation of many unique special moments in my life – total love!
In 2012, I created a self-portrait called “Amal”. She was and still is the companion of my internal power and the mother of my success. She was the key that unblocked Suzism.
You are currently exhibiting your work in Coya Jeddah KSA, and then in Coya Abu DHABI and Coya Dubai – how these collaborations come about? Why are they are important to you?
My first art exhibition was at COYA in November 2015. The event drew attention to Mo-vember and served as a reminder for men’s health awareness. I purposely included moustaches in the paintings for both male and female icons represented in the exhibit.
It was a great success as my art style fits in flawlessly with COYA’s spirit and the Mo-vember theme. I was the only artist who had been invited to show her art pieces at three different COYA locations: COYA Dubai, COYA Mayfair and COYA Miami.
It is a great honour for me to be a part of the COYA collective and to work with COYA’s great team as I feel like a member of this remarkable family. I am looking forward to another great show called “Teatro del Alma” on September 26th in Coya Abu Dhabi.
This event will be characterized by a profound Latino vibe, a dialect between worlds of different mindsets and the capture of accelerating modernization versus the revival of every legend of the past. The show will move from Abu Dhabi to Dubai in Mo-vember.
Clearly your work leads you to travel, how has this inspired your work?
Changing a routine or even slightly altering it in a different way can improve creativity in an instant. When I am away, I tend to take things as they come as opposed to sticking to a set routine that I might have at home or in my atelier. This immediately opens up doors for inspiration; there are so many places home to different cultures, climates, landscapes, foods, and arts. It is hard not to learn anything when you’re away.
By breaking this routine, however, the brain is provided with a new stimulation, and in that moment, creativity flourishes most. Travel has taught me to be more open-minded and diverse. I’ve learned so much about different cultures and races. I was introduced to a different genre of art movements. I became aware of areas within me that existed but was never unfolded. In one word: I evolved!
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve overcome to get where you are today?
Being a self-taught artist and an alien to the art world was very challenging in the beginning. I had to learn various techniques, styles, and mediums. The struggle was getting harder and harder each day, I felt like Alice in Wonderland, totally lost in a world of colours, creativity and self-critic. It was a maze – an artistic revelation!
But it was totally worth it! I experienced many glorious moments after the struggle. Among them is the first solo exhibition in Dubai and the moment I won an international award in Portugal.
What has that taught you?
What advice would you give your younger self?
The world is yours – believe.
What’s your proudest moment to date?
There are many! There is an endless list of moments but the first that comes to my mind is my first solo exhibition in Dubai and winning my first international award in Portugal. Also when people tell me that they experienced a relatable emotion upon seeing my paintings to the extent that they feel the urge to own and keep it in their homes. And even when they tell me that my art somehow managed to capture a part of their souls.
What do you still want to achieve?
A universal artwork that will reach a common theme, a common thread, a common emotion for a better world!
See more at suzinassif.com.