Lebanese born artist Suzi Nassif was aware from a very young age, of her orientation towards visual arts. A famous artist today, Suzi gains inspiration from cultural diversity, mysteries of existence and the semblance of emotions. Using oil and acrylics as mediums, she propelled her career into the international market. We met her to learn about her path and her future projects. Interview.
Suzi, tell us about your journey. How did you end up a painter? Was it something you wanted to do at a young age?
Since I was a young girl, I had always known of my orientation towards the world of arts. Sketches and artistic fonts with vivid colors filled the pages of my notebook. I was aware that life’s path will stumble me along with an artistic career. I could not figure out which form of creativity was going to win me over. So I threw myself into art in all its forms. I studied music, photography, and graphic design but still couldn’t find my happy place until I discovered my inner peace on a canvas with a paintbrush.
It all started in 2006. The war had struck again and I was a free bird stuck in a cage, but I was blessed to be caged in a beautiful garden called home; called Lebanon. Thirty-three perplexing days had passed on the awakening of my artistic journey. I found myself painting aimlessly trying to find myself on canvas. I knew that I had again found my calling once I rediscovered painting and it was my only exile!
And so my first solo exhibition in Dubai launched in February of 2015, with works that expressed all the comedies and tragedies we encounter every day. I wanted to scream it through my brush. Once I found myself through my art, I was a free bird again, into a wild journey of inspiration and expression. I had so much to say, but words never described what I felt; it was my art that was worth a thousand words. When I give my all to art, art gives me back everything in return! A passionate journey where we are exposed in every aspect! Painting is simply my lifelong companion.
There are several influences in your paintings. Matisse, Klimt, Andy Warhol… A kind of mix-and-match, how would you describe your style?
The mind-bending artworks of Salvador Dali were what called to me when I first started, so I learned and copied his work in my own ways. I found myself taken by his art and awed by his ability to sweep you on reality-twisting journeys. By the time, I started learning more and more about other artists and my wild imagination was my time machine back to historical eras of art and artists with different journeys and styles. I became fascinated with the works of Khalil Gibran, Van Gogh, Klimt, and Warhol. and basically revived their stories in a contemporary fashion!
Also, Latin cultures had a major influence on my style of painting. A trip to Cuba made me realize that a major part of myself belonged to their world. I explored their heritage and searched for every possible medium and material in their history, and in the process, I discovered and fell in love with the art of Frida Kahlo. I like to think of myself as a fiction storyteller; my style is not pop art nor abstract, surrealism nor realism, but simply «Suzism».
Some of your paintings are full of light and colors, while others portray people in black and white, in a more somber fashion. Do they reflect different phases in your life? in your creative process?
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 my world; or 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 color 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.
The black and white phase started when I lost my father in 2014, I created a painting of an old man that I titled «I am divine» and it received «the Da Vinci award» in Florence. During this period, many black and white artworks were born; inspired again by our reality. I created the «The Refugee Camp» series that consisted of different portraits in black and white expressing the agony that our world is enduring every day.
Art involves mind and emotions, conscious and unconscious levels, what do you think?
Quoting Picasso: «Everything you can imagine is real». There are 2 elements in life: reality and dreams, conscious and unconscious. 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. Art is the language of the soul and can enable people to express and appreciate the universality as well as the particularity of each person’s experience on a conscious or unconscious or a subconscious level. It’s simply a «confession».
Suzi, you portray iconic personalities: Coco Chanel, Superman, Salvador Dali, Frida Kahlo… Why?
Coco was the first woman to change the world of fashion. Specifically, she influenced women and men; a huge step because it helped show how women and men were equal. She said: «Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.» I say: «Art is not something that exists on canvases only. Art is in the sky, in the street, Art has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening and beyond.»
Superman taught me this since childhood: «The ‘Amazing’ can only be created by facing fear, risk, and failure during the process.» It was a major influence on my artistic journey as a self-taught artist! Frida Kahlo defined her uniqueness with no apologies or limitations. She is, to this day, a big role model for many female artists; «I call her the Godmother!» Salvador Dali, the king of surrealism, is an enigma and after visiting his home in Cadaqués, I experienced the «Awe», it was sublime! I am happily «abducted» by such powerful icons who created a golden history in different areas of time.
What message do you try to convey through your art?
Every painting is a storyteller with a unique message. My art is the offspring of inspiration and internal waves of time-specific emotions. The painting itself reflects its sense on the viewers to connect and reflect on what they see so that the brush strokes become part of their imagination, and through that, a personal bond is formed and my message is delivered.
What are your projects?
Hopefully, in the near future, I will be signing with a gallery in Beirut for an upcoming show in 2020. In the meantime, I am preparing for two exhibitions, one in Abu Dhabi on the 1st of October, and one mid-November at the Four Seasons Hotel in Dubai. Moreover, I am working on my wearable art collections that will be printed on Kimonos and will be launched during the November exhibition. Conducted by Rita Saadé