Nazir Tanbouli, Painter
“I was born into a family of painters, I’m the third generation,” Nazir Tanbouli revealed to me, “But when I came to London from Alexandria ten years ago as a thirty-one year old painter, I found it was impossible to get the chance show my paintings.”
We were walking around the Kingsland Estate in Haggerston, a housing development built in 1952, expressing the optimism of the year of the Queen’s Coronation, and now pending demolition in 2012, the year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Most of the windows were bricked up in the decayed modernist blocks, with only the last die-hard residents awaiting the end of days. But in the meantime, Nazir has cunningly adorned the structures with a monumental series of murals. Counteracting the melancholy of dereliction, they brought the world to wonder at the poignant spectacle this summer, winning Nazir the audience he always sought for his work. Now that the crowds and news-crews have been and gone, Spitalfields Life Contributing Photographer Simon Mooney and I decided it was time to take a look for ourselves.
“I was always attracted to draw bigger than myself, “ Nazir admitted with an unapologetic grin,“When I was two years old, I was in my uncle’s studio and I destroyed his new canvas by drawing on it while he went out to get some cigarettes.” The Kingsland Estate murals saw the fulfilment of Nazir’s ambition to work on a large scale, painting fourteen buildings in three months and battling the inclement weather to finish in time for the scheduled demolition on the first of July. “After ten years of no maintenance and neglect, the flats were sold to a housing association, who are knocking some down and building some new,” Nazir told me, bemused that the long-awaited demolition is currently in abeyance, “My work was a reaction against their slow death, making the place fresh before they knocked it down, but since they haven’t knocked it down yet it has now entered another phase of slow death.”
We stood in front of the paper and paste mural that was the first of Nazir’s phantasmagorical Kingsland Estate murals. “It’s a lot of teeth, it’s a lot of bulging eyes and there’s a lot of tragedy but it’s communicated in a semi-comic way, “ he assured me as I cast my eyes at the grotesque faces coming at me from every direction, erupting like the angry spirits of the bricked-up buildings. “I used glue that cost me thirty pounds a bucket for this and it stayed,” he explained, before gesturing around sadly to the empty walls that surrounded it, “And I used glue that cost me two pounds a bucket for these and they’re gone – but the whole project only cost me £400.”
“Every entrance to the Estate had to have something to invite people in. I wanted them to become part of the experience and not just an audience. You see one picture and then another in the distance, and you find yourself in a labyrinth.” Nazir continued, as we turned a corner to arrive at the first of the painted murals that he did, using salvaged paint upon the base coat of the wall which had been painted blood red. On that rainy autumn afternoon, the bricked-up edifices which surrounded us gave the appearance of tombs sealed against grave robbers, yet Nazir’s paintings brought rampant chaotic life, manifesting creatures that crawled from the murky world of myth and the subconscious, creatures that would not be denied your attention. Creatures that challenged the rationalism which led to the conception of these little boxes stacked-up for people to live in.
Nazir’s studio is at the heart of the Estate, on the ground floor of Hebden Court, where he shivers now in a building without heating that has emptied out of tenants. I asked him how long before the flats will at last be demolished and he pointed to the new structure across the yard. “When the red building is complete,” he said, indicating the top floor flat that he is waiting to move into. Until then, Nazir is doing paintings to keep warm. “Drawing is like thinking on paper, but painting is a physical activity,” he informed me, “So, at this time of year, I come in and start painting at once or I get cold.”
On our walk, Nazir reserved his fondest affection for a painting in ink on concrete, a dynamic medium which permitted no error or correction and produced an absorbency of line not unlike ink on paper. He stood next to the wall, almost caressing it. “I’m not an artist if I cannot deliver something that people need daily, like the butcher and the baker do.” he declared, thinking out loud, and surrounded by the monsters that he both conjured and exorcised, “My purpose is to get rid of bad things. I am not an artist in residence, I am the resident who is an artist.”
Photographs copyright © Simon Mooney
Visitors are welcome to visit Nazir Tanbouli’s studio at 75 Hebden Court, Laburnum St, Haggerston E2 8BG, open each Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 2-6pm.
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