Banker-turned-artist displays zero gravity works

LONDON (Reuters) - Nasser Azam could hardly have timed his move from finance to art any better.

'The Dance', by sculptor Nasser Azam, is seen after its installation on the South Bank of the river Thames in London February 21, 2008. REUTERS/Stephen Hird

In 2007, he was working for Merrill Lynch and painting in his spare time, returning to the passion of his youth as a diversion from an acrimonious divorce.

Seeing economic storm clouds on the horizon, the 45-year-old decided to quit business and became a full-time artist.

He went where few artists had gone before in 2008 with an experiment to paint in weightless conditions aboard a Russian parabolic aircraft, and his show opens in London this week.

“For various personal reasons I restarted my art in 2006,” the Pakistan-born painter and sculptor told Reuters.

“I like to see the break (from painting) that I had of 23 years as one where I stopped painting but was still an artist.

“I was doing the art and I was also banking, and then in 2007 the financial turmoil made it easier for me to make that decision to go full time into art.”

He is off to an auspicious start. Two months ago his “Homage to Francis Bacon: Triptych I” fetched $332,500 at a contemporary art auction in New York, well above its high estimate and in spite of a marked downturn in art prices worldwide.


The triptych was one of two he completed in July 2008 on board a Russian aircraft that creates the effect of zero gravity by rapidly climbing and diving. He said the project was supported by the Russian space agency.

Azam painted the background on the canvas before the flight then overlayed oil pastel while floating.

“The aim was to explore the creative process in an environment which had unfamiliar sensations,” Azam said, adding that Bacon’s “floating,” “disembodied” figures were perfect models.

“I couldn’t use actual paint because that would have floated away. I did preparatory work in acrylic and then I used oil pastel above it.”

The second, unsold, triptych hangs in the “Life in Space” exhibition at the County Hall Gallery in central London, which runs from January 16 to April 29.

All of the paintings in the gallery are influenced by Bacon, whose semi-abstract, contorted figures Azam has taken and stripped down to naked, fetal shapes.

Azam believes his financial background is ideal for a painter and sculptor at a time when the art world has become increasingly commercialized and, despite recent weakness, prices have skyrocketed.

“Contemporary art by definition is something that changes with time and I think the concept of the artist who is going to struggle all his life and become famous after he’s died is not really applicable. Commercialization has impacted art.”

His work in the world of finance also took him around the world, and the exposure to new cultures, particularly in the Far East, influenced his life and art.

“It (financial background) definitely hasn’t influenced the way that I paint, but the way that I’m going about the marketing of my work in this gallery.”

Editing by Paul Casciato