MEET:
Nadine Faraj
Nadine Faraj 2021 Pink Moon Womxn 1500px.jpg

'What You Really Want Is Love's Confusing Joy', 2021

Watercolour on paper.

131 x 182 cm

Tell us about yourself

 

I was raised in Montreal by immigrant parents, a little bit Berlin and a little Baghdad because my mom is German and my dad Iraqi Jewish. Speaking English at home in a mostly French city, being a child of immigrants, as well as a Jew in catholic school, I got used to being an outsider. My mom was born in Germany in 1941. That same year my dad witnessed his father’s face get partially blasted with shrapnel during the Nazi-inspired Farhud in Baghdad – the pogrom against the Jews. One day, when I told an elder Frenchman about my German mom’s conversion to Judaism he responded with “Oh yes, many Europeans of conscience converted after the war”. I had no idea this was a thing. Anyhow, growing up hearing about all this fuckery got me thinking of how different people get along, or not. It got me thinking of how we value or oppress one another and why. Indirectly I learned not to judge anyone for how they are born. I became strictly antiracist. Life starts with a birth lottery, none of us decide where we pop out.

 

Now I am obsessed with depicting people as worthy and beautiful, in all our states. I’m know there is wealth within that’s not always apparent on first glance. I’m obsessed with making connections, bridges between us all. I include connecting with the nonhuman world too because we need to tune with nature humbly, more than ever. 

Where did your passion for art begin? 

My passion for art began when I was little, and it was not suppressed. Mom has a painter friend, Rita Briansky, who is ninety-six now and still paints every day, she’s even teaching classes on Zoom. Rita’s life showed me that being a painter was a legitimate job. Dad’s friend Moshe Shaki used to make art using plexiglass, he makes assemblages today. Visiting his busy, percolating studio as a kid really sealed the deal for me. Being in a studio made sense of the world. I wanted to grow up to make things. Not that I moved in a straight line after this. If I could have started an apprenticeship at fourteen, I would have. But, you know, there’s high school and then the need to earn money and I had to figure out how to devote myself to art practically. 

Now to make good work is all that matters. I feel like I must always leave more of myself on the table, and never hold back what affects me most. My work towards self-liberation comes through in my artwork, I hope. Ultimately art can function as a tuning fork for liberation, for all.

Nadine Faraj 2021 No One Looks At The Stars When The Sun s Out (Jay)-1500px.jpg

'No One Looks At The Stars When The Sun's Out (Jay)',  2021

Watercolour on paper.

76 x 56 cm

How would you describe your works?

They are shamelessly naked or erotic watercolours, colourful, blurry, and fluid, with people melting inwardly and figures melding into one another. They can be funny too. 

Often the boundaries between beings are not clearly defined which I love, because in life we are permeable to each other and we are permeable to our environment. We drink water, we leak it out, we swap spit and electrons.

I may use different approaches to portraying a figure in the same piece, ranging from abstracted to cartoonish, to naturalistic. You will see a range of body types, diversity in every way such as in gender expression, skin colour, body size, emotion… 

I work from erotic image sources, image of friends and folks I admire in the media/social media. Icons of queerness, trans* icons large and small. Being part of the LGBT+ community I am deeply disturbed by the violence inflicted on LGBTQI2S+ people for being themselves, so my answer is to portray queer individuals with love. I portray queer nudity and gay sex so that we may enjoy and normalize these realities. 

I love skin and the shamelessness of nakedness. It doesn’t always have to be sexual. Nudity for me keeps things real as figures are stripped of the trappings of class. There is so much left to explore here too, the naked body is so charged. Take the history of female nudes for example, figures handled in a banal and misogynist way drive me nuts. I want my womxn to be fierce and powerful, I don’t want to add a drop more of degradation to art history. I want dignity for us all. Naked figures symbolize the wealth we are born with. Perhaps appreciation for our inner wealth could also be the antidote to our ridiculous consumer society. 

Sexual imagery points to our animal nature. It also is a way to talk about love in a non-

sentimental way. It is powerful on its own, orgasm can be sublime, le petit mort, a moment of ego-transcendence.

What are you currently working on?

For quite some time now I’ve been working on bringing more figures together in the same artwork. In 2015 I started using a random approach, making constellations of isolated vignettes. But for the last two years I’ve been back to drawing compositions that could be based in earthly reality, where figures are actually grounded. I resisted planning compositions for a long time preferring instead to focus on the details of the face or how two, or more, bodies can meet. I wasn’t even sure I could pull off proper compositions. But I am doing it now, making detailed preparatory drawings in graphite and Sumi ink.

On November 18th my solo exhibition Pink Moon People opens in Montreal at McBride contemporain. It will feature two large scale watercolours made in this more planned manner, with plenty of studies made beforehand. Within these however I still leave plenty up to chance. Chance is too important to delete. 

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'J'ai Tant Appris', 2021

Watercolour on paper.

38 x 28 cm

When you start a new work or project, do you plan what you're going to create or do you improvise?


In all of my works, some elements are planned and some improvised. I collect vast amounts of images which are important starting points. They are my visual notes of themes and compositions of interest. I also use writing to clarify my thoughts and home in on what matters. But what matters most in the end is what my hands produce.  Wook Seo, my classmate at SVA, often referred to the “brain in his hands”. This is a way of crediting the body’s intelligence and the fact that we often know things before we can clearly spell them out. The rational part of our mind cannot do it all. The body can find solutions on its own. So yes, I improvise by allowing my hands to show me how to work.  I must because I’m chasing a vision of a feeling of what the world is missing. I’m running after an idea of something that I don’t yet know but that will nourish me.

Nadine Faraj 2021 What You Really Want Is Loves Confusing Joy 51x71in-light file.jpg

'What You Really Want Is Love's Confusing Joy', 2021

Watercolour on paper.

131 x 182 cm

Can you highlight some of your influences and discuss how they have made an impact on you and your practice?
 

Everything I have seen has influenced me in a way, most relevant are these: Japanese erotic prints: I saw them as a teen when my older sister bought art books filled with them. No shame in the nudity nor in the sexual pleasure portrayed here! Nicole Eisenman, Kerry James Marshall: yes, we can keep looking at any product of the history of painting and renew it for our time. Marlene Dumas: she’s shown me that you can paint anything you’re thinking about. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Alice Neel, Louise Bourgeois: skill alone is nothing interesting; yourown life merits attention, you don’t have to avoid the autobiographical. William de Kooning, Philip Guston, Helen Frankenthaler: you can work it out directly on the
canvas, whether it’s a battle or a dance; a blurred image can be just as true to our experience of
reality as a crisp one. Prehistoric cave painters: they remind me that painting has been around for tens of thousands of years - who are we to think we can kill it? Cecily Brown: her masterfully slippery paintings; her preparatory drawings, she’s a master draftsperson and we don’t always see her precise studies; advice she was given and now shares “take your painting seriously and paint every day”.

Agnes Martin: empty yourself, make space for the art to happen, make space for the viewer.

What are your plans for the remainder of this year?


I am continuing to draw with graphite and Sumi, and pursuing watercolour. My plan is to build a new immersive environment, a replica of a fictional inclusionary feminist painted cave. I am preparing this along with 2D artworks to show at Anna Zorina Gallery in New York in the spring of 2022.

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'A Billion Times God Has Turned Back Into Herself', 2021

Watercolour on paper.

38 x 28 cm