Life is a Miracle – Sometimes Unpredictable: new work from London artist Deborah Azzopardi in collaboration with musician Noris Schek
By James Brewer
It is remarkable that just one painting can show how small the world has become, says London artist Deborah Azzopardi.
Deborah has long enjoyed global renown for her piquant and playful Pop Art portraits of faux romantic episodes involving smart young people. One of her best loved pieces is called Sshh… It shows a glamorous female with her well manicured, red-nailed finger seductively pressed against her lips. Prints of the illustration hang on living room walls world-wide and those who possess it proudly consider it part of the furniture.
By chance, Deborah found out not long ago that one such collector – a young Hungarian folk/blues musician living in Transylvania 1, 800 km from her London studio – had been inspired to compose a vibrant and moving melody in honour of the print.
Deborah says of the tribute: “How wonderful that was – millions of editions of the image have been sold, and one man with his guitar comes along and dedicates a song to it.”
It was the first time that anyone had applied a musical interpretation to one of her canvases – and there are few contemporary parallels, the best known being the Don McLean 1972 hit song Vincent written as a tribute to Van Gogh and his painting The Starry Night after the American singer read a biography of the Dutch artist.
Deborah happened to find the song celebrating her work on the internet, and the upshot was that she met the singer/songwriter from afar, Noris Schek, in London, which led to the two collaborating on a unique new combined music and visual art project.
Noris said: “Deborah Azzopardi’s art is global – I had the Sshh… on my wall, back in Transylvania. In 2011 I had written The Quiet Song inspired by the painting. I didn’t plan to write the song, it just came to me. It just happened: it was meant to happen!
“A couple of months before my wife Cristina and I came to live in London to find a wider audience for my music, the song was recorded and shared with the world on the internet, along with a short explanation telling people where my inspiration came from. A year passed and, in July 2013, I got an email. Deborah Azzopardi, the artist of ‘our’ beautiful Pop Art painting was writing to me, saying she had come across my song.
“How often do such things happen? Was it the accident of finding something extraordinary, or just one of life’s miracles? Take your pick, I go for the miracle, ” said Noris.
“Deborah said she very much enjoyed listening to the song, and that she wanted to meet me. I had a concert in Kew Gardens, asked her if she would like to come, and that’s how we met. After that we became good friends.
“My newest composition is called Life Is a Miracle. I recently recorded it, Deborah heard it, and the next thing I knew she was showing me her beautiful, new, larger-than-life painting, inspired by my composition. And she has named it Sometimes Unpredictable, a line found in the lyrics.”
He described as magic “a story that started with an artist creating a painting that inspired a musician, who wrote a song and got to meet the artist who created the painting that inspired the musician to write a song…”
Incidentally, both were already fond of the Don McLean song, having come to it from their respective angles – visual art, and music.
Deborah Azzopardi has for 30 years been teasing her clientele with her bright and witty images in primary colours in a style which some liken to that of Roy Lichtenstein, the poster boy of Pop Art (he lived from 1923-97). Compared with the American, Deborah paints with a fuller line that glows with the brilliance of fresh creation.
Describing the tone of her clever cameos in words is perhaps best done by recalling the seduction scene in the film The Graduate in which Mrs Robinson slips out of her stockings; it is naughty and raunchy, but never vulgar.
She (Ms Azzopardi, not Mrs Robinson) has done it again with Life is a Miracle…Sometimes Unpredictable. High-heeled legs protrude nonchalantly over the body of a red sports car, with the owner of the legs toasting the high life with a glass of champers. In the print, the lyrics of the song are inscribed on the chassis (of the car, not the lady).
It just had to be a red Ferrari to make the scene work, said Deborah. She likes depicting older cars which have more character and distinctive design than newer vehicles.
She asks close friends and family to model for her, and in this instance there had to be a lady who was petite and who would, unlike an average sized person, fit into the car without looking ungainly – “when you think about it, you have to be of a certain build to get in and out of cars without appearing to be clumsy.”
Although Deborah starts with clear in her mind a scene she wants to portray – the thought comes before the deed – she conducts considerable research “to get what I want.” She sets up the model, insists on her (the majority of her subjects are women) wearing the right shoes and accessories, and looks for a bright day. “It is only when I see the reality, that I decide what to keep in and what to keep out, but my real fun is in the painting, although putting it all together is a huge task.”
She “borrows” ankles, legs and arms from acquaintances but never puts a model’s full face into the picture. “Beautiful people are very worrying, ” she says, and perhaps it is a sub-conscious decision not to make attractive visages the focus of the works. “We all have the same sorts of body parts, but we all have different personalities.”
The art critic Estelle Lovatt, who praises Deborah’s composition and talent with line as superb, wrote in a forward to a coffee-table book celebrating the artist’s first solo retrospective in March 2014 that she was doing what she did “for women, ” and said when interviewing Deborah for a video: “She inspires everybody, not just women. I am sure that she paints not with a paintbrush, but with a feather. She makes us laugh, and has as big a personality as any of her paintings.”
Deborah has a more down-to-earth view of herself. “What I am is an artist painting things that make me giggle. There is no deep meaning. I have done it all my way, so I do not have the influence of anybody else.” As with her philosophy, “it is about being free, carefree and going with the wind, about living life.” One might add that it is about acute observation in regard to the balance of power in human relationships, while seeking no solution to the problems.
It is the sense of pure delight that results in her tautly-constructed images reflecting vividly her exhilarating sense of fun, and although she does not play to the commercial gallery, this has made her a favourite with retailers with the clout of such as Ikea, with publishers of prints, and with auctioneers.
To mark her 30th year as a professional artist, she is launching at the Affordable Art Fair in Battersea Park in March 2015 a limited edition print. There will be 15 screen prints of one of her greatly admired paintings The Great Escape, which is of a champagne glass-toting woman blowing a kiss from inside a car that is doubtless about to roar off into the blue. For the first time, Deborah is using platinum leaf in this composition.
Self-taught Deborah paints every day and goes through paintbrushes galore. She started in commercial art, and became a licensee of Walt Disney painting cartoons by hand. The illusionist skill of the animator stayed with her, and her prints are known in dozens of countries. Originals hang in the US, alongside the great artists of the second half of the 20th century and the start of the 21st.
Her original paintings are represented by the Cynthia Corbett Gallery. The next show in which Deborah’s work will feature will be Art Wynwood in Miami from February 12-16.
What is the appeal of these works, effervescent in their joy? The philosopher Nietzsche once said: “All joy seeks eternity.”
Noris Schek is a trained guitar teacher, a Bachelor of Art in Music and Music Education, who toured with Romanian blues artist AG Weinberger and had weekly TV appearances. Of Deborah, he said: “My wife and I were already big fans of her art, and now that we know her personally we’re even greater admirers. She has the loveliest and the sunniest of personalities, she’s a wonderful person. Her paintings are absolutely seductive, full of life and colour.”
He said that the story of their meeting proved that art (painting, music, etc) speaks a universal language, and, quoting from his 3.25 minute-long song, that “life (truly) is a miracle… sometimes unpredictable… “
Noris has recorded fresh, original material for a new album. More detail is on his new website http://norisschek.com and a direct link to the song Life is a Miracle can be found at http://norisschek.com/2015/01/
Deborah Azzopardi’s website is www.deborahazzopardi.co.uk