in conversation with: Willy Nabi

Born in Bordeaux, France, Willy Nabi currently lives and works in London, where he attended Goldsmiths and Slade School of Fine art. Spending longer time probing on his images/drawings, Nabi would often receive a mixture of material-based or image-based ideas to augment his work. During lockdown, he developed an interest in Egypt which became the source of ideas for his latest project. In this conversation with Willy, you can get to know more in detail about his creative process, his intensified interest in Egypt and how his latest project defines his current work.

As a mixed media artist, how did you choose your medium to express your creativity?

I consider myself to be a painter first and foremost, I usually work from an image and/or drawings and the longer I spend investigating the image or subject matter a mixture of material   based ideas and image based ideas come to me, they often go hand in hand. But while not everything that goes in the work is painted, each element is in dialogue with painting for example the faux wood vinyl is flat but gives the illusion of the three dimensional, the brightness of the reflective fabric is such that the way light hits it, the eye sees white streaks which is in conversation with the white of the wall as well as the colour white used to paint certain elements in the work.



Can you tell us more about your latest project? and how your background influences your work?


My latest project comes from the idea of bringing a mummy back to life. I imagined a mummy lying underground fitted with an umbilical cord, that could be linked to a living being or thing at the surface. For me this idea brings together all the different layers of meaning that define my current work. The umbilical cord made me contemplate with a mixture of humour, darkness and sadness that the mummy could be a mother, and allowed me to start playing with the word mummy or mommy in that sense, but more to the point it was the realisation that I was unearthing my own mother.  Even though I lost her when I was young, I feel now like I’m gaining new mummies as I continue to dig for new meaning. I’m specifically interested in the ancient Egyptian mummy, Egyptian because Egypt played a big part in the story of my family on both my mother and father’s side. My grandparents got to know each other in Alexandria because my grand-fathers both worked for the same company there which meant that my parents first met as babies on the beaches of Alexandria before they got together years later in London.


My interest in Egypt intensified during lockdown, I had a studio with no windows during that time, and so I found myself dreaming of the desert, the light, the colours while at the same time wanting to be underground, exploring ancient tombs. It’s within that contradiction that the piece ‘Everybody has a mummy” came to be, it shows a being underground that radiates light through the prism of a plastic cup, the light pierces the ground and floods the sky above with great intensity.









When is the best time for you to create? Maybe in the morning right after you wake up or at night before bed?


The best time to create is when I feel that I’m in myself, in the moment, that the idea I’ve just had has been processed and is being met with what is really there or what’s within my reach, then a calmness takes over me and I can begin.  On a side note, I have recently realised the more mess there is in my studio the more fertile it is for me to be creative.



Describe your works in 5 words.


Ambitious, layered, mysterious, playful and personal









Can you tell us your reasons why you share your works with others?


The reason why I share my work with others is I guess so that I can be heard the way I want to be heard.



How do you view your creative ability or process?


I work with lots of different materials so a lot of time is spent researching and sourcing what feels like the right thing to work with. The best times are wandering through a pound shop and letting the thing find me.









If we were to trade places, what is the one thing that I need to know about you that many others don’t know?


It would be that I buy a Lego magazine every week, the one that comes with a little Lego toy.



What is your biggest pet peeve?


When vulnerability is mistaken for weakness









What would you want people to take away from your works?


I want people to feel like I have spent time with and cared for what they are looking at.



Last but certainly not least, do you believe in ghosts?


I believe that when you notice that’s when things come to life...I’ve had many instances when I noticed something that made me believe that I was in the presence of a spirit or someone else's energy. For example my beloved grandmother passed away last year peacefully at home in her bedroom and was at her side not long after it happened, when I next entered her bedroom weeks or months later, I went to turn on the light and the light went out. Even though It sounds cliché, it made me believe that she caused it and wanted to let me know she was there with me.



To follow the projects Willy Nabi is working on, you can visit his Instagram and website.
All photos courtesy of the artist.
where's the frame - ‘in conversation with’ is a weekly series featuring emerging vanguard artists. Stay tuned for more interviews, published every Friday.