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Where's the frame

Maribelle Bierens

December 12, 2022 10:12 PM


Evoking very strong emotions, Naila Hazell’s portraits grip you right away. Terror, comfort, joy, anxiety, whatever emotion is depicted, it’s forceful. Remarkably, the realistic faces are partly broken up, revealing fluorescent brushstrokes in the background. where’s the frame? speaks to the artist about her journey as an artist, her artistic process and why she has decided to paint portraits this way.

‘Repelling and Embracing’, those are the main emotions Naila Hazell is currently working on,  “All of the works in this series are precisely about that, repelling and embracing and,” as she reveals, “The titles of the paintings tell the stories. It’s about relationships, about love, hatred, conflicting emotions.”

For example, the two works included in wtf?’s group show DISTORTION & DISSONANCE, are titled ‘Tormented Nightmare’ and ‘Mind Reading’. In the first, even with his eyes closed, you can see the excruciating pain on the face of the sitter. It’s haunting. The other depicted person bows over the other, probably in the process of giving comfort. In ‘Mind Reading’, it’s unclear what kind of relationship we’re witnessing, but what’s clear is that we’re seeing a strong bond between the sitters. They seem so close that they might be able to read each other’s minds. 

Naila Hazell, Tormented Nightmare’ 2022. 47 x 61 cm, Oil on Wooden Panel.

This kind of deep emotional connection between the people in the painting and the viewer that’s the crux for the artist. ‘How we enjoy life, how relationships affect us, how moods change, how we make decisions, it’s all based on emotions and your relationship with yourself and others.’ She continues, ‘I think we are not alone, we are connected, and we want to be connected it’s all about repelling and embracing. Sometimes you don’t have a choice, you are with someone - a relationship, friendship or family - you don’t choose your family, you have to push, also you want to embrace them.’

‘I think we are not alone, we are connected, and we want to be connected; it’s all about repelling and embracing.’

There are different levels of mediation by the artist. The first layer is photoshoot that takes place. She has friends that model for her who are character that perform the emotions that she tells them to express. ‘I give them a theme, love, hatred, respect, toxic relationship, it’s about the other person’s expression of my emotions.” For the artist, it’s all about connection. Connecting with your feelings, the emotional connection between people, the emotional connection of the people in the painting and the outside world. 


This meditation is meaningful as, in a way, she takes it to a more communal level. If we’re all connected, if our emotions are all connected. Thinking about emotion in this way,  it doesn’t matter who’s expressing or mediating those emotions. Although her paintings are autobiographical, viewers can often connect and relate to the depicted emotions because everyone, at some point, has experienced some of these extreme emotions.  As she explains, “I see myself and my own emotions in the painting, but it’s not only me having a nightmare, it’s not only me who’s lost someone that I love.”

Naila Hazell in front of Mind Reading, 2022. 80x 60 cm, Oil on Wooden Panel.

The next level of mediation is taking a photograph, making a snapshot of those directed emotions. Some of the pictures from the photoshoot are then used for the composition. She then plans where the portrait is going to be broken up, to reveal splashes of neon acrylic paint and draws with charcoal to get smudgy effects. Lastly, the realistic portrait is painted on top with oil paint. The neon abstract is mixed with realistic fleshlike touches, making your mind move between experiencing reality and surreality 

Naila Hazell, Mind Reading, 2022. 80x 60 cm, Oil on Wooden Panel.

The details in the painting, the lifelike expression of emotions in the faces, even with the visible brushstrokes, clearly show how good she is in painting very realistically. The act of breaking-up the realistic painting is another form of mediation. It’s a very meaningful form of meditation. Naila is trained as a realist portrait painter by renowned Soviet social realism painter Boyukagha Mirzezade while studying fine art in Azerbaijan, part of the a former Soviet Union. She was trained in a traditional academic way that was still heavily dominated by Socialist Realism, the official style that was developed in the Soviet Union of idealised realistic art. As Azerbaijan was one of the constituent republics of the Soviet Union between 1922 and 1991, it forced artists to work in this way and their works into state-controlled propaganda. That’s why, as the artist expressies, “I hated realism before.” But in mediating, and breaking up this realistic way of painting, she found a way to work with it. “I can play with my skill. I was controlled before by the Soviet Union. Propaganda was controlling me but now I control it in its turn.” 

You can follow the Naila Hazell on her website and instagram.

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