Shazia began her career in a greetings card company, then went freelance and started a family. She is now a full-time artist, famed for her perceptive paintings of children and young people. The bright and cheerful colours she uses in them are inspired by her travels in South America, where she took a trip after university with her now-husband Ian. “We'd gone to Mexico and I was at Frida Kahlo’s house where everything is really bright; there's nothing that's not colourful. I think I try to bring that into my work, with the children with red hair and bright, stripy t-shirts and things like that.”
“I definitely think there's a Renaissance influence in my work, with the dark background like Dutch paintings,” Shazia explains. “I use the old method of using egg tempera in the beginning and then layering the paint on slowly”. The first of the paintings of children she made was to hang in her son’s nursery school, of two of his fellow pupils Anna and Guto, and she tried to keep things uncomplicated. “Because it was for a child, I wanted children to understand so I tried to make things uncomplicated and really simple”.
Shazia’s post-university adventures in South America still remain an influence in her art. “We were getting lifts from navy boats in Chile, right down to the southernmost tip of Tierra del Fuego. It was just amazing, but you wouldn't be able to do it now. “I kept a travel diary; when we were in places like Guatemala, Peru, and Bolivia, you weren't allowed to take photographs of people, as they thought that every time you took a photograph of someone, you'd steal their soul, so we were always really careful. So I used to sketch quite a bit”.
She remembers the characters of the children she met there, too. “There were loads of shoeshine boys who were so young. We had proper walking shoes made from GORE-TEX, but we always made it a point to go to them. We would ask: ‘What do you want to do when you’re older?’ and they said things like ‘I want to be a doctor’. It was really sad, because you knew that they were working for their families. I still think about that innocence”.
Shazia had a great imagination as a child, which has also fed her art. “I had an amazing childhood and so I drew inspiration from that. Mine was a world where a retired Diana Dors lived up the street where the powder blue Austin was parked outside. Eleanor Rigby lived in the house with the moss green door, never came out of her home except Sunday mornings. Bruce Foxton hurried down the street in his suit, clacking out his heels across the cobbles every weekend. I thought Miss Marple lived with her sister at number 5 and I thought the world ended at the top of the hill where the school stood, casting its long shadow over my imagined little world.
“I remember my first day at school - I had turned five and started school on a cold January morning. My first day I was led by the hand by a girl with thick, fiery-red hair and the night sky in freckles scattered all over her face. I think I pinched her to make sure she was real. She was there for a couple of weeks before she stopped turning up to school - you will see her In many of my paintings.
One of the features in Shazia’s work is that her subjects don’t have a mouth, and when asked about this, she recalls: “When I was a child I was unable to speak because of a little stutter which was ridiculed endlessly - it wounded me deeply and so I tried to say as little as possible.
“I lived in an imagined world where you didn’t need to say much but if you listened or watched with your beady eyes you could still communicate with others. I thought I had special telepathic powers like in the TV show Sapphire and Steel. I remember scaring a group of punks walking home from a night out. I stood at the window in my white nightdress thinking they couldn’t see me so it was OK to watch them stagger up the hill. However one of them clocked me and began pointing at me in what seemed to me to be a combination of horror and seeing a celestial spirit come down from the heavens!”
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"I begin with homemade egg tempera underpainting - red usually," explains Shazia. "I add in the highlighted areas in white and then paint the whole thing in ochre as a base to begin painting layer by layer. I use oils for the most part. I don’t deviate from the technical aspects of how I apply the paint; this is the only restriction I place upon myself when I paint.
"My portraits are usually based on an idea I have, but midway through I can suddenly change my direction. I try and sketch something out first but I always feel a bit restricted and my mind has been known to wander. The head and shoulders portraits are typical of my thoughts. As a child I would often talk to friends and family by braiding or combing hair - the more the conversations took hold the more I braided away. It was always therapeutic to wish away or share troubles.
"My typical working day today starts at 5.30am. I usually exercise for an hour whilst everyone is asleep and all is quiet. By 6.30 I have breakfast with family before doing drop-offs and errands. I begin work at 8am. Before I start, every door in the house has to be closed - a weird little foible, I know, but I’ve done this since I was a child. I think it might be something to do with having imaginary friends then, and our clandestine meets happened behind closed doors! My friends have long gone, but the closing of doors has become a ritual. I work through to 4pm, have dinner and relax a little before I go back into the studio for a couple of hours more before calling it a day."
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© Copyright Washington Green Retail Limited trading as Castle Fine Art. First published 2012, last updated 2023. Washington Green Retail Limited acts as a credit broker and offers credit products from Secure Trust Bank PLC trading as V12 Retail Finance.
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