Pop goes the easel!
Francine Wolfisz chats to north London-based artist Deborah Azzopardi, who shot to fame with her pop art prints for Ikea, about her new series focusing on men
“Not all guys can shower and come out looking beautiful in their Levis. Those are the men I wanted to capture – the real men,” giggles artist Deborah Azzopardi.
Her distinctive images – large-scale, vibrant, voyeuristic and, above all, humorous – celebrate the drama of everyday life. But, for the first time in her 30-year career, Azzopardi has moved her focus onto men.
A series of new acrylic paintings, which have just gone on display at The Cynthia Corbett Gallery in Cork Street, London, attempt to uncover all the foibles of the male sex, from changing clothes to tying up their shoelaces and practising golf in the bedroom.
The north London-based artist, whose painting Sssshhh was reproduced by IKEA and became a global success, tells me she wanted to depict “all the funny things that men do” in her new artworks.
“Normally I just have a giggle at myself,” explains Azzopardi, who grew up in Golders Green. “I have done men before, but in different ways. This is a little deeper, although it doesn’t seem deep because it’s also playful.”
Speaking about her work, Late Again, which depicts a man struggling to get into his jeans, the 58-year-old says it takes a wry look at the differences between men and women.
“You look and you see the jeans and a shirt and a tie – and the shirt matches the socks. Is it planned or unplanned? Is he late and what is he getting dressed for? Guys are like that though. They seem very organised.
“I always say, ‘where’s my lipstick, where’s my hairbrush, where’s this or that?’ Men just tap their pockets – ‘there’s my wallet and there are my keys’.”
Azzopardi’s journey as an artist began in her 20s, when she became desperately ill with meningitis. Following her recovery, she decided to quit her job in retail and put her energies into her two passions – her family and her painting, despite not having formal training.
With their bright colours and cartoon-like imagery, many have compared her works to pioneering pop artists of the 1960s. Two years ago, when The Cynthia Corbett Gallery hosted her first solo show, art critic Estelle Lovatt proclaimed that “America has Lichtenstein, we have Azzopardi”, a statement that Azzopardi regards as “a wonderful compliment”. But she remains a little uneasy over categorising her work as pop art.
“I called my style pop art only because I needed a term that was easy for people to understand,” says the dedicated mother-of-three. “Now I’ve been painting for so long, I just think it’s my own style. I’m not sure it’s truly pop art as it used to be.”
At their largest, her works measure around 5ft by 3ft and can take around three months to complete on an easel that cleverly tilts in different directions. “I like the impact when they are large. I don’t like little things,” she reveals.
As for the inspirations behind her ideas, the talented 58-year-old tells me: “I have a lot of muses; they are just people that I know, friends and family.
“Everybody has something that’s lovely about them. All my muses are normal, everyday people. Models don’t interest me, because they are slim and I think all the bumps and curves make real people.”
She confesses to “painting all day, every day, in between phone calls and running about”, and works from one of the two studios at home.
“I’m very neat, very tidy and very organised. When people come in, they don’t believe I’m an artist, because the only mess is on me – my clothes, my hair, my skin. Every artist will say that they don’t have one item of clothing that doesn’t have paint on,” laughs Azzopardi.
Alongside her new paintings, the exhibition will also feature the original paintings she created for IKEA in 2005, which have never before been shown in public.
While the prints have sold in more than 50 countries, the originals are much sought-after by collectors and have commanded prices well into the tens of thousands of pounds. Their success is still something that takes the artist by surprise.
“Did I think they would be this popular? Not at all. I thought it was fun, just a fun thing to do,” reveals Azzopardi. “To think that the prints were selling for £9.99 and now someone can own the original is quite something. To have an original piece of art is wonderful; there’s nothing quite like it.”
Deborah Azzopardi’s works are on display until 9 July at The Cynthia Corbett Gallery, Royal Opera Arcade Gallery, Pall Mall, St James’s, London. Details: 020 8947 6782 or www.thecynthiacorbettgallery.com