2012 banking on a top artist

DOES the name Azam mean anything to you? If you have been along the South Bank recently, past the London Eye, you might have noticed that a new sculpture has been installed. There have for some time been three sculptures by the artist Salvador Dali – w

DOES the name 'Azam' mean anything to you? If you have been along the South Bank recently, past the London Eye, you might have noticed that a new sculpture has been installed.

There have for some time been three sculptures by the artist Salvador Dali - with the name Dali emblazoned on three sides of their square plinths - outside the art gallery at County Hall.

A year ago a fourth sculpture was installed, a life size sculpture called 'The Dance', and this one has the name Azam on three sides of the plinth.

Or you might know Mr Khizr-e-Azam, a retired teacher living in East Ham who was granted the freedom of the borough in 2003, a scholarly and highly respected figure from Newham's Muslim community. He came to the UK from Pakistan with his young family in 1970.


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The two are connected. The artist, Nasser Azam, who has taken the art world in London by storm in the past couple of years, is the son of Khizr-e-Azam. But - as he and his father have both explained to me recently - it has taken Nasser a long time to realise his vocation.

Picasso

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A photograph in the Newham Recorder from July 28, 1983 sets the scene. It shows Nasser aged 21 at work on a painting.

The article reported that Nasser, formerly a student at Langdon School in East Ham, had exhibited pictures at four exhibitions in Birmingham and been the subject of a BBC documentary, and had been compared by some with Picasso.

It went on to explain: "Nasser has just graduated from Birmingham University, where as a commerce student he earned an honours degree and is currently working in accountancy. But he hopes to break out into a full-time career as an artist as his interest in pictures - mainly watercolours - continues to grow."

Nasser's father told me that he had been worried that art was a very uncertain occupation, so had insisted that Nasser should do a business degree.

The article was correct that Nasser had started work as an accountant. In fact Nasser was very successful. He worked for Merrill Lynch, based with them in Tokyo for 11 years and became chief operation officer for global markets and banking in Europe. For 23 years he did no art work at all.

Banking

But three years ago, in 2006, he started to paint again. A member of staff at the Victoria & Albert Museum, who he met at a party, encouraged him and organised a new exhibition for him.

By 2007 he had been appointed artist-in-residence at the County Hall gallery. The papers described him as 'the Salvador Dali of Merrill Lynch'! And last year he decided to give up banking and concentrate full-time on art.

Last summer he was one of a group of artists on a plane from Moscow which executed ten parabola-shaped curves to achieve conditions of zero gravity, to see what this did for their art. A painting by Nasser from that trip sold for $330,000 in New York last November.

Now Nasser is hoping that he will be able to contribute to public art in Newham for the 2012 Olympics. I hope he is successful.

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