Based in Baku and Paris, contemporary artist Niyaz Najafov (b. 1968, Baku Azerbaijan) is internationally acclaimed for his expressive and emotional oil paintings. In Baku, he creates his artworks at Yarat Studios, where he is a long-term artist-in-residence. He is a self-taught artist and was a professional athlete prior to the beginning of his artistic practice, which often explores the human form through portraiture. Rendered in bright acid and muted earth tones and at times accompanied by dark shadowing, the figures in his work are both humorous and disturbing. The protagonists of his works are caricatures of the ordinary people that we see every day – someone gardening, men arguing on the street, working out in the gym, playing dominos, or just standing alone against a backdrop – but their forms are exaggerated by his playful modification of human proportions. His use of shifting visual perspective represents the deep emotional currents running underneath the surface of daily life – often, things are not what they seem, and are rarely as simple as we may wish them to be. It is his skill in portraying this inner life that has led to the exhibition of his work in places such as London, Paris, Berlin, Moscow and Geneva, as well as representing Azerbaijan in 2009 at the Venice Biennale. But his intention behind his recent body of work is a performative experimentation of art in the public realm.
His most recent exhibition at Gazelli Art House in London in May 2017, Absorb, Adhere, Advance, showed his foray into what he terms ‘social art,’ where he used found cardboard and posters as canvases for floral still-life oil paintings. The paintings themselves are emblematic of his style – petals emerge through the thick paint through bright tones juxtaposed by dark backdrops and shadows. His expressive artistic style is transferred to a typical domestic decoration of the flower vase, giving it new emotional and conceptual depth – the flowers are beautiful, but are a representation of an emotional gesture – a gift for a celebration, but also as an apology of a drifting spouse or in sympathy of the passing of a family member. They are also a typical subject for artworks, from old masters to art students, and his use of a familiar subject for his painting creates an immediate connection to the viewer. In this way, his style captures the complexity of human emotions that we imbed and attach to art. The flower paintings are mobile and small in scale. He places them around Paris – in stairwells, on the external walls of buildings, under street signs, or even next to artwork labels for other artists in museums. These unexpected encounters with his artwork in places where it appears out of context presents an opportunity to observe our relationship to art – how to we interact with art when it is presented outside of our expectations? As part of this social performance he often sets up his paintings on the street, using it as a public gallery for his artworks. He has placed more than a thousand of these small paintings around Paris, most of which have been taken down by people. In November 2018 he returned home to present a solo exhibition of his work at the Museum Center in Baku, showcasing his skill and ingenuity as an artist through his paintings of landscapes, bodies, and of course, flowers. However, the Paris project continues and can be followed on his Instagram account.