Hertz “Naz” Nazaire paints from Bridgeport, Connecticut. He has ties to New York, the US city he first started calling home when, at nine years old, he immigrated from his Port-au-Prince to join his hardworking mother. The artist lives with sickle cell and created “Sickle Cell Pain”, a series of paintings to help spread awareness about the autoimmune disease worldwide. “These paintings,” he says, “have gone to places and published in countries I can only dream of visiting myself.”
Nazaire studied art at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale and at the University of Bridgeport, but his biggest tutor is apparently life itself. He says he calls his art style “Haitian Superflat”, as he is inspired by the work of the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. His creativity is also sparked by memories of his mother, whom he lost five years after entering the USA. The loss, needless to say, left him deeply affected.
Was art class your favorite elective when you were in school?
I loved history and science classes just as much as I loved my get away into the art department in the basement of Westhill High School. I loved school learning was very important to me and still a very important part of my life. Art class was something I was good at it seems it came natural to draw and paint and create. I got really lazy about my Advance Placement Art classes junior and senior year because hanging with my girlfriend was much more rewarding and inspiring to my work. I had dreams of getting into Rhode Island School of Design or Parsons, but I never had the money to even try for them. School and class were not where my art grew. I got grades from art projects which were mostly A’s a lot of the time. I did not enjoy creating art for a letter grade, but I did learn a lot of the basics about art in class. Class gave me the rules but pain and life showed me how to break those rules in art to create things that spoke loudly to others.
What inspires your art pieces?
Pain. I think of myself as a PAINter I paint my pain, pain and injustices of all kinds that I see in the world around me. Color. I paint with vivid bright colors of the sunlight and rainbows. Growing up in Carrefour and watching the painted tap-taps run up and down the main street was my education of what my color palette should be. Women. I am deeply inspired by women because I grew up around them. I only knew my mother for a few years but she started my creative flow from the little drawings and presents I would make her each day to tell her I loved her. Silence. I am inspired by silence. Being sick isolated me from other kids. In my silence, I became an observer of my world. Instead of speaking about what I saw around me, I started to learn how to draw them in detail. Love. I am a romantic at heart. Early life in Haiti surrounded by music—some from France—with most song talking about love or making love…even as a child I understood it was a very powerful thing.
Are there certain artists that you have found especially important in your growth as an artist—in terms of their style and legacy?
I could name-drop many painters that I have admired or have given me clues on what I could do next, but if I cannot say something about myself from my own hands. I cannot say my work has grown. I have created art projects that were inspired by things I’ve seen in the art world in recent years. I created Mr. NOBODY as a cos-play character from merging the ideas of street artists like Banksy after having watched Exit Through the Gift Shop a dozen times trying to understand what is this new thing.
If you look at enough of my paintings you will find they do not have a trademark style flow… You can’t really look at one of my paintings and say this is a Nazaire, like you could with a Picasso or Monet. Leaving Haiti at such a young age and losing my mother—the only real family I could claim as my own. I felt I lost my identity as a person. I was away from my community as soon as I turned 18. The only way I found to keep from losing my language was to make Kreyol learning a hobby. So, I created Kreyol.com in college just to have a word list of Kreyol words. In the same way, I used Haitian art as a jump off when painting early on because I loved my country.
I wish I could just copy Jean-Michel Basquiat and call it growth because I really love his work and the legacy he left for someone like me, but finding your own voice and saying your own important thing is what should drive you to paint. So, no, I have never truly grown as a painter from someone else’s identity. I am searching for my own. To make my mother proud—to make Haiti proud.
What advice would you give to other visual artists about marketing themselves?
It depends on what your goals are for your work. Is it a search? Is it a statement? Or is it a means to make a living? The art World seems to me to be a secret closed society, a club of who you know and how you can turn your name into a brand even when it means you have to lie about yourself 90% of the time. There is so much competition that a creative person must face in modern times, creative things are easier to do on computers these days so you’ll find many voices saying the same thing, you should make it a focus to try very very hard to be different. We need a new age of impressionist outsiders.
Selling your work for five-figure sums takes a special type of hustle. If you have the energy for it move to New York. You need a team, and an agent. Beyond all of that if you just want to share your work you can become internet famous with Youtube, Facebook and the many social media outlets out there. I truly think before you think about marketing you really have to think hard about what you want your art to say to the world. Ask yourself what matters to you? Are you willing to die to your art everyday? The first step of marketing art is to create and share. The rest is in the hands of others to like or dislike. To honor or reject you. Love what you do.
Does music play a role in the creation of your art pieces?
Zouk! Konpa! For those who have seen my Youtube channel knows very well that I love to paint with music. I even dance at times. Music is extremely important to me as important as my silent moments of meditation. I grew up with very old romantic music. I am very careful sometimes when I am painting with music. If I planned the work out ahead of time I tend to play something classical like Beethoven, Pachelbel, or Chopin. Because my most active creative hours are between 2 a.m. and 9 a.m., I need something softer for hours of painting.
It is later when most of the layers of a painting has been put to canvas that is when I need more light to see the colors that I work in the afternoons when I can play Zouk, Konpa, rap music. Many parts of my life have a soundtrack to the memories… the music reminds me of those moments and sometimes it is just the right thing for a new idea or it can change a painting halfway because the mood of a song has changed.
I also use music to learn and retain language skills. So, I play music in many languages even if I am not learning that language you may find me playing the soundtrack of the latest Bollywood film while painting. Or the soundtrack from a Japanese video game or anime that I love.
Making love with a song playing means you have different memories of that moment. Making love while Beres Hammond or Shabba Ranks playing is a very different experience than making love while a Joe Dassin, or Coupé Cloué song is playing. Same thing happens to a blank canvas the experience is very different the colors change, the brushstrokes shift with the music and sounds. I cannot paint Haitian dancers without the right music…to paint dancers in motion I want to feel the energy of the movement—so music is a very important part of my process.
What is your overall plan for your art?
My plan right now is to paint more physical paintings and less of the mental ones only seen behind my eyelids. I want to be able to paint much more and say much more with my work about my world. I want to use my voice and creativity to help inspire some change about things that harm us as human beings. This world is cruel and painful most of the time. But beauty also exists here. I want to record that beauty on canvas as my legacy.