Nicole Farhi: ‘After Brexit and the first thing I thought was chaos. It’s what life has become’

'Chaos' an Exhibition curated by Nicole Farhi at Hampstead School of Art. Picture: Nigel Sutton

'Chaos' an Exhibition curated by Nicole Farhi at Hampstead School of Art. Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Fashion designer turned sculptor Nicole Farhi curates a chaos themed exhibition in Hampstead

There was much talk of Brexit and Donald Trump at the opening of Chaos, an exhibition curated by former fashion designer Nicole Farhi.

The sculptor was first asked by Hampstead School of Art principal Isobel Lantry to put together the show last July: “When she asked if I would like to curate a show it was just after Brexit and the first thing I thought was chaos. It’s what life has become. It came to me very easily,” says the 70-year-old who lives in Hampstead with her playwright husband David Hare.

Farhi contacted her artist friends to ask them to contribute, some submitted existing work, while others created fresh pieces.

Since then the feeling of upheaval and disorder has only been heightened by the US Election result with Donald Trump namechecked by Hare in his speech at last week’s private view

“We are all feeling totally upside down and out of control,” Farhi told the Ham&High. “With people suddenly conducting, and deciding our lives it’s terribly upsetting.”

Chaos is not meant purely politically. According to Farhi it also refers to war, this year’s migrant crisis and her personal concern over the environment. Her own contribution to the show are bronzes of animals under threat of extinction.

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“Pollution is chaos, climate change is chaos. The pieces I chose were about endangered species, pollution and death. It’s not just about what’s happening to the animals but in our own lives, the pain we feel the despair and anguish about the future.”

French-born Farhi first rose to fame as a designer for French Connection before starting her eponymous clothing label.

In the 80s she took evening classes with the late sculptor Jean Gibson whose work also features in the exhibition and she was also mentored by her friend Eduardo Paolozzi. It ignited a passion that superseded her satisfaction gained from the fashion industry and five years ago she quit fashion to work full time in a studio in her garden.

“I couldn’t live without doing it,” says Farhi of her art.

“It’s the most important thing in my life. It was happening underneath all those years I was doing fashion, I was escaping all the time. Now I can give every single day of my life to it.

“If you have a subject you have to experience it with all your heart and soul and ability. I do it because I have to do it.”

Farhi has selected 13 other artists to exhibit alongside her including John Keane, a former official artist of the first Gulf war who has painted subjects from the Chechen war to Guantanamo Bay and completed portraits of Mo Mowlam to Kofi Annan.

“He’s a fantastic painter, a war artist. I’ve known him for 20 years and he’s completely right for this show.”

Farhi adds: “Janet Nathan is a sculptor who works with metal and water I love the piece she has done, the destruction and rust of that piece.”

South African-born artist Jenny Franklin’s work is on display alongside Anthony Whishaw RA whose work features rifle targets in which as he says on his website “the rifle is used to experiment with drawing from a distance and the problems of aiming with unpredictable results.”

There’s also a Brexit inspired cartoon featuring Theresa May and Barack Obama titled: ‘what have you done what have you lost? by Sue Tilley famously Lucian Freud’s nude model for his 1995 oil Benefits Supervisor Sleeping.

School principal Isabel Langtry said: “Nicole is a very positive person and it’s been an absoloute pleasure to work with her and be introduced to some of these artists.

“This school is all about education and showing students the possibilities of working as a professional artist.”

Chaos runs at Hampstead School of Art in Penrose Gardens, NW3 until January 27.