Glasgow girl HAZEL NAGL is a landscape painter.
Some sixteen years as both an art student and art tutor in the environs of Ayrshire’s magnificent Culzean absorbed her – as she absorbed its wild, weathered nature, its pace and changing light and the contrasts, the juxtaposition of its cultivated gardens and grounds.
It all began as a four year old – at the Glasgow School of Art. Yes. A four year old!
Dressed for the part in her ‘Rembrandt’ outfit – devised by her mother – complete with beret and bow and her Dad’s shirt worn back to front! – she was enrolled for the Saturday morning class. It was a case of having to do something about the budding artist who drew everywhere – mainly on walls! She was accepted. And instantly gained distinction for her first drawing of a classical sculptured figure – notably on account of her creative elaboration of its male parts.
There never was anything else that child Hazel wanted to do but paint. Encouragement would come from her maternal grandfather who was a very creative man, both as a hairdresser and as an amateur painter (formerly a boilermaker in Dundee!). Her father struggled to make a living after arriving from Vienna in the late 1940s, but went on to set up his hairdressing business in Sauchiehall Street, where the family lived above the shop. Kelvingrove was a regular haunt for our budding artist. “There was nowhere else to go”.
There was also no other thought for the future but to follow her talent to become a full-time Art School student. Her initial enthusiasm was somewhat dampened though by the sense of isolation from the centre of creativity – the location of the first year studies was in Pitt Street, in the Wyllie & Lochhead building, underneath their mortuary. “We never got used to that.”
But amongst her teachers were Dr James Robertson and Dr David Donaldson, together with Danny Ferguson who was the most inspirational, and the biggest influence on her developing artwork.
“It was quite a closed community in those days – ninety per cent of the students were from Glasgow and perhaps ten per cent from the islands.” Students were required to do resident weeks at the hostel to School of Art leased from the National Trust, on the Culzean Estate. It was a revelation for the town-bred – “some hadn’t seen a cow”. This was the start of Hazel’s long association with Culzean and where her landscape and Scottish garden painting is rooted. After graduation she became a junior tutor there herself, enabling her to paint, with the impressive Robert Adam stable building for her studio! Robin Hume was the warden and Senior Tutor, expounding the use of source materials, making connections with the natural environment, from the wilderness of the forested areas, to the floral shrubs and the weather in all its guises – however long it took for inspiration to take hold. “Context was very much the west of Scotland painting tradition.”
Once introduced to the Glasgow Art Club, another big chapter of her life began. It was there that she met her late husband, architect and Vice President of the GAC, Geoff Keanie. Hazel too became active in the affairs of this hub of Glasgow’s art world, and would later become variously its Social Convenor, Honorary Secretary and Exhibitions’ Manager.
1990 was memorable not just for the birth of her daughter but for her first solo exhibition, mentored by Emilio Coia, at the Open Eye in Edinburgh. It was a sell-out.
Prizes feature regularly throughout her career, from school and student days to her work as a professional artist. Most prestigious was the coveted First Prize in the Laing Competition in 1999. By then she had been honoured as an RSW (1988), as a PAI (1996). Recognition as an RGI came in 2000.
Her work can be found in group exhibitions throughout the UK; much else is for private commissions. It also features in the Fleming Collection, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Glasgow University amongst other corporate collections.
Hazel’s interest in architecture, castles and archaeology were all triggered by travels in France. The gardens of France were her particular interest.
More recently she has become absorbed by the world of opera – it’s a visual response, her personal fantasy world, she says. “Every artist needs one.”
But work on this theme currently plays second fiddle to her current role as Artist Convenor on the Council of the RGI. This is her first year of responsibility for the Annual Exhibition – the RGI’s 152nd – and the first to be held in its traditional home in the McLellan Galleries after almost a decade at other venues.
Besides painting, drawing and print-making, architecture will make a come-back in the show, along with photography – for the first time. Fine Art Design will be a special feature with the work of Bob Stewart, one of Hazel’s invited artists.
Hazel wants this Exhibition to bring these magnificent Galleries back into the spotlight, both in the Glasgow psyche and to open up a commercial future of prominence for Glasgow in the wider art world.
“And Sauchiehall Street needs it!” – says the feisty Sauchiehall Street-born lass, who’s on The Herald’s list of 100 Must Buy artists. By the way.