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Young at art: first exhibition for Nargiz, 90

Despite a lack of ambition, Nargiz Price admits she’s finding her work going on show to the public ‘all really rather exciting’

06 August, 2020 — By Jane Clinton

Nargiz Price sketching at Mario’s Café in Kentish Town

I AM sitting at Mario Saggese’s café in Kentish Town having my portrait drawn by a woman whose work lines the wall of the establishment.

Nargiz Price, who lives in Dartmouth Park, is celebrating her very first exhibition at 90 years of age.

She is showing me how she captures the essence of a person’s face with just a humble biro (a Paper Mate®) and a small notebook.

“I don’t use pencils, always a pen, then I build on the sketch and if I make a mis-step then I have to work it into the sketch,” she says as her pen glides along the paper.

Nargiz with some of her 600 drawings

She is self-taught and has “always drawn” finding it both “relaxing and a challenge” to capture a face.

Her portraits are mainly head and shoulders and she rarely spends more than 30 minutes to create them. There is certainly energy in the pen strokes.

“I love faces, I love people,” she adds. “I don’t like not being occupied so I will sketch if I am at a loose end.”

She can sketch from life but will also leaf through newspapers to find images of people that capture her imagination.

Hence the sketches on the walls of Mario’s Café are like a veritable who’s who of the great and the good, and it is fun to pick out the “names” from those that are not so familiar.

There are sketches of politicians including Boris Johnson, royals such as the Queen, actors, musicians, writers, as well as people Nargiz has encountered.

The A1-sized boards have around 25 portraits on each and are for sale.

They were curated and put together by Nargiz’s friend, Aya Tokita, who is herself an artist, who wanted the public to see the sketches.

Among them are also some of Nargiz’s family, including her daughter as well as a very delicately drawn image of her husband, Rex Price, who died in 2014.

Rex, who was headteacher at St Michael’s School, Highgate, was a well-known and well-liked figure and the couple enjoyed 60 years of marriage.

“I had a lovely marriage and was very happy,” says Nargiz, who has two grown-up children. “I suppose in a way I played ‘second fiddle’ to Rex. He was a headmaster and I was a teacher, but I was happy being in the background.”

For 24 years Nargiz taught at Brookfield Junior school. She retired in 1995 and straight away signed up to be a volunteer for London Zoo. She still volunteers once a week “for two or three hours”.

Animals are also subject to her pen. She shows me a sketch of a lion and there are cats too among the many faces.

She baulks at being called an artist but during the time we are chatting several people come up and compliment her on the artwork.

“I have done nothing to organise this exhibition,” she says.

“It has all been Aya and Mario. I only did the drawing.”

But of course, the drawings are everything – the montage of faces that make up the exhibition, which is called 600 Drawings.

“Usually when I draw people I just give my sketches away,” she laughs. “I have never had a commission but if someone would like me to draw them then I would be happy to.”

She is yet to draw Mario, but he is next on her list.

This new exhibition was about to open when lockdown was announced. There was another gathering that had to be cancelled and that was Nargiz’s 90th birthday party in May. She may yet celebrate depending on social distancing restrictions.

As for shielding she admits that she had tried to get out for a walk during lockdown and play the piano and well as sketch to keep her occupied.

“I’ve never been that ambitious, but this exhibition has made me want to do more,” she says. “I am finding this all really rather exciting.”

  • 600 Drawings by Nargiz Price is at Mario’s Café, Kelly Street, Kentish Town, until the end of August. The café now has new opening hours: Wednesday- Saturday, 8am-3.30pm. www.marioscafe.com/

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