Zaha Hadid: from flaming sketchbooks to global phenomenon

By Oliver Wainwright

Her gravity-defying buildings took her signature whoosh around the world. But as her early explosive paintings go on show and one of her final creations opens, are cracks appearing in Zaha Hadid’s legacy?

For a brief period at London’s Architectural Association in the 1980s, sparkling Perrier water was in vogue. Not for drinking, but for mixing acrylic paints. Students had watched in mystified awe as a steady supply of the bulbous green bottles were shuttled upstairs to the cramped third-floor studio, where recent graduate Zaha Hadid was busy conjuring a painting for an exhibition, a world of skewed perspectives and jagged forms making a bid for freedom. If they used the same fizzy water, her acolytes hoped, it might give their work the same magic Zaha lustre. But the bottles, Hadid later admitted, merely contained tap water: they were just a means of her assistants transporting it from the bar downstairs.

“Even as a student, Zaha had a kind of mythological aura around her,” recalls the artist Madelon Vriesendorp, who taught Hadid in painting workshops at the AA in the 1970s, introducing her to a vibrant colour palette beyond the smudgy greys and browns she had favoured. “She was an incredible creature, always dressed in spectacular layers of scarves and feathers and Perspex heels. And she had this strange habit of burning the edges of her drawings. They looked like futuristic treasures dug up from the ground, with all these crazy forms bending, twisting and warping. I loved her images, but I didn’t even try to understand what they meant.”

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