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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Mahmoud Farshchian

Scene from the Demotte or Great Mongol, 1320s, Illustration of the Great Mongol
Shah Nama. Bahram Gur is fighting a lion. A rich tradition of painted images
can be found, usually in miniature, if you go back far enough.
Mahmoud Farshchian Self-portrait
Until recently, I was under the impression that discussing Iranian art was tantamount to a similar discourse on Somali art--what art? Inasmuch as Quran forbids (or at least strongly discourages) anything more than exquisite calligraphy, which I'm currently unable to translate, I've pretty much ignored the Middle East insofar as art is concerned. Then I came across the work of Mahmoud Farshchian, an Iranian-born painter now living and working in New Jersey. His strikingly beautiful paintings sent me in search of other Iranian artists; and I found quite a few. Taken as a whole, their style and content is relatively broad, from ancient looking to cutting edge conceptual. Persian motifs and calligraphy are not uncommon, but neither do they dominate. The Farshchian influence is often notable. However, about the only thing these artists have in common is that, like Farshchian, they don't live in Iran.
The Fifth Day of Creation, 2007-12, Mahmoud Farshchian.
If Michelangelo had been Persian, the Sistine ceiling might have looked like this.
A long, Persian tradition of miniature
painting on paper is evident in
Farshchian's technical prowess. 
If I had to describe Mahmoud Farshchian's art in a single word, I'd say it was lyrical. Unlike painting, their is a strong tradition of poetry running deep and wide through Middle Eastern culture. Farshchian draws upon this, reading Persian poetry and listening to Persian music as his major source of inspiration. Without employing a single swish of Farsi, Farshchian's work manages to be poetic. He doesn't paint scenes so much as poetic images, usually involving female figures, horses, and other stylized flora and fauna in a swirling whirl of color, lines, and masses that often comes close to Surrealism in its dreamy (not dreamlike) focus. Painting has a surprisingly strong presence in ancient Middle-Eastern culture, although not in the realm of large scale public presentations to which we're accustomed in Western Art. Painting was an art mostly limited to manuscript illustration, thus images are precisely draw, carefully composed, and exquisitely rendered. Though Farshchian seldom paints miniatures today, his style and technique reflects this background.

Oh, God, Mahmoud Farshchian.
Worship, Mahmoud Farschian
Mahmoud Farshchian was born in 1930 in Isfahan, in central Iran (south of Tehran), a city once the capital of the ancient Persian Kingdom the art capital of the country at the time. His father was a rug merchant. After high school, the talented teenager was sent off to Europe to study Western Art, which accounts for some of the uniqueness in his style--a blending of East and West. When Farshchian returned to Iran he held various governmental position in the arts while painting and making a name for himself exhibiting in both Europe and Iran. So dominant was his artistic presence and his teaching skills, their developed a "Farshchian School" of painting centered upon his style, content, and technique.

Evening of Ashura, 1976, Mahmoud Farshchian
With the onslaught of the Iranian Revolution and the fall of the Shah in 1979, Farshchian moved his family to the United States, though his work continues to be shown in his homeland where he even has a hometown museum in his name. He has published six books on his art. And though his work is often spiritual, it is never overtly religious. His Oh God (above. left) and Worship (above, right) are about as close to the religious realm as he ventures. His Evening of Ashura (above) focuses upon mourning rather than the religious aspects involving the death of a great warrior.

Self-portrait, Mahmoud Farshchian. The artist apparently has a sense of humor.


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