Mehdi Farhadian, a young artist born in 1980 is presenting his works for the first time in a solo exhibition in Dubai. Backed by 19th century European academic techniques and innovatively fresh subject matter rendered in a pure and shining palette, his works are the materialization of personal methods and visual research.
His rich and pure colors applied in multiple layers fill the expanse of his larger works and immediately involve his viewers. Faced with his paintings, viewers are faced with the tenderness of the colors and reminded of deeply rooted memories - memories which are either reminiscent of poetic hope or past accidents recalling the end of a nightmare and beginning of a bright and beautiful dawn.
Through his work Farhadian expresses and exposes his personal concerns limited to a specific geographical location; sociopolitical pains are visible in every layer yet his canvases do not turn into social propaganda or politicized objects.
His technique and detailed execution, though clearly derived from the Persian painting heritage, are filled with his personal style and despite his young age, Farhadian uses his knowledge of Iranian and world art to create works brimming with intelligence and courage.
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Farhadian’s Space of the Spring
Mehdi Farhadian’s painterly hand is unique in that he enables a flight into the past while at once triggers a sense of futuristic utopia. Both the content and the style of his work strives to engender this double play of a sense of lose in the historical past and a sense of anticipation in the distant future. In Farhadian’s new series, entitled "BAHARESTAN", architecture is hegemonic. Significant structures from Iran’s nineteenth and twentieth century architectural history dominate the center of his canvases, as architecture has occupied such an important place in the modern history of the nation. While denoting historical events, these landmarks also impregnate a personal dimension: spaces around which Farhadian was brought up and continues to live now. A private interrelation, as if, a personal commitment is fastened to the undertone of these works. The history of the nation is interlaced with the individual life of the painter. Experiences and hopes, bygone occurrences and impending projections are entwined.
However, the painter’s intention is not to recall the sociopolitical gist of these monuments; but rather to give them a new, a present-day, layer of meaning that is uniquely his, uniquely ours. This is precisely the double play of the past and the future that renders these works so captivating, almost mysterious. The onlooker immediately recognizes the content, the structures: i.e., one of the twelve Qajar gates of Tehran, the austere façade of the Qasr prison, Darvazeh Dowlat, the parliament building in Baharestan, etc. At once, the uncanny familiarity of these historical markers seems unrecognizable, not quite what they are and not quite the way they have been presented hitherto in photographs and other forms of representation. There is something amiss. There is a mystery that keeps its audience captivated. The present, a contemporary interpretation of history, constantly lurks between Farhadian’s painterly hand and that of his painterly surface.
As in his past works, there is an intellectual intention behind this striking aesthetics. In the front court of Baharestan, an angel attempts to destroy the forces of despotism in the dark of the night. The constitutional parliament is abandoned by the very representatives of the people. Six women, seated under beach umbrellas of the colors of the Iranian and the American flags, seem to conduct casual conversations; the everydayness of the content of this image reinforces the uncanny feel of it—of this simultaneous suggestion of familiarity and foreignness. Lions guarding a deserted landmark; an amalgam of the modern and the traditional in Persian architecture. It could be a place in Sadabad; it might be Sa’di’s mausoleum in Shiraz. It is not. The Iranian embassy in Washington DC, instead. There is meaning behind this sticking aesthetics. Women aiming the prison walls with their gulf balls, while army’s music band marches to the gates of Tehran. The onlooker is situated in a specific place by Farhadian only to lose her/him in the ephemeral nature of time. The experiences of the painter, as that of his nation, masterfully merge into each other to project certain aspirations, hopes, and a future that could be, at least and at last, fair. After all, Baharestan means the space of the (coming) spring.
Boston, January 2011
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Contemporary Art Magazine
The Territory of Multicolour Fears:
A Look At Mehdi Farhadian`s Work
Born in 1980, Mehdi Farhadian graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts, Tehran University with an MFA in Painting. He has exhibited his works in many solo and group exhibitions in Iran, China, France and so on.
“Our faculty of sight is slightly weakened and carries the memory of thousands of images. We do not look at nature any more, we only look at images.”
Mehdi Farhadian’s paintings are the fruit of the aggregation of his visual memories of nature and the memories of images preserved in photographs. The former is personal and the latter collective. The former relates to the painter’s relationship with the nature of the north of Iran, where his family comes from and where his childhood memories were formed, especially Langaroud and Ramsar. The latter relates to the influence that photographs taken by different people have had on him. Both types of memories are recorded, the first in the artist’s mind and the second on paper, so that their echo eventually finds its own, new place in the painting process.
Farhadian’s attitude towards nature is reminiscent of romanticism. He rejoices in nature’s transitory beauty and translates this euphoria with his use of thick colours, the dripped colours and the transparency and opacity of colours. Other romantic elements in his work include the admiration of unknown things in nature, the attraction and recreation of untouched landscapes, and the ‘terror of creating enjoyment’, which was the Holy Grail of romantic artists.
In his childhood, Farhadian was influenced by his father, who painted and wrote poetry. His father’s paintings were mostly copies of works by Russian masters that brought him into rapture. His admission to the School of Fine Arts was the beginning of his journey into painting and brought him into contact with artists such as Manouchehr Motabar, who taught him the academic theories that underpin painting, and the continuity of work, and Darioush Hosseini, who trained him to look at everything in an intelligent way. His few meetings with Fereydoun Ghaffari also helped complete the puzzle of his artistic language. In recent years international books and resources have become more accessible in Iran, while the internet has also made possible the unmediated connection in real time with art and artists across the world.
In this period, firstly realistic design and paintings influence him and, later, the paintings of such artists as David Hockney whose work, with its location of the body in the painting space and the capacity of colour, open up new paths in Farhadian’s work. Even later, the work of painters such as Peter Doig, Neo Rauch and the painters of the Leipzig School develop Farhadian’s understanding of the coming together of the painter’s attitude with his knowledge of the history of art. Besides, one can also consider the influence of Iranian miniatures in their vibrant use of colour and the quasi-metaphysical quality found, for instance, in the works of Sani’al-Mulk and in the earlier works of Kamal al-Mulk and some of his contemporaries, as background influences in Farhadian’s work.
Farhadian includes all these elements in his work with precision and thoroughness, but his stance on the history of art is that this theoretical understanding should not diminish his works; on the contrary, it becomes an artistic privilege, the products of which inform and support his artistic practice.
The process of Farhadian’s colouring technique begins with works using tar. Working with a material like tar, which proposes a variety of techniques from watercolour to thick colours, could also contain a wide variety of colour techniques. From Butcher and Sheep (2007) (figure 1), Farhadian changed his palette and utilises colours from colourful greys to pure colours.
Farhadian’s attitude towards nature is reminiscent of romanticism. He rejoices in nature’s transitory beauty and translates this euphoria with his use of thick colours, the dripped colours and the transparency and opacity of colours. Other romantic elements in his work include the admiration of unknown things in nature, the attraction and recreation of untouched landscapes, and the ‘terror of creating enjoyment’, which was the Holy Grail of romantic artists. Cliffs, mountains, flood water, the shifting of clouds and the wondrous and multicolour splendour of the nature of northern Iran which correspond to what the British philosopher Edmund Burke (1729 –1797) called power, darkness and ambiguity, loss, boundlessness, hardship and greatness and characterised as “being glorious”. Abstract and ambiguous specks or blots in the execution emphasise the transience of nature and the fascination that contemporary landscape artists like Peter Doig and Hernan Bas show in their work.
Farhadian creates landscapes mostly from his own memories, based on the relationship between a feeling and a view, while the figures of his paintings come from photographs and convey a more precisely calculated choice. These images are chosen because of their beauty and attractive form, but their general outlook relates to specific events and moments in the past. The photographs are a return to the memories of previous generations, memories of times that are now over but are pinned down in family albums and other photographs. These photographs scrutinise the difference between the public and the private, the past and the present: the forgotten splendour of images of the past and the enjoyment of their multicoloured recreation. At the same time, in some works a kind of menacing atmosphere or a juxtaposition of opposites disturbs this tranquillity: in Twins (2008) (figure 2), two air stewards are smiling, but this joviality is threatened by the presence of an aircraft carrier carrying fighter aircraft. In The Marriage of Veresk (2008) (figure 3), a bride and a groom stand on a bridge in such a precarious way that at any moment there is a danger of their falling. These contradictory modes at times give way to a transient or scrutinising act: a crashed aircraft; a rider about to fall; people practising martial arts; men scattered about in the water and on the seashore; female pilots inspecting a map; parachutists descending in a canyon; men cutting the meat of a whale; beekeepers in protective clothing and, in Pillow Fight (2008) (figure 4), a visual analogy of the Cold War.
These visual studies reach their peak in Move on, O Breeze (2009) (figure. 6). In this work, photographs, sketches, and most importantly a conscious adaptation of Theodore Gericault’s The Survivors of the Medusa Raft reveal the process of preliminary studies in the formation of Farhadian’s work. A romantic work chosen at a highly dramatic moment highlights the conflict and the moment of glory, this time not on a piece of wood but in an internal space, while a standing woman at the peak of this conflict is shown to be the real hero.
The process of the formation of this work from photographs and sketches until the final painting (figures. 5a, b and c) shows a sensitivity less evident among young contemporary Iranian painters. This academic sensitivity coupled with enthusiasm and insight places this work in a specific position.
In his paintings, Farhadian follows an enjoyable narrative coupled with freshness. Without intending to be pessimistic, these works are not naïve either, because in this narrative, a terrifying glory is awaiting us, a delightful terror!
- As quoted in the Persian translation of Andrews, Malcolm, Landscape and Western Art, Oxford History of Art Series,1999, translated into Persian by Babak Mohaqqeq, Iranian Academy of Arts, (1388), p. 113
- Veresk is the name of an old bridge in the Mazandaran Province, in the north of Iran.