"Reviewing Iranian Modern Art/5: White"03 Sep 2022
Original text in Farsi by Tarannom Tavaghi
Translated to English by Omid Armat
From June 17 to July 8, 2022, Aria Gallery hosted a solo show titled "Reviewing Iranian Modern Art/5" "White" by Gholamhossein Nami (b. 1936). The show presented works from different periods of Nami's career in a notably diverse but integrated arrangement. Nami is known as a modernist artist whose abstract works are formed based on his attitude toward different subjects like Iran's architecture, soil, and calligraphy, while his figurative and semi-abstract works are influenced by his experiences of the time's events. Over the years, Nami has presented his works in several group and solo exhibitions, festivals, and international biennales. To name some of his exhibitions during recent years, we can mention "Forty Years of Artistic Creation of White and Three Dimensional Work" (2006) at the Iranian Artists Organization, "Gholamhossein Nami's Recent Works and a Retrospective of Two Decades of His Activity" (2011) at Khak Dubai Gallery, and "Since the Beginning Until Today" (2014) at Boom Gallery in addition to his presence at Art Dubai 2018, and a group show titled "Stellar Artists" (2022) at Sahar K Boluki Fine Art Gallery in Toronto, Canada. His works were also displayed at the Contemporary Istanbul art fair by Khak Dubai Gallery.
The presented works at this show are results of Nami's six decades of artistic activity and are divided into five groups.
The first group of works, produced between 1963 and 1966, are semi-abstract paintings with a childish mood and imaginary atmosphere influenced by the artist's experience of teaching children and studying Paul Klees works. This group is also dividable into two parts. The first part consists of dominant happy colors and childish forms, while in the second part, with more abstract forms, happy colors are replaced by a dominant white color all over the tableaus.
The second group, which includes works from 1966 until today, consists of Nami's three-dimensional, white, purely abstract works. With a particular focus on Iranian traditional architecture, the artist has brought three elements into his works; mass, light, and space. For instance, in the "Untitled" work, we face a completely white tableau in which some circles of different sizes protrude from some parts of its surface. There is also an embossed diagonal line created with the pressure of an object behind the canvas, thus making it distinguished from the conventional structure of canvases and turning it into artwork on its own.
The third group consists of Nami's abstract calligraphies from the 1970s to today. In these works, letters are not readable, and the script is not used for writing but as an abstract element with a specific rhythm and movement. "These works are delicate, compact, lively, and colorful combinations of subtle and curved movements that only induce a sense of Nastaliq script by various geometric and curved compositions" (Morizinejad, 2011: 6). For example, in the "Untitled" calligraphic work, the artist has used Nastaliq letters in compressed space and created an abstract composition with three parts on a purple, square canvas. Despite the dominant purple color in the center, green dots help the viewer's eyes move all over the frame.
The fourth group contains semi-abstract works from the "Anti-war" period of the artist's career path from 1989 to 1994. Influenced by the painful events of Iraq's war against Iran, Nami started to create art in a different language by returning to figurative painting. With its dominating blues, blacks, and reds, and an Expressionistic appearance in a Romantic-like space, this group of works, which were first displayed in a show titled "Death" at Karpi Gallery (1988), surprised the viewers who were familiar with Nami's previous works. His modern approach still prevails in these works despite returning to figurative style and addressing social issues.
For example, in the image below, we see a horizontal frame with a symmetrical arrangement around the main subject in the center. Diagonal hatchings of blue color start from the two sides of the frame and suddenly turn black with an increase in tonality as they approach the center, where a cracked, geometric mass, in the form of a grave or a terrifying coffin, surrounds a seemingly shouting person with a wide-open mouth and a hand on their face. In the white stripe on the top part of the image, there is a red color drop on shadows of grey and black that are symbols of blood, death, and inexistence. The combination of the red color drop and the blue and black hatchings in the margins of the image act like the curtain of a stage that is opened for a moment to expose the reality before the viewer's eyes.
The fifth group consists of entirely abstract paintings that Nami has created since the 1990s. The artist's use of soil and his focus on indigenous architecture and Iran's deserts are prominent features of these works. As evident in the rectangular frame of the following image, Nami has used an asymmetrical but balanced composition of irregular and vertical geometric shapes with flat surfaces and limited colors (ochre, black, red, and white) without any chiaroscuro. Using soil on two sides of the frame, Nami has created cracked surfaces reminiscent of Iran's deserts and thatched architecture. This is a conceptual return to Iranian traditions and identity. In an interview with Leili Golestan, Nami said about this return:
"I see water and the sun as elements at the heart of soil. I feel that the soil has the warmth of the sun. Despite containing water, it has a feeling of thirst. It also has the desert; I have a symbolic feeling about all of these. Cracks in the soil always remind me of the history of this nation and its thirst. But since I have always been an abstract painter, my vision is also abstract, and figurative desert landscapes are very rare in my works. This time, the atmosphere of my paintings is full of calm and silent surfaces, just like the lonely moments of the desert, devoid of chaotic arrangements of shapes and colors. Empty spaces always have more things to say than filled spaces."
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