pink wall
pink wall

The artist Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar meditating in the Amarta space by James Turrell, during his Patina Maldives residency in January and February 2024

French-Iranian artist Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar is renowned for his abstract works hinting at a paradise with a twist. On the eve of the artist’s residency at an eco-luxury resort in the Maldives, the Italian collector Andrea Morante, former CEO of the Pomellato jewellery brand, which was acquired by Kering in 2013, tells LUX about why Behnam-Bakhtiar’s works have stirred his collection

It all started over a dinner with LUX’s Editor-in-Chief, Darius Sanai. He was standing – very serious, with a bottle of the Tuscan wine Masseto in hand – going on about its virtues in absolute terms, as he does… my gaze drifted behind him, to a beautiful painting I hadn’t seen before.

I decided right there that I had to know the artist: it turned out to be Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar. There was an immediate connection when I first met the artist, in the south of France where he was then based. A great dialogue soon started, perhaps because of my own childhood spent in Iran, which extended to all facets of life choices, family complexities, Iranian roots and personal sufferance.

man

Andrea Morante is an art collector and the former chief executive officer of Pomellato (the fifth largest European jewellery company) which was acquired by Kering in 2013

From the very beginning, the pleasure of visiting Sassan’s atelier was shared with my partner, Caroline. It was not only limited to sharing a common attraction to Sassan’s original signature style of peinture raclée, involving scraping, relaying and spreading blends of colour, it extended to a healthy competition on who would first spot the preferred work of art to acquire. (The competition continues after six years across Sassan’s artistic evolution.)

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

One visit, I was looking at a specific artwork immediately respectfully signed the painting with the name of the yacht. The mutuality of the collector-artist – blue and white in colour. The blue reminded me of a gentle summer day, the white seemed a reminder of its dramatic change – all of a sudden the sea can turn into rough waves.

And, while looking at it, by utter coincidence, I saw through the window next to it the yacht I was very sad to have just sold. I felt that the yacht, Cyrano de Bergerac, was waving goodbye with one of her masts. Sassan understood, and immediately respectfully signed the painting with the name of the yacht. The mutuality of the collector-artist – blue and white in colour. The blue reminded me of a gentle summer day, the white seemed a reminder of its dramatic change – all of a sudden the sea can turn into rough waves.

artist

Artist Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar with two of his works. He is a French – Iranian artist. Born in Paris in 1984, he lived in Tehran as a teenager and young adult. Many of his works are well-known for exploring his visionary and philosophical views on life and humanity.

And, while looking at it, by utter coincidence, I saw through the window next to it the yacht I was very sad to have just sold. I felt that the yacht, Cyrano de Bergerac, was waving goodbye with one of her masts.

Sassan understood, and 18 relationship has been formative, I think, for both sides. I used to travel frequently to Brazil to collect contemporary art, like that of João Câmara. Before that I’d stuck to 18th- and 19th- century Neapolitan gouaches, from Pietro Fabris to Pierre-Jacques Volaire.

Read more: Dakis Joannou interview in Hydra

But you think less about masters when you are in Brazil – there is no nostalgia there, and no very long historical track record. Spending time with artists, I found that some were destroying themselves, unable to cope with life.

Others were more able to find the balance between preserving artistic values and embracing the world of the commercial. I hoped that a collector might help with this issue, and that, conversely, the artists might also teach me.

house

Maria Behnam-Bakhtiar, wife of the artist, crafts luxurious interior designs.

“SASSAN IS ONE OF THOSE WHO FEEL IN THEIR BLOOD THAT SOMETHING MUST BE DONE TO CHANGE. IN HIS WORK, HE SEEMS TO ASK, ‘WHAT WORLD WILL
I LEAVE MY CHILD?’”

Sassan has done just this. In his work, and in his blue and whites, one feels the tug between pain and happiness. He has taught me how pain can be transformed from negative to positive energy, and how this makes all the difference. Sassan’s art, I think, has this disposition at the moment, perhaps associated with the arrival of his first child.

painting

Energy in Nature, from the “Life Energy” series of miniature Living Paintings, 2024, by Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar

Fatherhood seems to have translated onto his canvas. The stratified pain of darker colours have been gradually substituted by a calmer, more joyous, colour combination. Three of my favourite pieces of his work – coloured canvases uniquely characterised by the superimposition of an explosion of flowers – express this bold optimism. Its palpable effect is felt by many I know.

I recall a woman who, then pregnant, spoke about just how well in herself she felt seeing this work. He harnesses that power in art. When Pino Rabolini, the founder of Pomellato and a well-versed collector, was my mentor, I learned to work with artists who share the same principles and ethics.

painting

Mixed Energy, from the “Life Energy” series of miniature Living Paintings, 2024, by Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar

Sassan’s attention to sustainability is an inspiration for me. There are people for whom sustainability is a marketing scheme, and those who feel in their blood that something must be done to change. Sassan is one of the latter and we share that. Indeed, in some ways his fatherhood plays into this in his recent work.

“SASSAN HAS TAUGHT ME HOW PAIN CAN BE TRANSFORMED FROM NEGATIVE TO POSITIVE ENERGY, AND HOW THIS MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE”

He seems to ask himself, “What world will I leave my child?”. Sassan’s work keeps me company wherever I am. Here, in this chalet near Gstaad, where I am writing this piece from, the art is mostly tied to the mountains and snow, but two little Sassans sit behind me, looking beautiful and feeling comfortable in the mountains.

painting

Energy in Nature, from the “Life Energy” series of miniature Living Paintings, 2024, by Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar

I even used to have his paintings behind me on Zoom calls at work, and they were the source of many compliments. Thinking back on that dinner, shared with Darius all those years ago, it seems funny that we drank Masseto, of all wines: the company is almost exactly the same age as Sassan, who was born in 1984.

It feels only right, then, that I have a room dedicated solely to Sassan’s works at my place in Tuscany. Those wonderful colours talk to and blend in with one another, treading – with all his grace and elegance – Sassan’s tightrope walk of optimism from pain.

painting

Soleil Couchant, from the “Life Energy” series of miniature Living Paintings, 2024, by Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar

Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar has recently completed a residency at the Patina Maldives, Fari Islands, and will be unveiling ‘Life Energy’, a new body of 20cm x 20cm miniature Living Paintings, created using sustainably sourced and natural materials during his time in the Fari Art Atelier. The series will be showcased at private gatherings in Doha and London, culminating at an exhibition and art sale at Patina Maldives in July. Sales proceeds will be donated to funding local marine conservation.

sassanbehnambakhtiar.com

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Reading time: 6 min
02-New-LUX-Cover-SS-24 (1)
02-New-LUX-Cover-SS-24 (1)

George Condo shot this selfie and painted this logo and these coverlines for our cover. We see it as an ‘anti-cover’ – a reaction to the slick imagery created by magazines and now universally imitated by social media

George Condo has been redefining art for more than four decades. As he unveils a body of work titled “The Mad and the Lonely”, the artist speaks with Maryam Eisler about the human condition and society’s outcasts. Condo created this issue’s cover and logo for LUX, and showcases these paintings for the first time below

Maryam Eisler: Charles Bukowski once said, “Only the crazy and the lonely can afford to be themselves”. Would you agree?
George Condo: I would agree with Bukowski. However, I would say the mad and the lonely are perhaps more victims of their own internal circumstances, as opposed to having the choice to make that distinction.

back of a man painting in his studio, with an image of various faces

George Condo at work in his studio

ME: Would you consider madness and loneliness as necessary precursors to the act of creation?
GC: I don’t think so. I imagine the mad and the lonely as a state of mind that comes over the artist in moments of joy and happiness as well. Suddenly, without warning, the subconscious kicks in and drives him, or at least myself, into dark corners within me to bring out reflections, or rather observations of those disparate souls in life who have no choice but to be outcast or peripheral to the everyday working-class person, and are unable to function within the constraints of such boundaries. At which point, they become either homeless or simply rejected from society.

a man who is an artist looking directly at the viewer, drawn with pencil

George Condo, Illustration by Jonathan Newhouse

ME: Henry Miller once said, “The artist is always alone”. Are you mad and lonely? If so, is it by choice or by necessity?
GC: I am not mad and lonely. However, the portraits I paint are depictions of those who are. I like to take selfies, like the one on the LUX cover, because they make me laugh. Miller’s books always make me laugh as well. They are practically selfies in and of themselves.

Artwork created for LUX, 2024, by George Condo

ME: Have we become sad, lonely and angry as a society? Have we forgotten empathy? How would you propose saving us?
GC: I cannot save the world from its own extinction. We are the new dinosaurs living through the ice age, the cyber age, the world of disinformation and scam; a world at war within itself, like fires that keep popping up in various cultures – cultures that have been driven to believe in war against each other, a rather brutal form of extinction.

 

a painting of someone between a person and an animal

‘Acceptance’, 1989, by George Condo

 

ME: Sciences help us understand the natural world; social sciences help us measure human behaviour. Is culture alone capable of understanding the individual’s emotions?
GC: The emotional aspects of a child are the purest. Once the child becomes hardwired into various systems of belief, whether by political pressures or religious pressures passed to them by their elders, is when the trouble begins. The actual science of medicine and the science of research are subject to government regulations that perhaps aid the big pharmaceutical companies to continue to produce drugs. Many of the drugs they have produced previously have led to the need of the new drugs. For all we know, there has been a cure for dementia or cancer that has been held back from us for years. For all we know, it’s like trying to get to the truth about aliens. I don’t have an answer to that. I find that art is the truth; it is the only manmade representation of what one truly has to say and can believe in.

ME: How would you qualify the individual’s experience when they are confronted with a great artwork?
GC: I think the first feeling is one of great joy in seeing the remarkable impact of either colour or form or the way things are depicted and the spirit of an artist’s true beliefs.

 

A face coming out of a purple and blue background

‘Appearance’, 2023, by George Condo

 

ME: It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who once said that we consume culture to enlarge our hearts and minds. Would you agree that the very best of the arts induce humility and empathy?
GC: I would say Emerson was able to express some of the most beautiful essays ever written and I agree with everything he has said. His quotes from Aristotle are particularly amusing.

ME: Do you agree that art has the power to render sorrow into beauty, loneliness into a shared experience and despair into hope?
GC: I do agree with that. I believe it’s possible in art to turn that which is negative into positive, and that some of the most beautiful art is of the melancholic. One might find in the music of John Dowland in the early 17th century such beautiful and melancholic songwriting and ensemble music, such as ‘Lachrimae’, or ‘Seaven Teares’ as well as ‘A Pilgrimes Solace’, that it becomes transformative. This mood pervades throughout the arts, in painting as well, from this period. One might think of Caravaggio’s ‘Death of the Virgin’, which is currently at the Louvre.

 

a red nun, in a painting

‘The Red Nun’, 2017, by George Condo

 

ME: Dakis Joannou said, “If it doesn’t have psyche, it cannot be art”. How would you describe the psyche when it comes to your own art production?
GC: The psyche is an Ancient Greek expression and it still stands true. If the art does not have a mind of its own, irrespective of the viewers, it’s no good.

ME: Are you excited by your upcoming collaboration with Dakis Joannou’s Deste Foundation for Contemporary Art on the island of Hydra?
GC: I’m very excited, I’ve known Dakis for quite some time now. He is a very wise man with an extremely acute sense of aesthetics and imagination – even to have realised the Slaughterhouse as a place to show art tells you just how brilliant he is.

 

a blue face with brownish red wide eyes, pointy eyebrows and a long nose

‘Dark Facing Light’, 2023, by George Condo

 

ME: Does Hydra itself play a big part in this excitement? If so, why?
GC: Yes. This is a mythical island and it has all the elements of the ancient and modern times combined within one place.

ME: What are you hoping to achieve with this initiative?
GC: My hope is to somehow combine minimalism and figuration in one exhibition and to have a kind of dialectic experience take place: the cold and the warm coming together and liberating the constraints of both forms of art from being anything less than human.

a sculpture of a head

‘The Renegade’, 2009, by George Condo

ME: Would you say that this is a big departure stylistically and thematically from what you have produced in the past?
GC: This will be the first time I have worked in such a way as to focus the attention on the outcasts of society and glorify or rather dignify them in the context of a high-art experience.

ME: Where have you found your main sources of inspiration? Have these sources shifted in recent years or for the work you are about to present in Hydra?
GC: My art is always in flux with my imagination. I don’t necessarily draw or paint in a representational manner; it’s more an internal dialogue in my mind that is thrust onto the surface of a canvas to express my inner thoughts and feelings.

Caravaggio painting with red and heads and someone dying

‘The Death of the Virgin’, 1606, by Caravaggio (Fine Art/Alamy Stock Photo)

ME: What are you fascinated by these days? What do you abhor?
GC: Well, I am always fascinated by food, I must admit. I love to cook and try out new recipes or recreate things I’ve eaten that I really love. I even had such a great Greek lamb sandwich in Athens that I recreated the food-truck experience for Dakis here in New York and he loved it! I abhor war and suffering. I wish the wars would all end.

ME: What are your plans after Hydra?
GC: I will just come back home. My daughter is expecting a baby girl and I’m hoping to spend time babysitting!

George Condo’s exhibition “The Mad and The Lonely” is at the Deste Foundation Project Space Slaughterhouse, Hydra, Greece, 18 June-31 October 2024;

deste.gr

george-condo.com

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Reading time: 7 min
Woman sitting on the ground in front of colourful painting

Woman sitting on the ground in front of colourful painting

London-based Israeli artist Yulia Iosilzon creates a thespian world, somewhere between fairy tale and natural landscape across ceramics and painting. Her signature snails trail around the frames of vibrant, allegorical paintings of calligraphic movement. LUX explores her new solo show at Berntson Bhattarcharjee in London.

Two colourful paintings on a wall with a big snail in the middle.

Several layers of symbolism offer snails as an important motif for the artist from motherhood to tranquillity to restlessness

Snails perch on canvas corners, across five-tiered cakes, some small, some larger. One – nearly human size – sits elegantly in the middle of the gallery floor. Others melt into the paintings themselves, in communion with circus-like figures, swirling around one another in rich colours. These stand at the intersection of her work – between reality and fantasy, between almost unnerving, uncanny and playful.

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

Little snails climbing on the side of a colourful painting.

Applying paint onto sheer silk, the artist’s technique recalls Helen Frankenthaler’s style from the 1950s and 60s

Born in Moscow, and with frequent relocations, Yulia connects to the snail’s pursuit of comfort and security, in slow calm and restlessness, in spiralling refuge. And to see the gallery adorned with both thespian silk of bright pink and these snails of earthy colours across the gallery gives an intense feeling of familiar-unfamiliarity that good art does. So, too, does the paintings’ figures of meek, innocent faces – and the combination of their sharp triangular figures with the calligraphic swirls.

Yulia quite literally creates a theatrical stage within this exhibition. It’s a scene resembling the interior of a snail’s shell – like something of a film set, cocooned in the Berntson Bhattarcharjee’s basement (a gallery which transforms itself quite remarkably for each exhibition).

Woman that is painting, holding colourful painting up

Yulia Iosilzon cites children’s illustration and theatre as sources of inspiration

Snails were already seen a lot in images of Matisse, Dali and Dutch Renaissance painters. During this historical period, snails symbolised the Virgin Birth, and embodied notions of resurrection, purity and mortality.

Read more: Interview with British-Iranian Artist Kour Pour

Modus Operandi at the Berntson Bhattarcharjee Gallery, Mayfair, London, will run until 11 May 2024.

See More: bbgallery.art

 

 

 

 

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Reading time: 1 min
A man with paint on his jeans lying on a purple couch
A man with paint on his jeans lying on a purple couch

Ricky Burrows in a moment of pause © Maryam Eisler

Ricky Burrows, the Brooklyn-based artist originally discovered by Rashid Johnson, speaks to LUX’s Chief Contributing Editor, Maryam Eisler about how he made it from the streets to the studio, now opening a solo show at Harper’s, New York.

Maryam Eisler: How did Mr Ricky Burrows end up in this impressive building, the Brooklyn Army Terminal?

Ricky Burrows: Well, my parents are originally from Brooklyn and I was born here. I moved to Connecticut and I came back to Brooklyn after I got out of detention; I was separated from my Mom because she was on drugs. I started painting seriously in 2014, and I met one of the building owners, Mr Gunn; he came to an open studio. He liked my work and told me he had a studio for me, and that I could paint there and that I wouldn’t have to pay rent. When he said ‘no rent’, I said ‘send me the location’. To this day I don’t pay rent. From the start, he absolutely believed in me. He’s one of my earliest first supporters, for sure.

red and white blocks on the ground by a bridge and industrial building

Scenes from the Brooklyn Army Terminal © Maryam Eisler

ME: Talk to me about this incredible building, and your studio space.

RB: This place (the Brooklyn Army Terminal) keeps me sharp. Everybody’s working here 24/7, and I’m a sponge. As soon as you walk into the parking lot, there are a thousand trucks going past you. As soon as you get into the elevators, five or six people from all different walks of life doing different things are saying hello to you, high fiving you … You’ve got the FBI and the FIT here, movie directors, students, sanitation, dialysis…It’s like a small city… a city within a city, and no one ever sleeps.

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

ME: When did you start painting?

RB: Around maybe the age of sixteen.

ME: Was it something you had to do? Something you could not escape from … or, was it an actual escape from reality – your reality?

RB: I would say both. My inspiration came from my neighbourhood and the street. So, painting was actually weird. But I couldn’t help myself. I had to do it. I was drawn to it. I wanted to paint, but I was also influenced by my friends who had nothing to do. So, it was a bit of both. It was like ‘let me avoid it as much as I can, but let me also stick to it as closely as I possibly can …’ if that makes sense?

A man sitting on the floor surrounded by artworks

Burrows sitting on the floor with his works © Maryam Eisler

ME: Yes, it does. You mentioned drugs at some point in your life – which you’re clearly over now. What was the reason? Was pain at the source or was it just what street kids d0?

RB: For me, it was about not wanting to think about the stuff I was dealing with in my life or stuff I was going home to later at night. So the more loaded I was, the better it was for me … it helped me deal with whatever was coming my way when going ‘home’.

A man standing next to a yellow painting

‘Goldfish don’t bounce’ referring to Jimi Hendrix’s song © Maryam Eisler

ME: Which leads me to Jimi Hendrix. Talk to me about ‘When Goldfish don’t bounce’.

RB: Well fish don’t bounce. And, I’m the goldfish.

Paintings of colourful distorted faces

Early career works by Ricky Burrows © Maryam Eisler

ME: You are. But you bounce. You bounced out of the bowl, it appears.

RB: Yes, I did. But I didn’t manage to go too far. That’s the scary part about it. Along my art career, I’m always that close to crashing out. I really don’t know how to talk to people outside of myself. So I’m only just learning how to be more social and to trust the public, because I’ve dealt with a lot of sh*t. It’s been hard. And I’ve only just started to see the light at 30.

Yellow Zebra crossing on a chair

The exterior of the Brooklyn Army Terminal © Maryam Eisler

ME: You win the biggest battle when you start believing in yourself. Are you there?

RB: THAT is the biggest battle right now. The fight with myself, you know. But I would say that maybe I’m doing a good job because it got me this far.

A man wearing a white t shirt and black and green cap

Looking out the studio window © Maryam Eisler

ME: Well, if you’re having a show at Harper’s, in Chelsea, New York in November, I would say you’re definitely over the 50% mark, wouldn’t you agree? More win than lose?

RB: Yes, but what am I supposed to do at night? When there is no art to make or no Harper’s shows? No girls to see? That’s the kind of stuff I try to escape. Because I don’t like being alone.

plastic dolls and books on a desk

Inspirational objects around the studio © Maryam Eisler

ME: Comfort in and with yourself. You need to find that peace, wouldn’t you agree?

RB: I’m trying to. But it’s taking me a long time to get there.

A room with art and paint all of over the floor and chair

In an around the studio © Maryam Eisler

ME: Patience is a virtue! I wanted to talk to you about street. You mention your street life and your street friends; I also see a lot of street style and influence in and around your studio – Supreme, Palace, AWAKE, Nike collaborations with Virgil … powerful brands where art, lifestyle, design and commerce have come together successfully. Are you personally interested in engaging in these types of commercial collaborations down the line?

RB: Yes definitely, yes. That is definitely of interest. As far as I’m concerned, I try to make as much art as possible so that my mind isn’t just limited to creating paintings, you know? I like to extend myself beyond the canvas.

blue and white Nike Air Jordans

Where art meets street, Nike collaboration with ‘Off White’ by Virgil Abloh, part of Ricky’s own personal collection © Maryam Eisler

ME: So it’s not just the esoteric and conceptual side of art which interests you? You actually see the application of the concept to a more utilitarian and more commercial environment ?

RB: Very utilitarian, 100 percent yes.

ME: Is your idea to take your art out to the crowds (with an S) as opposed to just ‘A’ crowd ? Do you want your art to be democratic and for the people, mixing highbrow and lowbrow?

RB: I want my art to be highbrow, but I also want it to be accessible to those on the street, where I came from and to people who are not even of the ‘art world’. Because a lot of people that I have met or who have helped me, couldn’t even tell you who Francis Bacon was to save their lives, you know! I really appreciate them just wanting to be here with me, for me, or just calling me to send me money for no reason other than just believing in me … ‘I know you need some paint, so go buy some paint. I know you need canvas? Here you go, go buy it ‘.

"RB" painted in black on a white canvas

Ricky Burrows’ ‘signature’ © Maryam Eisler

ME: So, all that I see in your studio has just been given to you?

RB: Yes, all of it. So, I feel like I owe the public more than I owe the art world.

A man sitting on a drawing wearing red shoes, yellow socks, a green cap and white t-shirt with jeans

Ricky Burrows sitting on his work in the studio © Maryam Eisler

ME: Some of the greatest artists in America, the likes of Warhol and Basquiat, mixed high brow and low brow. Are you just continuing in that same direction?

RB: I would say that I’m actually really (even more) from the streets, you know… If I lose the studio today, I’m going straight back to the street…I ain’t going to nobody, calling no aunty that can come pick me up in her fancy car. No, no, no, no, no. So lowbrow, lowbrow, lowbrow, lowbrow…

ME: You’re having your first solo show at Harper’s this November. What did you say you were going to do with the money from Harper’s show?

RB: Well with the money from Harper’s show – because I know I’m going to sell out – I’m going to develop and start my own apparel company. I’m of course still learning how to manage my finances so I don’t crash out or run out of money. It’s all so new to me.

A picture of a woman coloured in at the top and left blank on the bottom

Works in progress © Maryam Eisler

ME: Please share with me the story behind your ‘big break‘ moment. From the street to Harper…how did that happen?

RB: I met Harper through Rashid Johnson.

ME: And how did you meet Rashid?

RB: Off the internet. At, like, 5 o’clock in the morning, March 6, 2023. I was here. I didn’t have as much stuff; it was a lot cleaner because I was broke. I had just broken up with this girl… she said either get a job or I’m leaving you. That instagram page which you follow me on (@presidentrickyburrows), well, I just made that, two or three days later. I was like, let me give it a shot, so I reached out to him (Rashid). Two hours later, he had his assistant Alex send me a list of paintings that he said he wanted. People tell me all the time ‘I’ll get this, I’ll get that’ so I kind of blew it off and went to sleep. But when I woke up, I had a message from his Alex: ‘I’ll meet you at your studio at 11 o’clock.’ I was like ‘Whatever man, whatever !’ I reread the message like ten times. I also checked the name ten times. That’s when I realised that this is a real page, Rashid’s page. Then his Alex called me and I was like, oh sh*t, this is really happening.

They actually came to see me and two days later, he brought Harper here. Harper lost his mind when he saw my work. He showed some of my work at Nada; it sold out. And, he’s been my best friend ever since.

A man leaning over a bridge overlooking train tracks in a tunnel

A moment of reflection at the entrance of the Brooklyn Army Terminal where Ricky holds his studio © Maryam Eisler

ME: What is the inspiration behind your upcoming show with Harper?

RB: It’s a unified story. I say ‘unified’ because it includes all the people around me… friends, the streets and the Bible; I think the show will just be a nice introduction to my life.

pain brushes in a jar on a chair

Inspiration around the studio © Maryam Eisler

ME: The Bible?

RB: Yes, because I grew up with the Church. We’re Baptist.

Read more: An Interview with William Kentridge

ME: Do you work a lot with local churches?

RB: No, I work a lot with and in my mind. I haven’t been to the Church since I was fifteen. I don’t have a religion.

A man wearing a white t shirt sitting on an art work on the floor in a studio

Burrows’ work-in-progress of Jesus coming off the cross © Maryam Eisler

ME: So is it the concept and the philosophy of religion that interests you?

RB: Yes, the concept. It’s really about the human stories. I think I only realised this maybe three months ago.

ME: Would you say you are the ‘Chosen One’ ?

RB: Yes, maybe I am!

The Brooklyn Army Terminal‘s (designed by Cass Gilbert) construction was originally approved in 1918, during World War I, and was completed after the conclusion of the war. The terminal was subsequently leased out and used for various purposes, including as a dock, a military prison, and a storage space for drugs and alcohol during the Prohibition. During World War II, the terminal was the United States’ largest military supply base. The site occupies more than 95 acres, on Brooklyn’s western shore.

Ricky Burrows’ show, Saved, will be on display at Harper’s from November 16-December 23

@presidentrickyburrows
@harpersbooks

All photography by Maryam Eisler

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Reading time: 10 min
A colourful painting with large grey and gold ovals hanging from the air
A woman wearing a green top standing next to a pan in a white polo shirt leaning on a gold chair with art behind them on the wall

Aliya and Farouk Khan

Over the last 25 years Aliya and Farouk Khan have been carefully curating a collection of art works by prominent first generation Malaysian contemporary artists. Known as The AFK Collection, this is one of the most comprehensive collections of seminal artworks by a wide variety of critically relevant artists and a resource centre for information and documentation, creating awareness and knowledge on the canon and timeline of Malaysia’s dynamic contemporary art movement.Here, Samantha Welsh speaks to Aliya and Farouk about the Malaysian contemporary art scene and how its gained the institutional recognition it deserves

LUX: Relocating to Kuala Lumpur in the 1990s, what was so compelling about the art scene?
Aliya and Farouk Khan: When we moved to Kuala Lumpur in the 1990’s and began visiting gallery shows, art competitions, art museums and socialising within the art scene we discovered new forms of art that moved beyond the Modernist paintings we had been exposed to up until then. We discovered art that moved beyond the traditional modes of two-dimensional painting and sculpture into new modes of making, for example mixed media and installation. Discovering these radical new art forms was compelling, particularly as this new contemporary art scene visually and intellectually described our new adopted home of Malaysia that we had chosen to live in.

LUX: How are state institutions and private patronage partnering to build national collections?
AFK: In Malaysia there are not any partnerships between state institutions and private patronage to build national collections. Instead, the contemporary movement is strongly led by private collections. This is as state institutions are still very much contained within the modernist mode. This is characteristic within the Malaysian art industry where private collectors have always led the way and created the momentum for the development of the contemporary art ecology.

LUX: Why was the contemporary art movement in Malaysia slow to emerge?
AFK: The Malaysian contemporary art movement was not slow to emerge, but it was slow in gaining institutional recognition. Malaysian contemporary artists were well ahead of the pack, vigorously engaging in the contemporary movement. Curatorial teams within state institutions saw the contemporary movement and its use of various genres as a move away from figurative art and explained it as a move towards Islamisation in Malaysian art. This does not stand up to scrutiny because upon review you find there was no development of calligraphy art (which is a main genre within Islamic art movements) and instead a strong movement into conceptual art and mixed media. At the same time, the figure was consistently represented across all the diverse genres and modes of art making.

A completely new contemporary art movement was emerging in the post-colonial landscape of Malaysia, as artists sought to describe the changes happening around them, and unfortunately the curators of the time were not able to comprehend and articulate this artistic and intellectual shift. This has left the institutions behind.

a picture of people lying down togther

Ahmad Fuad Osman, Fatamorgana 3 The Spotlight Obsession, 2006

LUX: How was the social and economic environment at that time when you started collecting versus now?
AFK: We began collecting in an era of great dynamism. Coming from Singapore it was evident to us that what had happened to Singapore in the 1970s and 1980s was now happening to Malaysia in the 1990s. Tremendous changes were afoot.

Malaysia was undergoing rapid changes, socially and economically. The country was fast moving from a rural, agrarian focused nation to an urbanised country with strong industrial, banking, service, and tourism sectors – due mainly to government policies and an independent thinking society that blossomed in the post-colonial era. The evidence of progressive development was all around us- from the building of the iconic KLCC Twin Towers (amongst the tallest buildings in the world) to the development of major highways linking the entire country from North to South. A strong demographic shift was underway, as we saw the urbanisation of the rural Malays who moved from villages into city centres.

All these changes were encapsulated in the art movement. This was the dawning of contemporary Malaysia and contemporary art within Malaysia.

Currently the country is in a far more developed state than it was in the 1990’s. The economic success is real. The GDP of individual households is much higher. Institutions and corporations are stronger across the board. All of this has led to a far greater interest within the arts which is far more affordable for people today than it was 30 years ago. People have more disposable income and are able to engage in leisure activities and critical thinking is very relevant in daily life. We notice increasingly that art has become a way of life for the middle class. Corporates and institutions are waking up to the very real need for state and national collections as a result.

LUX: Is the discipline of collecting an art or a science?
AFK: Collecting art is a science. It follows a methodology. One must first understand the formal aspects of art creation. Then one has to understand the history and narrative of both the individual artist and broader art movement. These are important academics that one needs to develop: knowledge of history and narrative and formal aspects of art. Then the methodology of collection building comes in.

Following this sequence is far different from the general statement often heard that ‘I buy what I like’. Forming a collection goes well beyond simple acquisition. So, when people say art is subjective, we in fact differ: art is extremely objective. The value and importance of an artwork inherently exists within the way it was made and its value in the art canon. Understand which are the key works for an artist, a canon, and a thesis, then systematically collect those works to build a strong art collection.

grey and white bits glued onto a canvas

Suhaimi Fadzir, Life, July 24, 1939

LUX: How do you mentor and show artists in the specialist subsectors?
AFK: One of the most effective ways is through our method of collecting and documenting. Within our collection we talk about the subsectors (which we take to mean art genres) and through our collecting we collect the dominant artists within these sectors. This achieves two things: firstly as a guide for collecting. That we are obliged to determine the subsectors. Hence it is important to collect across all the diverse genres that represent our art movement. Secondly it emphasises to us the importance of the first-generation artists who helped develop the movement along these sectors. In fact, we have found this to be the most important tool within the formation of our collection.

Essentially, we broke down what the individual genres were, who was important within these genres and what were the seminal artworks within that. This became a foundation for the collection and why we were able to identify and acquire those seminal artworks that are the scaffolding of the Malaysian contemporary art canon.

LUX: Generally, who has the upper hand, artist or collector?
AFK: Recognition is key to the relevance and strength of either the artist or collector. The artist in their earlier phase without recognition doesn’t hold much power. As they develop and become popular, they begin to hold a lot of power. Similarly, the reputation of a museum or a private collection determines their strength. In this day and age there are private collectors who wield more power than museums and institutions. The stronger the collector patronises, supports, publishes, collects the greater the power they wield. It is not that one is stronger than the other but that at different times they all wield different powers.

A colourful painting with large grey and gold ovals hanging from the air

Zulkifli Yusoff, Hujan Lembing Di Pasir Salak

LUX: How can you codify a canon of work?
AFK: Codifying a canon of work requires diligence and a critical mind. We engaged in a great deal of research and academic input via dialogue with curators and artists well entrenched in the art scene known for progressive thought. Dialogues such as these have proved invaluable in the codification for the contemporary movement.

Subsequently we digitised the collection, making it available via our website. This has allowed our codification of the canon and knowledge inherent in our work easily accessible to broader audiences whether they are here in Malaysia or around the world. Bearing in mind very little information on Malaysian art history was available on the international front, the provision of this window of knowledge for audiences previously unfamiliar felt important.

a Chinese style colourful painting of a woman sleeping in a white dress with people around her

Eng Hwee Chu, Lost in Mind

LUX: Who have emerged as foremost among ‘first generation’ contemporary Malaysian artists?
AFK: Zulkifli Yusoff is extremely important amongst the first generation of contemporary Malaysian artists, for his role in the development of conceptual and installation art. He was also the first Malaysian artist to be invited to exhibit twice at the Venice Biennale. The AFK Collection were delighted to loan his seminal installation ‘Kebun Pak Awang’, which is highly characteristic of his research based process and strong artistic skill, to Venice Biennale in 2019.

Fauzan Omar is another key first generation artist, whose importance lies in both his work as an artist and arts educator. Fauzan’s most important contribution was to create a challenge against the perceived sanctity of a canvas’ surface via destructive methods such as ripping and tearing, before engaging in reconstructive methods to build up highly textural mixed media works that changed the way in which art was produced locally. It was an extremely radical practice that has had a lasting impact.

Ahmad Shukri was one of Fauzan’s closest students who has gone on to become possibly Malaysia’s leading mixed media artist.

Ahmad Fuad Osman has emerged as the top multi-disciplinary Malaysian contemporary artist. An extremely conceptual artist, he has mastered diverse genres of art making- from painting to sculpture, video, print and installation- that allow him to consistently produce really exciting and impactful visual art.

Hamir Soib pioneered the trend for monolithic paintings in Malaysia. His paintings easily reach 16 or 20 feet and are filled with complex imagery that speak to the socio-political realities of contemporary Malaysia with a great deal of critical insight and wit. Along with oil and acrylic, Hamir uses bitumen as a paint source, having mastered the ability to use this notoriously difficult substance with the ease of watercolour allows him to create extremely atmospheric gothic images.

A painting of a man in a white outfit and next to it a man in darkness wearing black

Shooshie Sulaiman, Encik Duit Orang

Shooshie Sulaiman, who is currently represented by Tomio Koyama Gallery, always impresses for her conceptually driven installations, performances, and paintings. Pre-production processes are vital for Shooshie, and she engages in them with great poetry. Shooshie has the distinction of being the first Malaysian artist invited to exhibit at Documenta. Along with her artistic practice she has been a successful curator and gallerist.

Jalaini Abu Hassan, who was educated at Slade School of Fine Art, London and Pratt Institute,New York, perfectly encapsulates the demographic shift for rural Malays to urbanised environments that he lived through. His works are expressive and use a range of media, and most excitingly feature classic Malay iconography in super contemporary compositions. A consistent signature across all of Jai’s works are the Malay poems and idioms written in his distinctive hand. Jai has also engaged as an educator for several years, cementing his influence amongst the younger generations of Malaysian artists.

Eng Hwee Chu is a leading Surrealist painter in Malaysia. In the early 1990’s she produced a series titled ‘Black Moon’ that set the standard for Malaysian Surreal and Magical Realism, winning her several awards, and leading to international showings. Her strong figurative skill is apparent through her delight in painting crowds of people, finely finished, as demonstrated in ‘Lost in Mind’.

scarf in gold and black wrapped up in a ball

Hamir Soib, Ahad

Suhaimi Fadzir pioneered a completely new style of assemblage he titles ‘archipainting’. Suhaimi used his training as an architect to fix objects found in the world around him- from a dismantled bicycle to corrugated tin roofs to car bumpers- onto canvases in a style that merged installation, sculpture, and mixed media. It is an extremely radical and innovative practice that visually describes the growth of contemporary Malaysia very well.

LUX: What is your vision going forward?
AFK: Assembling The AFK Collection was not easy. It required a great deal of time, financing and constant discussions with curators and artists. At the same time, it is a body of work that we deeply love and are very proud of. We recognise the effort that went into putting this collection together and we hope that it will continue to be a major resource in creating greater awareness for and education on Malaysian contemporary art. We envision a society that is more knowledgeable on the wonderful Malaysian contemporary art history and artists and a society able to engage in conversation on art as easily as any other topic.

Find out more: afkcollection.com

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Reading time: 10 min
Dark red splattered paint on a canvas

Iris Study No.7 18 x 26cm Oil on Canvas

Artist, W.K. Lyhne speaks to Maryam Eisler about her latest body of work, Stabat Mater, where she explores  the treatment of the female body throughout history

ME: Can you talk to me about how the concept of post-humanity has informed your latest project?
W.K. Lyhne: As you know, Humanism as a concept emerged at the time of the Enlightment, that Man was at the centre, instead of religion. Man was the measure of all things and this was exemplified in Da Vinci’s image of the Vitruvian Man. But the concept of Man excluded more than it included. It was defined by what it is not. It was not, the racialised or sexualised ‘other’, it was not people of colour, people of sexual difference, Jews, children, animals, the disabled, women. There are two examples at the time, often cited, that show this so well. The French writer, Olympe de Gouges, part of the French Revolution who responded to the Revolution’s Declaration of Human Rights of 1789, by writing the Declaration of Women’s Rights in response. The regime guillotined her almost immediately. Another example is from a biography that I’m reading at the moment of a man called Toussaint Louverture, known as the Black Spartacus. He was involved in the overthrow of slavery in Haiti at the same time as the French Revolution. He was imprisoned by Napoleon and died in captivity. We are all equal, but some more than others.

W.K. Lyhne photographed by Maryam Eisler in her studio

When you came to my studio we spoke about Mary, who is given to women as a pedagogue of what women should be: this passive, two-dimensional, non-complaining, virtually mute figure. Mary speaks four times in the Bible.

Marina Warner, says Mary is ‘alone of all her sex’ and this is accurate. She’s not male and she’s not really female. She never processes through the normal animal functions of women. She doesn’t have sex, she doesn’t menstruate, she doesn’t age, she doesn’t perspire, she simply doesn’t change – exactly the same static figure all her life, biddable and mute. Yet she remains the ultimate woman and mother.

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

Alongside this I’m looking at animals in art that are supposed to represent ‘us’ – our mortal selves. But what is this humanity the ‘us’ that they are trying to represent? Often they are done through the agency of the Church. Like the Flayed Ox , meaning Christ, done by many artists, Soutine, Bacon, Rembrandt, Saville, and the Lamb of God, also Christ, Van Eyck and Zubaran. For this I’ve been looking at actual sheep, the lamb, through this lens. In my recent work is connecting the anachronized figure of Mary with the anachronized image of the lamb.

A painting of a naked woman lying down

Once Upon a Time (Met Him Pike Hoses)

In the case of Mary, it’s a patriarchal story designed to oppress. The cult of Marianism is very much admired in countries where docility, passivity, and service to your man, whether that’s your priest as a nun, or your husband or your father, are admired. In many Catholic countries, these are espoused as ideal characteristics for women.

a painting of a woman lying down naked with her breast on show

Once Upon a Time (Met Him Pike Hoses) detail

In the case of the lamb, I’ve noticed when you look into a field of sheep they are not just sheep, they are a field of ewes. Of mothers. Have you’ve seen a ewe with its fluff removed? Sheared they are very mortal looking. Matronly, exposed and not at all like the furry shorthand of sheep at all.

A woman standing by a chimney in a dirty white jacket with art works around her

Photo by Maryam Eisler

ME: Talk to me about religion.
WKL: I’m not religious. I used to believe in God, I think I used to believe the whole religious story. I don’t anymore. I did believe there was a maker at some level. But last year in Greece on a residency at the British School, I looked closer at other stories from earlier cultures. Isis, Osiris, Cronus and Rea, Baucis and Philemon etc. All the stories are so similar to our own bible stories. Ours, like theirs, are just a version.

What interests me in the image of the animal in the Lamb of God, is that it has not changed since Roman times. It hides in plain sight. It’s on menus, it’s on football shirts, it’s everywhere, but nowhere. It’s part of our visual vocabulary, but what about the animal behind it? The image moves from livestock to Church pin up, like Mary, a girl of Galilee to the Queen of Heaven. What is the meaning behind it? In the case of Mary, it’s a patriarchal story designed to oppress women. I fail to see how anybody could not be interested in religion, in the sense that these things inhabit our collective and national consciousness. They’re all there, where you’re aware of it or not, they never go away.

A painting of a mythological creature

Stabat Mater 111 (John Moores) 120 x 160cm Oil on Canvas

ME: It’s very inspiring and you could aspire to it, but then the underlying factors are something different.
WKL: Yes, it’s exactly so. And it’s very seductive. Religious imagery and sacred music accompany you at some level from birth to death. They are very comforting and at ceremonies they offer the element of sobriety. The music particularly is incredibly beautiful and it has such credibility. People want to believe in something.

ME: I think there’s that: fright and hope. I always say religion, gives you hope, and it also frightens you from doing something that’s not right in case you get punished. I suppose it keeps you in the straight line.
WKL: Agree. It gives you a place to occupy, certainly. Rituals to navigate the unrelenting chaos that is life. I’m looking currently at Aby Warburg, the German art historian, who created this idea he called pathosformel . This he intended to mean the emotionally charged visual trope that recur throughout images in Western Europe. The idea is that certain images have a shorthand to connect with feelings, a visual mnemonic if you like. I am trying to see if it’s possible to find a new pathosformel , that represents some of those things that are excluded from the definition of humanity. This is not men-bashing or even only feminist – I looking for something more complex, something more nuanced, I guess.

Photography of W.K. Lyhne’s studio, in the home of one of her collectors, by Maryam Eisler

The Age of Enlightenment Man has the poster boy of the Vitruvian Man. Vitruvius – the heteronormative, able-bodied, ethnocentric, handsome, young, powerful man – who stands outstretched, in his symmetrical nakedness. This image of what “human” is, has now left the bounds of this earth. It is sewn onto the uniforms of NASA‘s astronauts and it flies on the flag on the moon.

ME: It’s interesting that they’ve chosen that to put on the moon. Who have they put that for? It’s a representation of mankind but not humankind.
WKL: Yes, very much so. We need images that are more enabling, more complex. The pandemic showed us more than anything else, we’re all in this together. But we’re not the same. There are people without sanitation, girls without education, people without rights. The voiceless, the unheard. I’m very interested in this idea of voice and the scream that can be seen but can’t be heard. That is some of what the triptych at the Zabludowicz Collection are about. These and other one, in the John Moores Painting Prize shortlist, are also connected with the unrecognisability of relationships within the maternal framework . How despite a child being from your body, the relationship never settles, can be often disjointed, always in flux. But as always it’s also about the possibilities and suggestibilities that paint can offer.

Three paintings next to each other

The triptych on display at the Zabludowicz Collection

ME: Are you showing whole triptych at the Zabludowicz Collection?
WKL: Yes, until 25th June.

ME: Talk to me about that wonderful image of Jesus. The long one and your versions.
WKL: That is a painting by Hans Holbein the Younger, done in 1521 and its hangs in the Kunst Museum in Basel. Last year, it was 500 years since it was done. Holbein represented an incredible departure from what had gone before – he’s a very fine painter. Some people believe it was a predella, the section at the bottom of an altarpiece and that’s why it’s long and thin – one foot by six feet, thirty by one hundred and eighty centimetres. I just prefer to think that Holbein decided to make this incredibly controlled environment using a long piece of wood for a painting surface – an enclosure, where this piece of corporeality was going to exist and that corporeality was the corpus of Christ. The Christ you’ve killed. The dead man. The squashed man. The emaciated man. The human man. There was a lot being written about the fact that he was just like any man and not sacred enough. I don’t know if you’ve seen the Donatello exhibition in the Bargello. It’s now on at the Victoria and Albert Museum, but I saw it in Florence last year, and there’s a great fuss at the time at Donatello’s wooden Christ didn’t look ‘Christ-like’ enough. He was too ordinary. Brunelleschi said, like a tradesman and not holy enough. And there were similar concerns over the Holbein Christ; he got a corpse and worked from that – all too human.

A woman standing behind a painting

Photo by Maryam Eisler

I became very interested fabric during the pandemic – I did this program to support a project of the charity Action Aid, they supply sanitary products to vast parts of the world, particularly Africa. One of their projects addresses period poverty. Half the population of the world menstruate, that’s how we procreate the species, but for too many, it’s considered problematic, disgusting, full of shame, stigma.

During lockdown, when we were all kind of sent home and we didn’t know what to do with ourselves in our domestic environments. The fabric of what surrounded you took on a new importance. Fabrics are concealing, revealing, inside the body, outside the body, covering up for it, it’s quite a female concern. I started to paint these fabrics, ordinary everyday fabrics of the home, worn thin by wear and touch, on cotton rag paper, also blobby and worn. The paper made in India by a programme called Khadi. These start with ragpickers – women generally – who take the discarded fabric and bleach them with peroxide to make paper from them. The oil leaked out of my paint onto the cotton paper, all speaking to the materiality of the project and subject matter. The idea, called On Rag (an old-fashioned British term for having a period) was circular: I painted them on this cotton rag paper made by women and sold them and the money went to buy paper products for women in.

A painting of a woman and clothes on a bed

She Banks Down Fire (after Hans Holbein the Younger)

That was the project I was working on when I decided to paint a version of the Holbein. Working away from a studio meant working in the bedroom. In London I sleep in a box bed. What is shown in She Banks Down Fire is my own box bed, underwear, used tissues, discarded knickers, damp towels. Holbein’s Christ has a dark blood caked on a wound made by a spear, mine the more humdrum monthly sanguine staining. The ridged hollowness of Christ’s ribcage, are the spines of underwire, the stiff black hair, is see-thru nylon.

Simone De Beauvoir says that women are made from Adam’s supernumerary bone, that humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him. He is the Subject , here like Christ, she is the Other. Jonathan Jones, the journalist from The Guardian, wrote about Holbein’s Christ that there is nothing Christlike about this body, nothing to set it apart. It is anyone’s corpse. But as you know, this is world in which the women all live, all women, every month, every child is a reminder of the mortal, bloody, messy, fleshy real.

Then I did a second version one with a female figure. It’s called Once Upon a Time: Met HimPike Hoses. The female figure is naked, incredibly skinny, very, very narrow – the way women are supposed to be and not take up much space. Unusually for me, I’ve painted the model very elaborately and hyper-realistically. In that particular picture she’s lying on this very girly kind of 1960s see-through negligée, recalling the heritage of porn star bedroom glamour, that women are heir to.

The title is two fold, the first being the princess in a box, awaiting a man’s kiss so she can flourish – here pushing her toes against the glass ceiling.

A painting of a person in a white dress

Stabat Mater 1 Oil 120 x 160cm on Canvas

The second is referring to the word ’metempsychosis’ the supposed transmigration at death of the soul of a human being or animal into a new body, which the character of Molly uses incorrectly (met him pike hoses) in James Joyces’ Ulysees. I used in the title here, because, not only is Molly a variation of Marian/Mary a.k.a Virgin Mary, but because the same narrative is given to girls since Mary and over centuries, reincarnated over and over – await your prince, don’t take up too much space, don’t leak, sweat or bleed visibly or have body hair, or opinions.

ME: What are your next projects or next areas of exploration?
WKL: A film project. LambEnt. I’m looking at the relationship between ewe and lamb and the sounds they make at a particular moment, again unnoticed and unrecorded, and reworking this as a feminist Stabat Mater.

A painting of a two men, one in an army uniform and one naked

Band of Brothers 18 x 24cm on Canvas

I don’t know if you know much about Catholic music, but there are various parts to a cathedral sung mass, one of which is the Agnus Dei, Lamb of God. Another part of Catholic musical liturgy is a song for Mary called Stabat Mater. In Latin this means ‘standing mother’. That’s what mothers do. They stand and they take it. Stabat Mater is Mary weeping at the foot of the cross, the only occasion where she is vocal. Mary’s relationship with her child is the only intimate experience in her life, like the ewe.

A painting of people sitting by a tree

Stick or Twist 60 x 80cm Oil on Board

For the film and music piece I’m making, I am working with actual sheep sound, farmers, animal neuroscientists, with zoomorphic and sacred composers and singers making piece of music to go between the Angus Dei and the Stabat Mater, called LambEnt. It is designed to interrupt the visual and musical canon. It is this voice of nature that is not noticed, not heard, that is the same voice of many that is not heard, particularly currently in Iran but across the world. A global noise. The unheard of all those excluded from the definition of Man is now added to our human species exceptionalism domination of the earth. It is this that has wrought global devastation.

Read more: An Interview with William Kentridge

It’s very exciting and very different for me, doing a collaborative project, because normally I can control what I’m working on. It will be a very short film but if we get it right it will hopefully be very beautiful and powerful and show what art can do. Make the hidden explicit, find the universal in the particular.

A mythological creature holding an animal's leg

Stabat Mater IV 125 x 165cm Oil on Canvas

ME: Can you tell me about your porcelain project?
WKL: Absolutely. Historically, those delicate porcelain figurines made by all the famous European companies, Meissen, Sevres and others, were brought out at the dessert course at grand dinner parties. They were designed to show how wealthy you were but also to be diverting and fun, play objects for the rich and jaded.

I’m so interested in these silly scenes that are depicted, at a time when there was such inequality, war, famine and violence. The shepherdesses and card players and cheeky smiling maids and soldiers in these porcelain groups, were existing at a time of rape, poverty, war, violence where even wealthy and well brought up women could be ‘beaten and flung about the room’ by her family, according to Virginia Woolf, for not agreeing to marry the man chosen for her. This one is called Band of Brothers. Rape has always been an instrument of war, but it also occurred casually and often, leaving occupied countries riddled with venereal disease and women who died in shame for being made pregnant. Many terrible things happened to women during wartime.

It’s an ongoing project, it never quite leaves me. I love the fact that you have to look twice to understand what is going on. The paintings are very small and I don’t normally work that size. They are oil sketches really. Again, it’s about collision to create new meanings. Of course, it’s wonderful to paint well and I get very ambitious for these porcelains to look lusciously real, but what they mean matter too. To me, only art can do this. Life’s too short not to care.

W.K. Lyhne’s works are on display at the Zabludowicz Collection in London until 25th June 2023

She is giving a lecture on her work at University of the Arts Inaugural Research Conference on 23rd June  2023, at Granary Square London.

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Reading time: 15 min
A man standing in front of a painting of a boy with a bow and arrow
A painting of two children and a real man with long black hair and a black scarf beside the painting

Matthew Krishanu with Riverboat, in 2021. Photograph by Jean-Noël Schramm

British-Indian artist Matthew Krishanu’s paintings offer a nuanced exploration of cultural identity, memory, and personal experience. LUX looks at his works and career through an autobiographical lens

Matthew Krishanu was born in Bradford, England to an Indian mother and a white English father, before moving to Bangladesh where he spent 11 years of his childhood, returning to the UK at age 12. The experience of growing up between two cultures has had a profound impact on his work, which often reflects on the tensions and complexities of cultural identity.

Two boys standing in red and bleu tops and jeans holding archery bows

Archers, 2021, part of the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation. Photograph by Peter Mallet

His figurative paintings have a distinctive flatness, compounded by the use of vivid, block colours and ambiguous, even distant, facial expressions. He explores themes of family and grief, religion and race, childhood and memory, with many of his paintings representing his early years in Bangladesh.

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

For one of his most famous shows, ‘Another Country’ (2014) at the Nunnery Gallery in London, Krishanu worked from old photographs, and his own memories and imagination to reconstruct images from his childhood. The viewer is transported not only to another continent, but to another time, entering the artist’s personal past, remembered landscapes, moments, his relationship with his older brother.

a boy in a blue top and a girl in a red top sitting on rocks playing by a stream

Two Boys on Rocks, 2022, from the series Another Country. Photograph by Peter Mallet

When the artist was asked where feels most like home to him, the UK or Bangladesh, Krishanu responded, ““I have lived in England for over three decades, and London in particular feels like home now. However, the world of the ‘two boys’ (Bangladesh and India) feels like home to them – the places I paint are the home of my childhood.”

A painting of a woman standing in jeans, a white t shirt and a white hat

Safari 2021, part of the the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation. Photography by Peter Mallet

In other works, Krishanu explores faith and religion and this way in which they relate to race and colonial history, a key part of his own personal experience as the son of a Christian missionary in South Asia. Paintings such as “Ordination” (2017) observe unsettling power dynamics relating to complex religious politics of Bangladesh, while in his contribution to Southbank’s ‘Everyday Heroes’ exhibition (2020), he pays tribute to the faith workers from different races and religions and their contributions to their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A painting of priests in a church

Ordination, 2017, from the series Mission. Photograph by Peter Mallet

In 2021, he exhibited ‘In Sickness and Health’ at Leamington Spa Art Gallery and Museum, a series of profoundly intimate paintings, including several of his late wife at different moments throughout their relationship, and his daughter as a newborn baby. In one painting his wife appears bright-eyed in a wedding dress, while in others she is receiving hospital treatment towards the end of her life. The series acts as a quiet and calm, yet deeply emotional study of not just grief and loss, but the vulnerability and changeability of the human body.

Krishanu explains, “I am interested in how one’s emotional connection to a subject can be communicated in the paint handling, colour, atmosphere and feeling of a painting. It’s something I look for in painters I love – and I feel creates a point of entry for the viewer.”

paintings on a wall of a gallery

In Sickness and in Health, Mead Gallery, 2022. Photograph by Ed Florance

The artist graduated from the University of Exeter with a BA in Fine Art and English Literature and went on to complete a master’s degree in Fine Art at Central Saint Martins in 2009. Since then, he has exhibited his work in solo and group shows across the UK and internationally, including shows in India, China, Pakistan, Germany and the US.

Read more: Sam Dalrymple and Durjoy Rahman On Cultural Reconnections Post-Partition

His work is included in numerous major collections, including the Arts Council Collection, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Government Art Collection UK, Komechak Art Gallery and the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art..

A painting of children standing in a room

Four Children (Verandah), 2022, from the series Expatriates. Photograph by Peter Mallet

Krishanu continues to invite his readers to share in the rich narratives of his personal and cultural history, as well as their own. His first trade monography was published in March 2023 and features a selection of his works, including ‘Another Country’, ‘Expatriates’, ‘Mission’, ‘House of God’, ‘Religious Workers’ and ‘In Sickness and In Health’.

Find out more:

matthewkrishanu.com

casematepublishing.co.uk/matthew-krishanu.html

This article was published in association with the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation

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Reading time: 3 min
orange, yellow, red and green paint on a canvas
yellow, green and pink paint on a cavas

Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar, Energy Within, 2023

The French-Iranian artist Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar has a solo show opening in Phillips on Berkeley Square. His compelling paintings examine themes of loss, anger, nature, healing and positive and negative energy. Each of Behnam-Bakhtiar’s paintings in the series reflect the internal structure of trees which he connects with trauma-recovery and healing. The selling exhibition has been supported by his German gallerist Setareh and is curated by Kamiar Maleki, erstwhile director of Photo London among other hats.
Behnam-Bakhtiar comes from a notable Iranian family; his great uncle Shahpour led the country’s last attempt at creating a liberal, democratic regime before the Islamic revolution ushered in an era of Muslim extremism. Jasper Greig, emerging collector and philanthropic advisor, spoke to the artist in his home in Cap Ferrat, about the personal experiences that informed his increasingly sought-after art

Jasper Greig: I would like to ask about your early life and how you got into painting?

Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar: I am a fourth generation artist; my father was and is an artist and was highly involved in the government before the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, as one of the key figures in bringing and developing modern art to Iran back in the day. Family-wise I was always showing signs of creativity and was very tight with my Dad before my parents separated when I was 3 years old. I was very close with my Dad until the age of 5 when I was still around in Europe – I was born in Paris. My first memory of art was my father teaching me how to paint!

I always had this creativity within me. Unfortunately the support to pursue my passion was not present in any way as a child and young adult, after being separated from my father.

orange, yellow, red and green paint on a canvas

Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar, The Secret of Life, 2023

JG: Was your father very supportive of you wanting to pursue art as a career?
SBB: He was, but unfortunately, my parents divorced when I was young! But it stayed in me. That was the seed. When you’re a child, your first 3 years are the most formative – my own son is three and a half now, so I have seen it with my own eyes.

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JG: You were born in France to an Iranian family, and then unusually moved to Iran. Did you feel your family’s reputation changed your experiences in Iran?
SBB: Being in school, I remember reading a chapter about Shahpour Bahktiar, the late Prime Minister, my great uncle, who was assassinated in Paris. They were showing videos of people chanting, literally swearing at our family. Everybody knew I was from that family so I was basically an outcast while I was in Iran. They wouldn’t accept me as an Iranian because I was born in France and I came from what they would call a ‘western family’. It was very tough at the beginning, until I integrated at about 12 or 13. I used to get bullied all the time. There are a lot of people over there who are like me so I found my group eventually, but for the first few years it was hell.

Simultaneously, I was always highly frustrated about the way Iran was being portrayed, even though I was not accepted by my own society.

running colourful paint on a canvas in blue, yellow and pink

Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar, Powerful Beyond Measure, 2023

JG: Can you tell us about your journey into increasing your vibrations through meditation? You said you discovered that at a really low point in Iran.
SBB: I see it as a form of rebirth for me. I was at the lowest point in my life, and going through that transformation during those harsh times changed my life forever.

It was after taming my anger that I went back into my studio and I was looking for that signature style of work that you can see today. I will never forget – I did a body of work and it was the last painting from that body of work that was a two by four metre painting, a big one, where I actually found it. The whole body was exhibited at Saatchi Gallery in 2017. That was the first time I brought these paintings to the public because they were very intimate. Obviously, since then my style has developed and critics come and go – some say my work has the romantic qualities of a Monet, others say I am the perfect melting pot with my Persian background and Western techniques. Everyone has their own thing to say, but for me, my works are representations of energy at their core, no matter what subject I’m trying to depict.

JG: Your paintings involve the building up of layers, scraping those layers, relaying and spreading them back over each other. Does each painting start from a meditative process?
SBB: There were some small figurative elements to the works which slowly started to die out – nothing is planned behind my work. Those paintings at Saatchi, you can still see the collage elements on the work – they were the transition between the collage and the painting. Today, at least for now, I am highly focused on my abstract paintings and what I can do with my signature style of work. For now I can confidently say we will probably not be seeing any figurative elements for a while to come. But nothing is planned, everything is organic. I’m in a different zone when I paint.

White, grey and blue paint on a canvas

Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar, Earth, 2023

JG: Some of the greatest artists like Bacon and Freud, writers like James Joyce, all worked best away from their homeland. Do you think this can be a kind of liberation or do you think there is always a perpetual feeling of loss?
SBB: It’s difficult to explain how you feel because if you add on everything that has happened to me from a young age to today, if you feel it and you see it, it is the combination of all these things that will give you those emotions while you’re creating art. When I am working I find myself wearing a lot of the complicated times I have had on the surface of the canvas, but immediately I want to cover them.

Read more: Art Dubai opens in support of South Asian artists

It has shaped the way that I paint today. I would say that everything had a direct impact. I definitely miss home very much, even though things have been tough there for me. Whatever happened happened for a reason, for me to be able to paint the way I do today.

an abstract painting of a pink and yellow tree with a white and blue background

Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar, Tree of Love, 2023

JG: If you were describing your paintings to an alien how would you describe them?
SBB: It’s very simple. My painting provides a window for you so you can have a better understanding of who you are. I have a much better idea of my own capabilities as a human being – I’m not saying I know it all, I’m still on my journey. But we are capable of powerful things beyond measure. You can heal yourself from a lot of injuries for instance, which I can do now.

Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar’s latest series, ‘The Age of Energy’, is available to view at Phillips Gallery, 30 Berkeley Square, London W1J 6EX, until Sunday 26th March

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You can find his works on the back of mass-market cereal packets, in leading museums and on sneakers. Some change hands for millions, and others are made in their millions. More than any other living artist, Brian Donnelly, known as KAWS, carries the Andy Warhol mantle of blending high and low art. Darius Sanai meets him in his New York studio

For someone who became a global celebrity out of a kind of exhibitionism, Brian Donnelly seems very discreet when I first come across him. We have arranged to meet in his Brooklyn studio when I am in the city for Frieze New York. I escape the Large Hadron Collider atmosphere of meetings, walk along the green escape of the High Line, New York’s elevated urban park, and catch an L Train Subway from the Meatpacking District, under the East River to Williamsburg in Brooklyn.

The neighbourhood is bristling with young men in moustaches and shorts, and women in black skinny jeans and camel suede boots. Past a matcha bar, a Pho cafe and a vegan ice-cream joint, I work my way onto a boulevard and a few turns later find myself at a big door leading into a warehouse, unmarked except for a buzzer carrying the door number. The door opens and I walk into a studio space that has Long Island light pouring in through a skylight. Huge canvasses line either side. I have arrived just a few seconds ahead of our appointed time, and a few seconds later a door in the wall opens and Brian Donnelly, or KAWS, says a quiet “Hi” and asks if I would like to follow him upstairs. He is wearing a black T-shirt and jeans, in contrast to my white shirt and white linen trousers. His sneakers are white, his cap black, glasses black- framed. He is polite and welcoming, very correct, quite reserved. He becomes animated when speaking about the art on his walls (mostly by 20th-century artists), but isn’t one for small talk.

A large sculpture of a standing elephant in an entrance

SHARE, 2021, by KAWS, Rockefeller Center, New York

If that is a bit of a surprise, it is because there can be few things more “out there” than making your name as an artist by redecorating, without permission, walls and other public spaces as a spray-painting street artist, as Donnelly did in the 1990s. That’s where his tag, KAWS, came from. A skateboarding guy from Jersey City, New Jersey, he went to art school in New York and found that his distinctive characters and slightly bleak, subversive style quickly gained a following.

Today, Donnelly’s trademark figures, sculptures and paintings, with Xs for eyes, pervade all areas of public consciousness. Donnelly quickly started collaborating with brands: he has worked with Dior, Supreme, A Bathing Ape, Nike and dozens more, He is also consciously democratic about his collaborations: in 2021 he created cereal boxes for Reese’s Puffs, one of the best-selling cereals in the US. In 2019, his work, THE KAWS ALBUM, commissioned and sold by Japanese polymath NIGO, sold at auction at Sotheby’s Hong Kong for US$14.8m.

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

Speaking with him for few hours, Donnelly came across as calm, thoughtful, private – even reticent, but with a geek passion for the artists and artistic styles he loves. It would take many more meetings to unfurl someone like him, and I never resolved one riddle to my satisfaction. KAWS is an artist, but he is also, like Andy Warhol, to whom he has been compared, something else. It is just hard to say exactly what.

A large pink fluffy toy elephant with big white eyes sitting on a window sill

KAWS at his studio

LUX: Your works are now in art institutions around the world. How does that feel?
KAWS: Of course it’s an honour to have work shown, whether it’s in an institution or public art. The reason I make work is communication, to create a dialogue with the audience, and to know that works are on display in different places and contexts is amazing for me.

LUX: When you visit the works, do you observe the audience and their reaction?
KAWS: I don’t often get to visit, but when I see that someone’s interacting with the work it’s a treat. I try to make work that is engaging, and when people stop to have a moment with it I feel like my goal is accomplished.

LUX: When you are creating a work, do you have a reaction in mind?
KAWS: Not at all. For me, I just use the work as a way to get my insights or points of view or feelings in that moment out into the world. I get into different bodies of work in different ways.

A sculpture of a pink standing elephant in a black suit with models walking around it

KAWS for Dior Homme SS19, 2018, Paris

LUX: When you started, consciously or not, you created work anyone can see. Now you also make works you can sell for private collections. Does it matter who sees the work?
KAWS: I don’t make work according to who I think might see it. If there’s a sculpture in a public setting, it will of course be different than a small canvas I paint. I want to make something that will engage a wider audience, so I’m conscious of creating things that are very inviting.

LUX: When you were a kid growing up in New Jersey, how did you start doing art?
KAWS: I think it’s always been a crutch for me. It was really since I was a child that I leaned into art, not just for communicating, but for having relations within school. I wasn’t really strong academically, I don’t think, and I saw art as a place I just went to. I loved that you could do it in a solitary kind of way, and bring it out into the world when you wanted. It just seems something like that could go on forever, until the end.

LUX: The art you created, even from an early age, was not traditional – it was your own original thing. Was that a conscious decision?
KAWS: When I was younger, I didn’t know a single person who was an artist for a living. It just seemed like something I did – similar to whatever sport might occupy a young person’s time. Obviously, I put a lot more energy into art-making than other things. I never imagined it could be something that you could make a living from. I didn’t have any examples of that as a child. So I thought it was something I would always be doing but I would have to find other ways to subsidise it.

painting underneath a window with the light shining through

KAWS artworks at the light-filled studio

LUX: You’re at the confluence of art and luxury, streetwear brands and many other things. If someone came from Mars and asked what you do, would you just say you’re an artist?
KAWS: I would just say I’m an artist. I think that’s the simplest term. I think that communicates what I do. As far as working in different mediums, or different fields, I’ve always been open to exploring any of my interests. If I’m interested in streetwear or fashion or shoes, I dive in. There are so many interesting people doing interesting things, it would be a shame to limit myself from any opportunities to learn.

LUX: You must have noticed that the art world is a bit snobbish about artists working with brands: “It’s not real art, you’re selling out…”
KAWS: Definitely. Especially in the 90s. At first when I was younger, I thought, “Oh man, this is something I have to think about.” I soon learnt that the only thing I need to do is exactly what I want to do and let the chips fall where they may. When I opened my OriginalFake store in Japan in 2006, I said, “I really don’t care if I don’t show in galleries. This is something I want to do and if that’s a conflict so be it.”

LUX: People have written that there’s a parallel with Andy Warhol, with a mix of ‘high art’ and commercial art, reflected in your works.
KAWS: Honestly, the more you learn about artists and history, the more you realise there are so many artists who delved into commercial opportunities and things that stimulated them creatively – Andy Warhol being a very large part of that. But you know there’s a lot more, it wasn’t just Warhol and Haring… Everyone kind of has their moments, whether they’re widely acknowledged or not.

A colourful painting of a blue hand on a pink wall

artwork and neatly arranged materials at the KAWS studio

LUX: Do you think that with a new wave of millennial art collectors, people are more accepting that you can do brand collaborations as well as sell artworks through galleries?
KAWS: I think it’s become a lot more natural. Kids who grew up in my generation and younger, this is a language they’re familiar with. This was a big part of why I loved Japan so early on; it felt like there was a focus on making good stuff no matter the “category” it fell under, and that was the only real structure to it – if you’re going to do it, do it well. A sort of openness between design, art, furniture and fashion. I think the generation coming up now have grown up on this and many don’t give it a second thought. The world has become a smaller place, because of social media and the internet and whatnot. From your house, you can definitely have a view of what’s going on globally and I think that a lot of the barriers that were existing in the 90s have been broken through. Things shift, so it could turn back in the other direction, but I can’t imagine that.

LUX: It sounds like you wouldn’t be too bothered, if things shifted, as long as you were doing what you were doing?
KAWS: My goal as an artist is to bring the things in my mind to fruition. If I can find ways of doing that, then I feel like it’s successful.

LUX: Were collaborations and creations in design and fashion something that you started doing back when you were very young?
KAWS: I grew up skating and really loving that graphic culture: skateboards, T-shirts and stickers and everything that comes with it. When I’m making work, I always think about what reached me when I was young. What got me on this path? What did I enjoy? I try to make work that is true to that feeling and can reach people in those ways. It’s this sort of casual channel that introduced me to art and got me interested in the first place.

A sculpture of a bubble elephant

COMPANION (PASSING THROUGH), 2010, by KAWS;

LUX: There’s such an array of mediums that you work in. How do you know what you want to use, whether VR, a sculpture, work on paper? How do you make up your mind?
KAWS: I’m not methodical in any way. It just depends on what my interests are at the moment,
and what opportunities I see available for the medium I’m working in. So I might get heavily into VR, and then turn back to painting and drawing. If sculpture is on my mind, I may put that mask on and get into that work. A lot of the stuff I do happens organically, especially with collaborative work or working with musicians.

LUX: You’ve talked about what your work communicates to people. But you haven’t told me about what you would like to communicate.
KAWS: I don’t tell people what they need to see when they’re looking at the work. I think that would be impossible. They all approach it through their own lens, and have their own experience to add. I make work for myself, and the way it’s interpreted by someone else is out of my grasp.

LUX: Is there something therapeutic about making your work?
KAWS: Yes, making work is completely therapeutic to me. It’s sort of the way I navigate life. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I wasn’t making work.

A man sitting on a stool next to his paints and a colourful wall

the artist, art and materials at the studio;

LUX: What would you say to a young person who wants to become an artist but doesn’t know how?
KAWS: I don’t think any artist knows how to become an artist when they’re younger. It’s just something you’re driven toward or not. If you’re going to be an artist, I don’t think it’s a choice; you realise it’s what you have to do.

LUX: Has anything changed?
KAWS: It’s a long path in being an artist and the interesting part is how you form this body of work over a long period of time. How do you change as a person, how do you bring that work into play with your new thoughts? I don’t grow tired of it. I’m taking a visual language and moulding it over time. I think this little process is great.

LUX: Is it very different working with a Nike than with a Dior?
KAWS: No, it’s just different people, it’s just case by case. It really depends on the project and the people. Similarly, larger companies can be just as easy if not easier than a little boutique collaboration. Dior was really simple because I was working with Kim Jones, and he and I are pretty friendly. It was fun. It was just us asking how we can do this and we did it all under an intense timeline.

Read more: A tasting of Bond, California’s new luxury wine

LUX: Is there anyone still looking down at an artist who does cereal boxes as well as high art?
KAWS: Of course, I’m sure there are probably tons of people who look down on it. The world is full of opinions and you really can’t worry about it or you’ll just sit on your hands and make nothing. If you were to weigh in the opinions of every stranger, what would you get done? The cereal project was a blast. I want to do more of that. I love knowing that you can walk into a convenience store, on the corner of your block, which you’ve walked into every day of your life, and suddenly, my work’s in there and you can buy it for a few dollars. That’s priceless to me. I understand, a lot of people get to see stuff online, but most people never get to a gallery or museum, and the thought of them owning it is beyond them. Doing projects like that puts you in contact with people in a very candid way. When I’m working on something like that, I’m thinking it’s no different to a print edition, or anything else.

A sculpture of a bubble elephant holding a baby elephant

KAWS (HOLIDAY), 2022, by KAWS, China

LUX: You said last year that NFTs were not for you right now. What’s your view of NFTs now?
KAWS: They weren’t for me at the time. I haven’t made any. I find it fascinating – it’s great to see so many people so excited about making work, but I think a lot of the interest is commercial interest, and that’s kind of a buzzkill. With the recent decline in the crypto and NFT markets, I think it’s actually going to get more exciting; people who are doing it are going to do it because they feel the need to make it, not because they’re interested in financial gain. It’s been a rough few months for that world, but I think the good stuff will start to come.

LUX: Is it important to you that big collectors are treasuring your works and they are exchanging hands for big prices at auctions?
KAWS: The price of something is not going to change the work. Once the artwork goes into the world, it’s going to take on different lives and you can’t control that. I don’t know, I don’t spend too much time thinking about it or worrying about it. In my mind, when a work is finished, that is the moment of success for me.

LUX: Should we call you an artist? Or, with everything you have done with brands, are you something else?
KAWS: I would just keep it as artist.

Find out more: kawsone.com

This article first appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2022/23 issue of LUX

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two people walking by a river passing two sculptures

Togetherness, 2022, by Leilah Babirye, at the PAF’s ‘Black Atlantic’ exhibition, 2022

As the art world gets moving for Asia’s first major fair of 2023, the new Art SG in Singapore, we asked some movers, shakers and collectors which artists and curators around the world are catching their eye for 2023. Read on for the verdicts from Mickalene Thomas, Steve Lazarides, Phillip Colbert and many others

A woman laughing wearing blue sunglasses and a green jacket with a patterned blue and pink scarfMickalene Thomas, artist
Based: New York
Nominates: Leilah Babirye
I first encountered Leilah Babirye’s work in 2019, a year after she received asylum in the US from Uganda, when a friend introduced me to her sculptures. I immediately felt a profound, intense connection to her work. The composition of materials deeply resonated with me, particularly how she juxtaposes found objects with ceramics, metal and wood, and shapes the surfaces and imbues the materials with such a regal, ethereal, spiritual essence. Her sculptures transform seemingly disparate media into a powerful representation of her vision for empowering hybridity, queerness and trans selfhood. She shows with Gordon Robichaux and Stephen Friedman Gallery.

stephenfriedman.com/artists/66-leilah-babirye

A man wearing pink trousers and a blue and white jumper standing with his hands in his pocketsSteve Lazarides, artist
Based: London
Nominates: Tim & Barry
They are not exactly emerging, but Tim & Barry are definitely change-makers. They documented the birth of grime in an incredibly unexpected way, and it’s not often I say this but their work is exceptional. I love their visuals, and the way they work across multimedia. They basically set up Boiler Room before Boiler Room did.

A man wearing an Arabic headscarf and brown dress holding a microphone

Just Jam Omar Souleyman, 2014, by Tim & Barry

linktr.ee/TimandBarryTV

A man with patches on a black outfit sitting on a chair with paintings behind himPhilip Colbert, artist
Based: London
Nominates: Elsa Rouy
I am very excited about the work of Elsa Rouy, who shows with Guts Gallery. Her paintings have a dark, subversive edge with an undeniable femininity, and they are really punchy. Charlotte [Colbert] loves her, too – we actually bought some of Rouy’s works from one of her first shows.

A painting of a woman crying with black hair

I Could Always Crack a Joke, 2021, by Elsa Rouy

elsarouy.com

A woman wearing a red kimonoAlia Al-Senussi, cultural strategist and advisor in
arts and culture
Based: London and Riyadh
Nominates: Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan Al Saud
Prince Badr is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s first minister of culture and leads on various initiatives related to the implementation of Saudi Vision 2030. His curiosity, engagement and willingness to promote culture at the forefront of Saudi society and economy are unprecedented. His vision is clear and he is unstoppable with his energy and enthusiasm. I see his culture work as revolutionary, something that will impact generations to come.

silver sculptures in a desert

Dark Suns, Bright Waves by Claudia Comte at Desert X AlUla 2022, for whose Royal Commission Prince Badr is governor

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

moc.gov/sa/en

Maria Sukkar, collector and member of the International Council at Tate
Based: London and Lebanon
Nominates: Alex Petalas
Alex Petalas is a young, energetic, Swiss-born Greek art aficionado. In 2018, he opened the Perimeter, a beautiful mews house in Bloomsbury converted into an exhibition space where vistors can view part of his contemporary-art collection. He has also been involved in Tate Young Patrons for a long time and for three years was co-chair. Petalas is already starting to make waves in the art world by synthesising the roles of collector, public gallerist and curator all in one.

A painting on a wall of a hand and a peach

A view of Alex Petalas’s London gallery, The Perimeter, showing Sicily Morning, 2018, by Wolfgang Tillmans

theperimeter.co.uk

A blonde woman wearing a brown jacket and black topSophie Neuendorf, vice president, Artnet
Based: Madrid and Berlin
Nominates: Anthony Vaccarello
In 2022 six major Paris museums, including the Centre Pompidou, the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay, have celebrated Anthony Vaccarello, the Saint Laurent creative director and patron of the arts. Continuing the legacy and ethos of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, Vaccarello launched an exhibition space at Saint Laurent Rive Droite. With Paris exhibitions and global pop-up shows (including Sho Shibuya during ABMB), Vaccarello is developing Rive Droite into a destination for collectors worldwide.

record players and CD Vinyls stacked up on a marble wall

Inside the Saint Laurent Rive Droite Paris boutique

ysl.com

A man wearing a a navy suit and white shirt with his arms foldedAzu Nwagbogu, founder, African Artists’ Foundation and director, LagosPhoto Festival
Based: Lagos and London
Nominates: Moufouli Bello
In February 2022 one of the smallest countries in West Africa, Benin, hosted the exhibition ‘Benin Art from Yesterday to Today, from Restitution to Revelation’. It marked the Musée du Quai Branly’s return to Benin of art that had been pillaged from the former Dahomey Kingdom in 1892, and celebrations were mediated through an exhibition of works by contemporary Beninese artists. Standout was Moufouli Bello’s Tassi Hangbe, a large painting that chronicled the journey of restitution, but also gave it an agency in the present and for time to come. Bello is also a film-maker and environmental activist, an art-world thinker and star for the future.

A blue painting of a woman sitting on a couch

Beautiful Silly Flowers, 2021, by Moufouli Bello

houseofafricanart.com/moufouli-bello

A man in a grey top sitting on a brown chair with books behind himDarius Sanai,
Editor-in-Chief, LUX
Based: London and Switzerland
Nominates: Jacopo Pagin
I fell for Jacopo Pagin at Frieze LA in 2022. I had missed the private
view because of a clash with Frieze events, and when I dropped round to the Make Room gallery, which is behind a car park in West Hollywood, a day later, all the works had sold. That in itself is not a guarantor of quality, but what you immediately see in Pagin’s works is his technical accuracy and training, combined with what appears to be quite a mathematical imagination. There is something unmistakably Italian about his style – he is a young Italian artist living in Brussels – but it sweeps across the eras: a touch of Fontana, memories of Leonardo da Vinci and his own intricate and occasionally nightmarish neo-surrealist dreamscapes. I am keeping an eye on him, or is that three eyes?

A painting of a black and green vase with a face on it

My Destiny in Fiction, 2022, by Jacopo Pagin

jacopopagin.com

Read more: Why the German art auction market is booming

A woman wearing a black top with her arms foldedVanessa Guo, co-founder and partner, Galerie Marguo
Based: Paris
Nominates: Rebecca Ness
Since graduating from Yale School of Art in 2019, Rebecca Ness has risen in the global contemporary-art scene. She excels in storytelling and monumentalising the mundane, painstakingly rendering fleeting impressions and her everyday world in oil – a notoriously slow and laborious medium. Her signature lexicon is subjective, realistic yet cartoonish and vibrant. Her work is collected by top institutions including the ICA Miami and the Long Museum, Shanghai.

A painting of a boy on a mans back walking through a forest

Herman Counts the Trees, 2021, by Rebecca Ness

rebeccalness.com

A woman wearing a black and white topRacquel Chevremont, collector and curator
Based: New York
Nominates: Vivian Crockett
I am very excited about Vivian Crockett becoming curator of contemporary art at New York’s New Museum, and bringing to it her focus on contemporary art of African and Latinx diasporas and the Americas at the intersections of race, gender and queer theory – everything I am most passionate about. We are lucky to have her back in NYC, further pushing the museum’s thriving curatorial history and proving that presenting exhibitions that push the many artistic voices overlooked and under-represented by most major institutional programmes not only brings more diverse audiences but can be deemed commercially successful.

A black and white checked floor and a painting on the wall with yellow walls and a check floor

Four Brown Chairs, 2020, by Jammie Holmes, from the ‘To Be Determined’ exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art 2020, curated by Vivian Crockett

viviancrockett.com

A man wearing glasses and a white shirtLorin Gu, founder, Recharge Foundation
Based: New York
Nominates: Anna Weyant
Anna Weyant is a fierce force in a new generation of female artists and an emblem of Gen-Z’s desire to reinvent the art-history canon. Referencing influences from 17th-century Dutch painting to Pop, she features young female characters in tragicomic scenes and updates ideas on the female gaze. Weyant has lived and studied in Canada, the US and China, and considers the unifying qualities and experiences that women encounter in the world. Her portrayals of the underlying rebellious intent of young women show them fighting societal norms and exercising independence from the patriarchy. Weyant’s 2023 solo show at the Gagosian marks her as the youngest artist to be given an exhibition by the art powerhouse.

A painting of a woman sleeping in bed wearing an eye mask and yawning

Slumber, 2020, by Anna Weyant

gagosian.com/artist/anna-weyant

This article first appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2022/23 issue of LUX

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An orange and green tapestry of a boy with his hands on his cheeks and messy hair
An orange and green tapestry of a boy with his hands on his cheeks and messy hair

Missing Home, Adolf Tega in collaboration with Qaqambile Bead Studio

Whilst you most likely have heard 1-54 is celebrating its 10th year in London at its flagship event at Somerset House, LUX casts an eye at one of their more surprising partnerships…Nando’s!

Founded in 2013, by Touria El Glaoui, 1-54 is the leading international art fair that focuses on contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora, with it name deriving from the 54 countries that make up the African continent. This year’s fair will host 50 international exhibitors across 21 countries, its largest number of countries to date. They will present over 130 artists working across an array of mediums from painting and sculpture to mixed media and installation.

A painting of women speaking

Women’s Conversation by Nkoali Nawa

For the last three years, 1-54 has partnered with, Christie’s, highlighting the renowned auction house’s dedication to showcasing contemporary African art to its global client base. But even more astonishing is 1-54’s other significant partner. Nando’s.

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The fast-casual chicken shop chain is one of the greatest supporters of Southern African artists and their families by providing career development opportunities and exposure. Nando’s art programme have given over 350 artists a platform to further their careers, partly by hanging their works in 1200 restaurants across 24 coutnries.

a painting of two men sitting on books wearing pink t shirts and yellow vneck jumpers

Maideyi by Adolf Tega

A man wearing a black t-shirt with a gold logo on the left side

Adolf Tega. Image by Retha Ferguson

“This opportunity is the pay-off for hard work and patience. It is a full circle moment for me; I recall so well receiving continuous feedback from Tamlin [Spier Arts Trust chief curator] to not be stubborn about my beliefs and preferences, to take my time to produce quality work and to find my own voice. Here I am now, seeing how far I have come and excited to be selected to present my work in London at 1-54. Thank you Nando’s and Spier Arts Trust for enabling my time to shine, it’s a very proud moment,” Says Adolf Tega.

A painting of ben ganging up on an other man with sticks over their heads

A Celebration by Nkoali Nawa

Read more: PAD returns to Berkeley Square

A man wearing a brown zip hoodie

Nkoali Nawa. Image by Retha Ferguson

Another artist on display who has become part of the Nando’s collection is Nkoali Nawa, who said “Nando’s and Spier Arts Trust are giving me a fantastic opportunity to expand my career and introduce my work to the international art market. It is so exciting that I will be able  to talk about my work, in person, on this platform with its incredible visitor base. It is the next step I needed as an artist, to grow.”

1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair is on at Somerset House, London, from Thursday 13th-Sunday 16th October 2022

Find out more:

www.1-54.com

www.nandos.co.uk/explore/art

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Reading time: 2 min
photograph that looks like painting with swirly silver object and squares
photograph that looks like painting with swirly silver object and squares

Lost at the Beach. Image courtesy of the artist

New York-based architect-turned-artist Erin O’Keefe plays tricks with our perceptions with her photographs that look like graphic paintings. The Deutsche Bank Lounge Artist for Frieze New York 2022 speaks to LUX about the transition from being an architecture professor to an artist, how the disciplines are interconnected, and her inspirations from the original Bauhaus art school in Weimar Germany. Interview by Darius Sanai

LUX: Was your dream when you were younger to be an architect or an artist?
Erin O’Keefe: I always wanted to be an artist. Although I guess what that actually means is an open question. Architecture provided a way of supporting myself that felt super interesting, and teaching meant I could explore theoretical issues that have turned out to be relevant to my art practice.

LUX: Were you always fascinated by the crossover between architecture and art?
EOK: Thinking about how architecture is represented in painting and photography has always been a source of fascination. I particularly love the wrongness of space in early Renaissance paintings – it actually feels pretty liberating. And I’m interested in the fact that most of what I know about architecture has come through images rather than visiting the actual buildings – that seems perverse, but it’s true. So you need to become a good translator to make a bridge between a picture of the thing and the thing itself, but I think it’s actually impossible to get the two things to align.

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LUX: Are we right in seeing influences of the Bauhaus – the physical school itself and its teachers – in your career and your works?
EOK: Yes, absolutely – it’s a kind of touchstone for me, and the development of my practice. The sense of interconnectedness among the disciplines, and the primacy of making, were both things that feel relevant. I did the Albers colour exercises with my architecture students, which was really the beginning of thinking about the spatial impact of colour in my work.

photograph that looks like painting with pink black and silver elements

Fever. Image courtesy of the artist

LUX: How do you set out to create your works: what is the process of conception and execution? Are you looking for a particular effect on the perception of the viewer?
EOK: I am always looking for a condition of uncertainty in the images. Something that operates in multiple ways and is a bit destabilising for the viewer. I’m interested in the friction between the ordinary tactile objects and the unreality of the image.

My studio process is quite open-ended, lots of trial and error. Small shifts or alignments in the still life can transform the reading of the image, and that moment feels like magic to me.

Colour and light play a huge part in how the objects are perceived, and what they are capable of spatially. The objects themselves are made with the awareness of how they will operate in the photograph – although it’s always a very rough guess, and most of the time I discover possibilities that I couldn’t have anticipated.

blue and orange shapes in photograph

One Day Soon. Image courtesy of the artist

LUX: Please tell us a little about some of the works at Frieze NY.
EOK: The consistent focus of my work is the gap between the real condition and its representation in the photograph. For the work at Frieze, I became interested in perspective correction – meaning I can paint shapes on the ground and back wall of my still-life set-up that appear very differently in the image – a trompe-l’oeil situation in reverse. I’m also using paint in these photographs as a kind of camouflage to confuse or amplify a spatial condition.

LUX: What kind of a visual artist do you describe yourself as?
EOK: At this point, a photographer, as a way of underlining what these images are. People often mistake them for paintings, but the fact that they are photographs that utilise the language of painting feels like an important distinction.

Read more: Uplifting New Paintings by Sassan Behnam- Bakhtiar 

LUX: Do you still teach and if not, will you ever teach again?
EOK: I really loved teaching, but I’m glad to have the time and attention to devote to my practice. I do miss the studio interaction – architectural education is pretty unique. I have no plans to teach in the future, but who knows?

Find out more: erinokeefe.com

This article appears in the Summer 2022 issue of LUX

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Reading time: 3 min
a red painting in a gallery that says More Joy in blue writing
A man squatting in front of a painting that says Mom

The artist doing a yoga pose in front of one his own recent paintings © Maryam Eisler

Joel Mesler is one of the hottest names on the East Coast art scene right now. LUX’s Chief Contributing Editor, Maryam Eisler, visits the gallerist-turned-artist in the Hamptons to speak with him about the under-layers of his eye candy paintings deeply rooted in childhood trauma, his switch from dealer to artist and his Jewish heritage

Maryam Eisler: You’ve moved from L.A. to the Lower East Side to The Hamptons. You’ve been dealing in art and now you’re producing art. Have both sides of the equation been enjoyable?
Joel Mesler: I am definitely most present and more content now… for sure when I am producing art. I have no regrets and it’s this path that led me here, so it’s all good.

ME: How has sobriety informed your work?
JM: Well, I think that is very much part of that process of change. I have realised that pre -sobriety, I lived in the ego. It was all about me. But I think there’s a process in the act of getting sober, of surrendering, like falling to your knees a little bit and saying ‘Okay, clearly I’m not the captain of this ship’. It was important to realise that I don’t have all the answers, that I don’t know exactly what I’m doing and that I am going to ask for help. But my story is not unique, you know.

Mini posters stuck on a wall

Joel Mesler’s wall of inspiration © Maryam Eisler

I think that that process shifted my mindset to such an extreme that it completely changed my life, like a spiritual awakening. Pre- getting sober, there was always this sense of dread or living on the edge and thinking ‘When will the relief come?’ because there’s this kind of constant anxiety, even pain. But as soon as that epiphany happened, it was almost like ‘Oh my God, I now know’. The difference is living in the present, one day at a time. Now I want even more time. I want to live forever.

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ME: You want more time?
JM: Yes. Time is running out. I need to produce. Everything shifted from that moment onwards. From my artwork to family, to just walking down the street and saying hello to random strangers.

A man reading an orange book

Joel reading his book ‘Jews without money’ by Michael Gold © Maryam Eisler

ME: Speaking of time and cycles, it’s interesting that there’s been a cyclical return to certain important people in your life. So, for instance, you were one of the first commercial supporters of Rashid Johnson’s work and now you’re both here and you’re best friends. You were also at some point David Kordansky’s landlord in Los Angeles and he now represents your work!
JM: You know, I speak to those two guys every day now. It all comes together, the arc of our relationships …

ME: I clearly remember a few years back, during Miami Basel, when you lived a real moment of transition from dealer to artist. As the founder of Rental gallery, you decided to represent yourself and all I could think of at the time was how clever you were! Did you make the switch out of necessity or smarts?
JM: Well, you know, I think a lot of times that the difference between necessity and perception can be so far off. I think that that may also be a great lesson of sobriety. I did it out of necessity, like I always did things. I recall telling Heather Hubbs, the fair Director ‘Well, you know, I’m really trying hard to be an artist now and I feel like if I was an art dealer and did the booth again this year, it might send the wrong signal. So, I was thinking maybe I shouldn’t do it’. To which she then said, ‘I think you should make your work part of it’.

black socks

These are the only socks that Joel wears. His wife Sarah buys him socks that have his name on them and also say artist and dad © Maryam Eisler

And so, I did and sent my deposit in. As a dealer, I always thought that to have a successful fair, you should have a booth of works you’re really passionate about, and at the time, all I could think about was my own work. And Heather said, ‘Cool! Nobody’s done it before. But, you know, if anybody can pull this off, it’s you ! ‘

ME: Did many people question your decision at the time?
JM: Of course. So many people said ‘why is he doing this? And how?’ I didn’t do it as a trickster thing. It was out of necessity and also because nobody else would show my work.

a red painting in a gallery that says More Joy in blue writing

A work in progress at Joel Mesler’s studio © Maryam Eisler

ME: And, most importantly, believing in your own work? A most courageous public act, in my opinion…
JM: An entire body of work actually came out of that. I only brought in a few paintings and my wife’s ceramics. I sold all the paintings and the ceramics on the first day and was thinking ‘What am I going to do?’ So, I started painting people’s portraits and charged them $50 just to pay for my materials. From that moment, I started an entire new body of work, and now I do portraits and I love doing them, it’s like a performative act.

an artwork of a man with a big nose

Joel in the basement of his studio holding up drawings that might one day be made into a very large book that will take multiple people to turn each page © Maryam Eisler

ME:  The New York Times called your work ‘a post- traumatic allegory styled as alphabetical letters.’ I started reading about your childhood in L.A., your relationship with your parents, your father’s drug abuse, your parents’ divorce, and it made me understand your paintings, just a little better. It seems that first ‘eye candy’ attraction is just the surface but then behind the pool parties, the gloss and the glory, there’s a lot more. You have said it before ‘there’s the happiness, the celebration but then there’s also the loneliness’. Talk to me about that dichotomy.
JM: When I was making work while I was drinking, I used to want to kind of push myself onto the audience. I called it my Jewish expressionist phase and I was like, ‘Oh, my trauma’. And I’m going to show you what my father did to me. The thing is, they were very honest, raw and interesting, but there was no real reason why anybody would want to hang them on their walls because they were actually really scary. As I got older, sober and a little more self-reflective, I realised that within my story, there were many dichotomies. For instance, the pool party: when I was young, my mom would throw pool parties for my brother and I, but also for her friends, and I had no idea what was really going on. All I saw were noodles and floats. But really, it was an excuse for my mother to get the parents together and gossip and drink. And there was this kind of underbelly of something else.

A green, yellow, red and blue painting that says Spiritual Awakening in a gallery

Joel Mesler’s work in progress © Maryam Eisler

There was a darkness there that I sensed intuitively, but I couldn’t define it with words. I didn’t have the language for it. As I grew older, I was able to kind of understand it better and apply and create my own language for it. As I was making work, I still wanted to tap into some of the joy that I experienced as a child too. I also like this idea of service: if I make a painting and I want somebody to hang it on the wall, I’m not going to judge why they’re hanging them on the wall or whether they think it’s beautiful or not. It may mean one thing to them and certainly something else to me.

A man on a chair being def an apple by another man behind him

Joel Mesler and Harper Levine having lunch together © Maryam Eisler

ME: This reminds me of The Eggs Benedict splashed onto the beautiful leafy and lush Beverly Hills Hotel wallpaper. At first, I thought ‘How aesthetically pleasing’, but little did I know about your family feuds related to that exact incident.
JM: Yes, well, that’s the thing. For so long that carried such heaviness, trauma and sadness. I joke about it because if I didn’t, I’d probably still be crying about it. But there is also this sense of emotional, psychological and financial profit from the trauma I was subjected to from my parents. So, I then decided to use those motifs and to reappropriate them for myself and then use them in order to create my own language. I think, it’s not only helped me in my own path, but also in me becoming a better father and gain a better understanding of how to raise my own children. Just being a better person in the world.

ME: Hasn’t this been the case for many creatives throughout history? No creative gain without pain?
JM: For sure and I like the fact that there are many layers to my work. I enjoy knowing that there may be several interpretations of the works- just like the Torah! …many layers of truth and reality.

A man lying on a sofa wearing a blanket with peoples faces on it surrounded by pictures of rabbis

Joel on his napping couch with his Rabbi collection © Maryam Eisler

ME: Your grandfather was a Jewish immigrant who did very well for himself. Can you tell us about how you weave that ethnicity and your Jewish heritage, into your work and your day to day?
JM: I think it’s a very interesting story and Rashid [Johnson] and I speak about this quite often. I think that there’s a really interesting parallel in our lives. I think this idea of the immigrant coming to America and making it through hard work, then the second generation blowing it, and then this third-generation kind of needing to rediscover that identity is really interesting. I’ve been thinking about this a lot: why it matters and how can I psychologically and financially profit from my own trauma? My mother often said, had my father not destroyed our family, I would have probably been a terrible person, but maybe the trauma put me on a very different path that in the end was actually good for me.

A man holding a book with drawings in it

Joel shows a book he is working on. Mesler paints on pre-existing books © Maryam Eisler

ME: You’re here in the heart of East Hampton glitz, and yet you have managed to carve yourself a sanctuary, an oasis of peace ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’. How does space and place influence your work?
JM: It’s amazing because, I had a gallery and that space is now my studio. I just work Monday through Friday. I don’t know how I do it. I just really keep my head down.

Read more: Philanthropy: Nathalie Guiot, The Culture Booster

People really respect the space and the frosted glass helps keep people away! I love being out here. We came out here from the city, and stayed with Rashid at first. I had nowhere else to go. Simple as that.

A rubbish pile in a corner of a room with a book with blue pictures in it

Another book in the corner of Joel Mesler’s studio © Maryam Eisler

ME: There’s also a real creative community of artists and museums out here. It’s equally amazing to witness the proliferation of the bigger brand galleries post- pandemic. Did a lot of people move here during COVID from the city?
JM: Yes, a real creative community formed. It’s also been amazing to have Harper [Levine] out here, even though he initially thought I was foolish to move out here and here we are now, neighbours and friends. said, ‘You know, there are no doctors here. There’s no education here. There are ticks here. There’s Lyme disease…’ But at the end of the day, here we all are!

All photographs were taken by Maryam Eisler

Joel Mesler will be showing at Frieze Seoul with LGDR from September 2- September 5 2022. He will be holding a solo show at the Long Museum in Shanghai, opening in February 2023

 

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Reading time: 10 min
artist in front of mural
artist in front of mural

Artist Shahrzad Ghaffari in front of her work-in-process at Leighton House. Photograph by James Houston

Leighton House, the former home and studio of British artist Frederic Leighton, was once a lively meeting place for artists and writers who would gather beneath the domed ceiling of the elaborate Arab Hall (named after the vast collection of Middle Eastern tiles adorning its walls) to converse and listen to music. Now, a major renovation, including the construction of a new wing, seeks to reestablish the house as a creative hub by inciting a dialogue between its Victorian heritage and contemporary visual culture through a programme of events, exhibitions and artist collaborations. Ahead of its reopening later this year, Millie Walton visited the museum to speak to Shahrzad Ghaffari, the first contemporary artist to be commissioned by Leighton House, and preview her work-in-progress

LUX: Much of your work is inspired by Persian poetry. How do you see the visual medium of painting interacting with poetry?
Shahrzad Ghaffari: Painting has been my passion since I was a child. Everybody always knew what to buy me: paper, crayons, paints. Then, slightly later on, I became interested in poetry and started to read a lot but the two came together when I was experimenting with trying to find my own style in painting, an honest way of expressing what’s within.

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

artist at work

Ghaffari at work. Photograph by James Houston

LUX: Oneness, your mural for Leighton House, is based on a poem by Rumi. What was your process for coming up with the composition?
Shahrzad Ghaffari: I started with the poem in mind, but the shape of the composition took some time to develop through sketching. That said, I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do when I walked into the space. I chose silver for the background, for example, because there’s a lot of gold in the old wing of the house and silver responds to that in a modern way. In a way, I think it also works as a kind of mirror, reflecting the heritage of the house just as the shape of the form mimics the spiral movement of staircase. The textured surface, however, makes reference to the notion of history. I built it up in layers of acrylic paint mixed with mediums, but nothing is scraped away. Each layer is applied on top of the next and has its own story. Then, the turquoise I’ve used for the abstract form is traditionally the colour of hope in Persian culture, but it also pays homage to the turquoise tiles in the Arab hall while the bits of burnt orange that you can glimpse through the background are supposed to represent the red bricks of the building’s facade.

LUX: Have you painted a mural of this scale before?
Shahrzad Ghaffari: No, I haven’t and it has been quite challenging! I originally intended to project the calligraphy onto the wall, which is what you would normally do with a mural so that you can then trace it, but I couldn’t because the space is so tight. Instead, I made a grid and did everything by hand. That said, it has been a lot of fun too, especially painting the upper part near the skylight at the top of the stairs.

wall mural

A render of Oneness by Shahrzad Ghaffari. Courtesy of Leighton House

LUX: In a more general sense, what role do you think public art can, or should play?
Shahrzad Ghaffari: As the name suggests, public art is for the public so it must be able to connect with its audience, which, in this case, are the visitors to the museum. I also think it needs to be loud enough or perhaps, unusual enough to make people pause in front of it, to pull them out of their everyday life and to convey its message in just a few seconds. In a way, public art acts like a bridge between architecture and the public because it echoes what the architecture wants to convey but often, in a more accessible way.

Read more: The Best Exhibitions to see in March 

LUX: Which artists or movements have influenced your practice?
Shahrzad Ghaffari: When I was younger, I was quite heavily influenced by Impressionism. When I was studying art they would make us copy classical works and so, when I first encountered the looseness of Impressionism it felt very freeing. I think that had, and continues to have a big influence on my work. Also, the light! I always try to incorporate something that reflects light, like the silver I’ve used in Oneness. I remember first seeing Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss and feeling so drawn to it for that same reason.

LUX: What is it about paint, as a material, that appeals to you?
Shahrzad Ghaffari: I use paint for two reasons. The first is to create something very visually strong. I want to engage the viewer, to captivate them. But I also use it to reflect my emotions. I used to mainly paint with oil and I recently changed to working with acrylic for the practical reason that I live in Canada and oil takes ages to dry, but using acrylic has also changed the way I work because you have to paint very quickly.

artist portrait

Photograph by James Houston

LUX: Do you have to be in a particular state of mind to create?
Shahrzad Ghaffari: Yes. I can’t just sit and start painting. For me, [the creative process] starts with a strong feeling. It could be happiness, for example. Then, I take the brush and I start to act upon that feeling, usually very quickly. The mural is different because the composition is planned, but usually I have  three or four canvases that I’m working on simultaneously and that helps me because I might not be in the mood to work with red paint, for example.

LUX: Do you paint every day?
Shahrzad Ghaffari: Even if I’m not painting, I show up in my studio every day. Maybe, I’ll write something down instead, but I have to show up. That’s very important.

LUX: What else do you have coming up?
Shahrzad Ghaffari: I have a show of my works here at Leighton House, when then museum reopens, and I’m also looking into exploring NFTs – mainly out of curiosity. I think as an artist, you should always be open to everything, to exploring all the tools that are on offer. That’s what it’s all about it, it’s what motivates you to keep making. Where curiosity stops, the creative process ends.

To find out more about Leighton House, visit: rbkc.gov.uk/museums/

Follow Shahrzad Ghaffari on Instagram: @shahrzadghaffariart

 

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Reading time: 5 min
graphic painting of glasses
graphic painting of glasses

© The artist, courtesy of the artist and Gagosian. Photo Mike Bruce.

man and woman in front of artworkIn the mid 1960s, Michael Craig Martin emerged as a key figure in early British conceptual art, later becoming the teacher of many of the YBAs such as Damien Hirst and Sarah Lucas. Today, he is one of the world’s most prominent artists, known for his brightly coloured paintings and sculptures of everyday objects. Millie Walton speaks with him about colour, style and listening to his own advice

1. By focusing on everyday objects, are you searching for a kind of universality?

Everyday objects do seem to me to offer a path to understanding the universal. By making drawings of as many objects as I can, one by one, I have tried to implicitly account for everything. I have discounted all the hierarchies by which we normally categorise things: size, use, materials, social importance, aesthetic quality, monetary value, moral worth, etc. I draw everything the same way, each with equal care and attention – a democracy of images.

2. Do you recreate the objects from memory or are they drawn from life?

I never draw from memory, only from the observation of an individual object.

3. Are the objects you use as subjects artworks in themselves?

With a few exceptions, such as Duchamp’s urinal or Magritte’s pipe, the objects I draw are not artworks. My drawings of them are.

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4. You’ve said before that incorporating colour into your work was a breakthrough moment. How so?

I discovered that I could unsettle the familiarity of the drawing of an object by introducing non-naturalistic, wayward, intense colour. The drawing is logical, general, bland, familiar; the colour instinctive, specific, vivid, unexpected. This confrontation gave my work a new visual impact and emotional intensity.

5. In aiming for what you’ve termed ‘no style’, you have created a style that is now widely recognised as yours. Has this changed your attitude towards what style means?

Yes. I used to look on style as a kind of self-conscious ‘arty’ signature. Now, I see that it can be the manifestation of the essential characteristics of one’s visual language.

6. Did teaching art at Goldsmiths College affect your own practice?

Yes, because, at best, I saw my teaching as virtually an extension of my practice. One thing I discovered was to always listen to the advice I was giving my students, as it was often the advice I wished to hear myself, but couldn’t do so directly.

digital artwork

Michael Craig Martin, Oxford Street Installation. © The artist, courtesy of the artist and Gagosian. Photo Mike Bruce.

7. How do you decide what to create next?

My work is a continuum. I work on many things at the same time. One thing leads to another. Work comes from work.

8. Is it important for you to be surrounded by your own artworks?

It’s not important, but I am happy, these days, to have some works hanging in my own apartment. In general, I quickly lose interest in a work I’ve just completed because I’m working on something else. I don’t like having much finished work in the studio, but I often do. Unexpectedly coming across something you did years ago, and have forgotten, can be very rewarding.

9. Are you interested in exploring more digital tools within your practice?

I have done quite a lot of digital work over the years, the first in 2000, I think. I develop all my work on a computer and what I do is well suited to digital productions. There are things one can do digitally involving change and movement that other mediums don’t allow.

red bulb sculpture

Michael Craig Martin, Bulb (red), 2011 © The artist, courtesy of the artist and Gagosian. Photo Mike Bruce.

10. Do you create commissioned work?

I always consider commissions. Some I accept, some I don’t. It’s interesting to consider something you wouldn’t have thought of yourself.

11. What led you to transform your drawings into transparent sculptures?

Two-dimensional images normally need a material ‘ground’ (paper, canvas, screen and so on) to exist at all. Making my drawings out of steel means they can be self-supporting and therefore dispense with the need for a ‘ground’, thus appearing transparent.

12. Are your works intended to provoke a particular reaction in the viewer?

I try to make work that catches the eye and the imagination of as many viewers as possible. I never seek a particular reaction, but try to provide the provocation for individual, personal speculation.

This article was originally published in the Autumn/Winter 2021 issue.

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Reading time: 3 min
painter in the studio
painter in the studio

Georg Karl Pfahler in his studio, 1965

Our contributing editor and columnist Sophie Neuendorf caught up with renowned Mayfair gallerist Simon Lee to discuss the Asian art market, NFTs and the enduring influence of Georg Karl Pfahler

Sophie Neuendorf

Simon Lee has always been at the forefront of artistic movements and changes in taste, showing emerging and established artists that represent the zeitgeist and rapidly gain popularity. Now, he’s presenting the first ever exhibition of German hard-edge painter GK Pfahler (1946-2002) in Asia.

Pfahler’s dogged pursuit of the hard-edge style make him one of the most unique German artists of the last half century. Throughout his career, his work remained steadfastly focused on the interplay of space, shape and colour. At the same time, his paintings contain traces of pop and minimal art, unifying two of the most prevalent styles of the 1960s.

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

During his lifetime, Pfahler exhibited alongside artists such as Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly, and Kenneth Noland in shows such as “Signale” at the Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland and  went on to represent Germany alongside Gunther Uecker and Heinz Mack at the Venice Biennale in 1970. In the decades that followed, Pfahler continued to experiment with the constraints and boundaries of painting and today, his work remains more relevant and perhaps, even more cutting-edge than much of the contemporary art being shown and hyped.

Sophie Neuendorf: 2021 has been quite a tumultuous year for most galleries. How do you feel about the changes we have experienced within the art business?
Simon Lee: The pandemic has given rise to some fundamental shifts in the way art is mediated and bought. Online sales have greatly expanded the reach of the art market and we have seen a corresponding shift in taste and commercial success.

Sophie Neuendorf: Recent reports suggest that Asia is a force to be reckoned with in terms of creativity and sales, even post-pandemic. What insights can you reveal from your years of experience in Hong Kong?
Simon Lee: Asia has seen tremendous developments across many industries over recent years and I think that the overall growth in the economy, alongside technological advancements and adaptation has contributed to the flourishing creativity seen in the art world. There has been a huge increase in young collectors and the interest in art of this young and active group of people has risen exponentially as their taste becomes increasingly sophisticated and international. The pandemic inevitably provided people with more time on the internet and social media platforms to discover new artists and experience art in a different way.

graphic painting

Sophie Neuendorf: You’re opening a show of German artist Georg Karl Pfahler in Hong Kong this month. What motivated you to choose a hard-edge painter for Asian collectors?
Simon Lee: It’s very exciting to be presenting Pfahler’s work for the first time in Asia and to introduce him as part of the gallery programme with his inaugural exhibition in the Hong Kong space. The language of abstraction and colour in Pfahler’s work is of historical importance but it also feels very contemporary and is something that Asian collectors engage with well. Pfahler is a very well-known artist in Germany but hasn’t had much exposure in other parts of the world so it’s a privilege to give the opportunity for an Asian audience to discover his work.

Read more: Shiny Surfaces, Lawsuits & Pink Inflatable Rabbits – In Conversation with Jeff Koons

Sophie Neuendorf: Pfahler was, and continues to be, an inspiration for many artists as a pioneering hard-edge painter. When was the first time you experienced one of his works and how does it feel to represent the estate?
Simon Lee: Pfahler’s work has had a lingering presence in my career dating back to the 80s and 90s, when I spent a lot of time in Germany and first discovered his work. Over the years I saw his works pass through auction houses and when the opportunity came along to view his work again, I found them very compelling and relative to the gallery programme. It’s a pleasure to be working with the estate and I’ve been particularly impressed with how organised they are. There are fascinating archival materials and historical documents, which we are excited to share with a wider audience across our platforms and publications.

Sophie Neuendorf: Are you planning a London show of Pfahler as well?
Simon Lee: Yes, we look forward to presenting a more comprehensive survey show next Spring in the London space.

Sophie Neuendorf: If you could juxtapose Pfahler with any two other artists who would you choose?
Simon Lee: Looking at our programme, I would say Angela Bulloch and Sarah Crowner. Pfahler, Bulloch, and Crowner’s practices all present similar investigations into colour, shape and space. There are spatial and architectural elements in all their works. Crowner embraces the idea of painting as object and her works embody the experience of architecture and space both within themselves and their display, especially her tile works that echo Pfahler’s experiments with environments and art, and which embrace the spectator. Bulloch’s work also engages with architecture, colour, and mathematics, her stylised geometry recourse some aspects of Pfahler’s hard-edge sensibility.

blue abstract painting

Sophie Neuendorf: Richter, Uecker, Mack, Pfahler… Germany is known for producing a plethora of important and popular artists. How do you feel the German market will develop over the near future?
Simon Lee: The German market is constantly evolving. It’s a large nation with many talented artists and many young artists that are gaining a lot of attention. There’s a great tradition of German modern and contemporary art which has transcended national boundaries so I’m sure the market will reflect this. The art market has become truly global, reinforced by digital communication but there are certainly many talented German artists playing a role at the forefront of this market.

Read more: Maryam Eisler’s Spectacular New Photography Exhibition Opens At Linley In London

Sophie Neuendorf: NFTs are all the rage right now. Will you enter the market?
Simon Lee: We’re certainly exploring the opportunities that exist in this sector and market. There seems to be a growing recognition of the fact that NFTs will be a feature of an emerging mainstream market.

Sophie Neuendorf: How do you choose the artists you represent? Is it a gut feeling or more analytical?
Simon Lee: It’s neither one nor the other but a combination of many factors that play a role in selecting our artists. Certain people carry more weight than others with their recommendations but, it’s most important to consider the overall gallery programme and the connection to our other artists. I look at both our established artists and emerging artists to see how their practices and works link together. It’s interesting to me to observe this in artists that are at different points of their career.

Sophie Neuendorf: If you could have dinner with any 3 artists, living or dead, who would you choose and why?
Simon Lee: I’ve dined with many great living artists and sadly some dead ones as well, but of those who I’ve never met and are no longer with us, I would say Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Titian as I love Italian food. Other scenarios would have to include Rothko, de Kooning, and Pollock or Cézanne, Monet, and Kandinsky.

“Georg Karl Pfahler” runs until 8 January 2022 at Simon Lee Hong Kong.

Sophie Neuendorf is Vice President at artnet. Find out more: artnet.com

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artist portrait

artist in her studio

In our ongoing online series, renowned art consultant Maria-Theresia Mathisen profiles rising contemporary artists to watch in 2021. Here, she speaks to British artist Antonia Showering about her inspirations, technique and the London art scene

As is so often the case these days, I first discovered Antonia Showering’s work on Instagram. It was serendipitous to meet her in person not long after, at a lunch at Timothy Taylor gallery. We sat right across from each other and found out that we happen to be neighbours in North London.

Antonia’s paintings are contemporary yet classical – Les Nabis, a group of young French painters working in the late 19th century who played a key role in transitioning from Impressionism to Symbolism and later, to Abstraction, are one of her key sources of inspiration.

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

To me, Antonia’s work feels symbolist in the way she expresses emotion rather than representing specific events. At the same time, her paintings tend to be based on lived experiences and real encounters while her abstract use of colour is sometimes reminiscent of Etel Adnan.

Ahead of a solo exhibition with Timothy Taylor gallery next year, I visited her East London studio (which is, coincidentally, opposite Sofia Mitsola’s studio whom I interviewed earlier this year) to view her latest works and discuss her process.

LUX: To me, your work feels like it’s embedded in classical painting as your subjects are quite traditional: landscapes, people and sometimes, dogs. What period of art history is most inspiring to you?
Antonia Showering: From a young age I have repeatedly painted significant figures inhabiting personal landscapes, but I can see what you mean about there being a classical element to the chosen imagery in my work, especially with the recurring motif of water and people bathing although this is perhaps more closely linked to how I feel adults behave when they are in water: they bob and splash around in a playful, clumsy, almost childlike way. It feels as if lakes, ponds and rivers are spaces where we are allowed to become infants again, even if just for a moment. Les Nabis are a group from the late 1800s who depict people bathing beautifully. I really enjoy the way these artists handled colour and how the human figure was simplified.

abstract painting

Antonia Showering, We Stray, 2020. Photo © White Cube (Ollie Hammick)

LUX: Who are your favourite artists?
Antonia Showering: There are so many! Piero della Francesca for his depiction of the face; Edward Munch for his timeless, transcending handling of emotion; Leonor Fini for her exploration of fantasy; Andrew Wyeth for his narratives; and Alice Neel for how she captured relationships between sitters as well as more contemporary painters like Hurvin Anderson, Tracey Emin, Tim Stoner, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Celia Paul and Chantal Joffe.

Read more: In conversation with the world’s most expensive living artist Jeff Koons

LUX: Let’s talk about your own cultural heritage. What’s your background?
Antonia Showering: The majority of my childhood was spent in Somerset where my father’s family are from, while my mother’s parents lived in London – they played a huge role in my discovery of art. My Swiss grandmother was a history of art teacher for many years and she married my grandfather, who’s Chinese, in the 1960s. He was an architect and a phenomenal draughtsman who taught me how to draw. I have many memories visiting them as a child – their house was very minimal with no clutter and definitely no toys, so I would occupy myself by drawing families, cutting them out and playing with them. I really enjoyed creating these new worlds where the possibilities within them were endless.

artist studio

Antonia’s studio in East London

LUX: What do you want to express through your work?
Antonia Showering: I want my paintings to capture the mood of transitory moments where trauma, worries and hopeful possibilities can coexist in one moment or image. I see the canvas as a physical space where feelings of belonging or displacement, love or loneliness, intergenerational memory, superstitions and regrets can be turned into something visual and shared with the viewer. Giving exact details of who the characters in my paintings are and what the objects included mean is something I try to avoid because it prevents ambiguity and often the meaning of the painting can shift and adopt new connotations over time. I also find other people’s interpretations of my work interesting and important. It reminds me of when several people recall an event and how much they all differ from one another; this slippage of memory is fascinating and a big part of my work.

figurative painting

Antonia Showering, Je t’aime, 2018

LUX: Who are the people in your paintings?
Antonia Showering: They are almost always people I know. Sometimes I only learn who the characters in my paintings are months after making the work. However, as mentioned in my previous answer, I think it is important for me to not to be too direct in saying “This is a painting of my younger brother holding his daughter” because it closes off the image to the viewer. A parent holding a child is a universal motif and one at some point in our lives we may have observed and taken away something from a comparable moment. Although my works are dealing with significant personal recollections, fears or imaginings once the painting begins to develop it becomes its own entity and holds a new meaning for both me and the person viewing the work.

Read more: Sophie Neuendorf on New Wave Collecting

LUX: Can you tell me a bit about your painting process?
Antonia Showering: My paintings go through quite a few different stages. After I stretch the canvas, I lay it flat on the floor and add a layer of distemper (sizer with white pigment). This is poured, dripped and applied very automatically and once this dries I used these initial marks to direct me to the first of many compositions. The paintings often begin as abstract images where I am solely focusing on colour relationships and marks. It isn’t until later that I focus on the figures that populate these spaces and their own relationships. I want to try to build atmospheres within the landscapes or domestic settings.

artist studio

LUX: How do you decide when a painting is finished?
Antonia Showering: I wish I was someone who confidently daubs their final mark and stands back and says, “Yes, that’s finished” but in reality, I am a lot more hesitant. As the painting draws to an end, I have noticed the speed at which marks are added dramatically slows down. I know a painting is finished because the feeling I wanted to make visual is there in front of me, but I will still spend hours debating whether a thin, barely noticeable mark needs to stay or go. I think this is because a part of me enjoyed the journey and challenges of making the work so much that when I finally arrive at the finishing point there is a small feeling of attachment as well as relief.

LUX: Do you listen to music or podcasts while you paint?
Antonia Showering: I almost always listen to music – I find podcasts a little distracting. A song I have been binging on recently is called ‘Dance With Me’ by Deux.

abstract art

Antonia Showering, Be You, 2019. Photo © Choi and Lager

LUX: Who is your London peer group? You mentioned to me before that you have critiquing sessions?
Antonia Showering: I studied art in London for seven years and over that time, I have built lots of special friendships with other artists and people in the art world. Before the pandemic a few of us had a crit group where we would visit each other’s studios and talk about new work. The group included Sofia Mitsola, Emma Fineman, Patrick Jones, Alvin Ong and Kostas Sklaventis. It is important to have a space to discuss our practices in that way because it can be very isolating spending all day and night in the studio!

I have also been in a couple of shows put on by Max Prus with Jack Killick and Hannah Bays. There are a lot of exciting people making work in London right now and I’m glad to be a part of it. Katy Hessel has become a close friend of mine and she organised a residency in Italy at Palazzo Monti in 2018 with Flora Yukhnovich and Kate Dunn whose paintings I admire. I also love the work of Diane Chappalley, Ben Jamie, Laurence Owen and too many others to mention.

Find out more: antoniashowering.co.uk

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Reading time: 7 min

Auctioneer Oliver Barker directing Sotheby’s global e-auctions. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Following the announcement of Sotheby’s Cologne office, artnet’s Vice President and LUX columnist Sophie Neuendorf discusses shifting collecting habits and the potential for Germany to become a key player in the art world

The recent news that Sotheby’s is opening an office in Cologne, Germany has made waves internationally but also ruffled a few feathers within the German market. However, given the ramifications of Brexit, which is making import and export transactions much more cumbersome, it’s hardly a surprising decision. Christie’s has been steadily strengthening its presence Paris over the last few years and Amsterdam is much smaller in terms of buyer opportunities so the EU’s largest country in terms of size and economic strength seems the logical choice for Sotheby’s.

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According to the auction house, “German collectors remain essential to Sotheby’s business, featuring in the list of top ten countries most actively buying and selling in Sotheby’s sales for the past three years.” In this light, it’s hard to imagine that the aim of the opening is centred solely around the potential of new collectors, but what is of interest is the abundance of private collections in Germany, which provide ample opportunities for acquiring unique and unseen masterpieces.

Germany is renowned for its impressive history of supporting the arts, from fine arts to music or literature. Many of the most important art collections worldwide are located in Germany, and quite a few of these marvellous collections will be handed down to the next generation before too long.

pop art exhibition

Neuendorf Gallery pop art exhibition 1964 in Hamburg, Germany.

“The German art market is outstanding in Europe with its strong collectors on the one hand and its internationally sought-after artists on the other,” comments Alice von Seldeneck of Germany’s prestigious Lempertz auction house. “After Brexit and the uncertainties and costs associated with it, it was a logical conclusion to establish another foothold on the continent. We had expected this to happen much sooner.”

Read more: The art of cross-collecting by Philip Hewat-Jaboor

According to artnet data, German collectors have historically favoured Impressionist and Modern art, closely followed by Post War and Old Masters paintings. Now, these same categories are tied to tedious export rules and regulations, newly introduced by Germany’s culture minister (ostensibly to protect Germany’s cultural heritage), which are suppressing international trade. The fourth most popular collecting category is Contemporary Art, which is much easier to buy and sell internationally. With the rise of the new millennial generation of collectors, perhaps the German market is primed for a shift in wealth and collecting habits?

graph showing art sales

Infographic courtesy of artnet

Germany ranks 4th in terms of sales in western countries after the United States, the United Kingdom, and France (source: art net). “In 2020, 40% of German bidders were new to the company, while the number of German buyers in online sales tripled, ” revealed a spokesperson from Sotheby’s. With many of Europe’s hottest emerging artists flocking to Berlin, it’s only a matter of time until the country becomes a hot spot in terms of Contemporary and Ultra Contemporary art.

“Berlin is an ideal combination of a strong primary and secondary market with different generations of collectors,” says von Seldeneck. “The strong consignments from abroad show us how highly regarded the German art market is internationally.”

graph showing highest paid artists

Infographic courtesy of artnet

The city is a place of inspiration for many creatives from around the world as reflected by the plethora of blue chip galleries that have recently opened in the German capital. Four of the world’s top earning artists – Gerhard Richter, Georg Baselitz, Anselm Kiefer, and Frank Auerbach – are also Germany-based. But will this rise in popularity be reflected in actual sales and growth of the market?

Read more: The gastronomic delights of Suvretta House, Switzerland

According to Berlin-based gallerist and former BVDG (German Association of Galleries) board member Klaus Gerrit Friese, the entry of Sotheby’s into the German market is a testament to the country’s strength and potential for growth. “I’m very positive about the future of the German art market. The new generation of gallerists have developed radically new ideas about viewing and selling art, which goes hand in hand with the rise of millennial collectors. So, the real potential lies in the Contemporary and Ultra Contemporary market, where I have observed a lot of upward movement in Germany over the past few years,” he says.

While Germany seems primed to become one of the world’s most important countries in terms of both creativity and sales, it remains to be seen whether the coming generational change and shift in collecting preferences will propel the country into the upper echelons of the market.

Follow Sophie Neuendorf on Instagram: @sophieneuendorf

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Reading time: 4 min
digital flower
digital flower
Spearheaded by collector and patron Kamiar Maleki, Present the Future is a hybrid artist residency, that brings together British musician Tinie Tempah and French-Iranian artist Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar in the creation of audio-visual NTF artworks. As the project kicks off in the South of France, LUX discovers more

There are few places that would make a more idyllic setting for an artist residency than the French Riviera and this is exactly where French-Iranian artist Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar and British musician Tinie Tempah have set up base – at the Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat, to be precise – for seven intense days of creative collaboration from 7 to 13 June.

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While it might all sound a little grand, the luscious landscapes and vibrant colours of the Côte d’Azur have been attracting artists and writers for centuries. On his arrival in 1917, Matisse was so taken with the sun-drenched vistas that he decided to settle in the south of France for the rest of his life. Years later, Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar found himself similarly drawn to the timeless Mediterranean landscape and now lives and works in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. Collaborating with hip-hop pioneer Tinie Tempah, however, is something new and altogether unexpected for the painter.

“Having been in a creative dialogue with Tinie for the past year, we wanted to work on a project together, and during a conversation with curator and fair director Kamiar Maleki, and after meeting Dumi Oburota [Tinie’s manager] we came up with the idea of establishing an artist residency that was not just focused on the traditional art form but also interlinked the contemporary, music and digital worlds together into a hybrid collaboration never seen before,” he says.

floral painting

Pink Future, Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar (top), and the painting’s digital transformation into an NFT artwork

“We are both music and art lovers and share in common that nomadic lifestyle,” adds the musician. “After picking up some of Sassan’s work last year, we discussed working on something game changing together, and here we are.”

Read more: Speaking with America’s new art icon Rashid Johnson

The audio-visual NTFs works created during the residency will build on Behnam-Bakhtiar’s signature painting style of peinture raclée and his recurring floral symbols, and will be presented alongside a live music and spoken word performance by Tinie Tempah, and a panel discussion moderated by art auctioneer Simon de Pury. Future residencies are also planned, but the locations are yet to be revealed.

“Our goal is to present to the world’s first hybrid digital / physical NFT production and minting experience, combining the work of two immensely important artistic visionaries in a setting that promises to instil a sense of awe and wonder, inspiring in the process new levels of conviviality and creativity,” says the project’s curator Kamiar Maleki.

The works created during the project will be auctioned via the Nifty Gateway platform starting on 21 July 2021.

For more information, visit: presentthefuture.art

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exhibition installation
exhibition installation

Installation view of A History Untold curated by Lisa Anderson at Signature African Art London. Photo © Mora Ltd

Lisa Anderson is an independent curator and the founder of the Instagram account @blackbritishart, which she uses as a platform to promote the work of Black British artists, past and present. Following the opening of her latest curatorial project, A History Untold at Signature African Art London, LUX speaks to her about art as an educational tool, the role of social media and the exhibitions she’s looking forward to seeing

Lisa Anderson

1. What led you to set up the Black British Art Instagram account?

Back in 2015 when I created @blackbritishart, the visibility of Black British artists on Instagram was nothing like it is today. There simply were not as many artists online and there was no access to a fluid, intergenerational conversation about Black British art practice on the platform that brought together the works of established pioneers, alongside the exciting waves of emerging talent.

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

As an art nerd, who enjoyed following accounts that featured artists across the African Diaspora globally (Europe, the United States of America, the Caribbean etc) and from across the African continent,  I desperately wanted to see an account that championed the variety of black artistic practice in the UK, reflecting the tapestry of works they create across the mediums of painting, drawing, digital art, sculpture, assemblage, collage, textile art, ceramics, and film. I knew the artists were out there, but there was a big digital hole on Instagram, so I decided to fill it.

When I started the platform, no one had yet claimed the hashtag #blackbritishart. There are now tens of thousands of works tagged, which I’m proud to have contributed towards. So, the genesis was curatorial curiosity and passion for celebrating the depth and breadth of fine art produced by Black artists in the United Kingdom – past, present, existing, and persisting.

2. Do you think social media is making art more accessible?

Undoubtedly. Through hashtags and the networked nature of these platforms, you can scroll your way through to an education in your favoured corner, or corners of the art world. I built Black British Art up by finding artists this way and exploring the artists, gallerists, curators, writers they were connected to. As Instagram, in particular, has evolved, the content has expanded beyond just the image or film content. It has become even more informational. Some Instagram pages are designed specifically to promote and educate followers about arts events or provide accessible show reviews through accounts such as @thewhitepube, which is one of my favourites. I have discovered and connected personally with artists online whose works I’ve bought, sold, and featured in exhibitions, such as Enam Gbewonyo and Irvin Pascal. Earlier this year there was also a huge boom in global arts networking through ClubHouse, which allowed arts enthusiasts to access, previously quite exclusive conversations about the art market that have empowered some emerging collectors to make more confident forays into their collecting journeys. And I don’t think the gold rush for NFT Art would have been possible without social media.

3. Tell us about your curation process for A History Untold at Signature African Art. How did you go about selecting the participating artists/works?

The brief for the exhibition stems from the failure of the British educational system to address British history in a truly inclusive and authentic way. In a way that honours all its citizens, thereby fostering respect the variety of cultures and ethnicities represented in modern Britain. In this case our focus is on the absence of a more holistic, complicated approach to Africa in the educational system. Our exhibition tackles this by choosing artists across the African continent and from the African Diaspora in the UK, whose works speak to under-examined areas of history such as Africa’s contribution to the study of mathematics, metallurgy, the development of paper for writing, the political power of jazz music as well as the contribution of African colonial subjects to the building of modern Europe through their efforts in the Second World War. We wanted to choose artists from various countries, whose practice resonated with these themes and art mediums.

two hanging paintings

4. The exhibition aims to reveal the lesser-known stories of Black history. In developing the show, did you personally learn anything new?

Prior to the show I didn’t know about the Ishango bone and the relevance this has as a marker of mathematic knowledge in the world. It’s such a beguiling and profound artefact. Perhaps the oldest mathematical artefact in existence, unearthed in 1950 in the then Belgian colony of the Congo (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) and dated to the Upper Paleolithic Period of human history, approximately 20,000-25,000 years ago. This is why I think art should be used more in education. Once you learn about the Ishango bone, it explodes so many myths about where ancient knowledge comes from. It was also interesting to learn more about the variety of African civilisations that developed mastery of metallurgy.

Read more: Director of The Stand Beth Greenacre on the rise of buying art online

In terms of more contemporary history, however, one of the most moving discoveries was the personal histories of the black British artists in the show, Adelaide Damoah and Peter Adjaye, who are collaborating on a sculptural and sound piece. Their work explores the personal legacy of colonialism, as both have Ghanaian ancestors who fought for the second world war. I vaguely knew about the contributions made to the World War efforts by colonial subjects, however, learning the personal stories of these artists has redoubled my commitment to learn and share more about this history.

mixed media artwork

Damilola Okhoya, Once Upon a Time Under the Blue Skies I, 2021

5. How effective is art as an educational tool?

I believe art is one of the most powerful educational tools, because of its capacity to represent both real life and conceptual ideas in profound and transformational ways. Whether it’s a painting depicting the horrors and madness of war, a sculpture depicting the beauty of the human form, a picture of flowers conveying lost love, or a film work depicting the terror of racial violence, artwork can leave an emotional, intellectual and spiritual imprint that leaves you changed forever. I developed a whole new appreciation of my vulnerability to responsibility for nature’s cycles and the power of the sun after I experienced Olafur Eliasson’s Weather Project at the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2003. Truly one of my most treasured art experiences. For this reason and many more examples, I could provide, I believe that art was woefully under-utilised as a resource for basic education in my time. But I think the digital realm makes this much more plausible for future generations.

6. Now that museums and galleries have reopened, what are you most looking forward to seeing?

I’m so glad you asked that; I’ve been starved of seeing art in the flesh. There are countless shows I’m looking forward to. Through my Black British Art platform, I promote a list of shows to see that include works from black British artists. This month, I’m especially looking forward to a couple of group shows in London: Self Portrait, featuring a group of black female photographers, on show at Ronan McKenzie’s art space called Home and Citizens of Memory at The Perimeter curated by Aindrea Emelife. I’ve still not seen Lynette Yiadom Boakye’s show at the Tate Modern and really want to see the James Barnor show at the Serpentine. Further afield, I would highly recommend Phoebe Boswell’s show at the New Art Exchange in Nottingham.

“A History Untold”, presented by Maro Itoje and curated by Lisa Anderson features works by Giggs Kgole, Djakou Kassi Nathalie, Steve Ekpenisi, Damilola Okhoya, Adelaide Damoah and Peter Adjaye. The exhibition runs until 19 June at Signature African Art, Mayfair, London. For more information, visit: signatureafricanart.com

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Reading time: 6 min
vibrant painting of flowers
artist at work in the studio

Orlanda Broom in her studio in Hampshire

British artist Orlanda Broom paints lush, saturated landscapes that celebrate the beauty and wilderness of nature. Candice Tucker visited the artist at Grove Square Galleries, where her work is currently on display, to discuss her painting processes, artistic influences and visions of a rewilded planet

1. How do you typically begin a new body of work?

I tend to work on a few paintings at one time so a body of work tends to naturally come about. I start by putting a lot of paint down on the canvas, and its quite an organic process in that I don’t know what the painting is going to look like at the end. I tend to go with what’s happening on the canvas and then work back from that. The composition will suggest itself once I’ve got quite a few layers of paints down; I will find parts of it that seem to suggest a tree or light or a mountain range, so it’s quite abstract to a point and then I try to organise it.

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

2. What draws you to paint with such a vibrant colour palette?

I have always loved colour, and my paintings have always been led almost entirely by colour. In this recent body of work, I think I’ve really ranked up the colour because of the situation that we are in. Everything has felt quite heavy and I think I needed to inject a bit of positivity. It gave me a lot of pleasure to work with fluorescent paints and also, it’s a challenge working with those much brighter colours because it can be more difficult to make things work.

vibrant painting of flowers

Pink Seekers, 2021, Orlanda Broom

3. Can you tell us a bit about your current exhibition and your portrayal of nature?

The exhibition title is Rewild. I’ve always painted landscapes that aren’t particularly fixed in a point of time and there aren’t any human elements – no structures, no animals – so the question has always been posed: when is this? With these new works, I am answering that question which is: this is the future and this is what I see potentially happening in terms of climate change. It is probably a vision of far, far into the future when wilderness has come back.

Read more: Philip Hewat-Jaboor on how to discover art through materials

4. What role do you think art can play in wider conversations around the environment?

I think it’s up to all of us; it’s something that we all have to address in the way we are moving about the planet and what we’re doing. I don’t think art has to consider these issues, but in a more general sense, we need to change what we’re doing and perhaps, the pandemic has helped. If there is a positive take out of this situation, it’s that things have had to stop and maybe we are realising that we can do things differently. Art fairs, for example, can be online and although it’s not the same, it has shown people that you don’t need to fly to New York when you have a meeting because you can do it on Zoom. That sort of thing will hopefully continue.

exhibition installation

Installation view of Orlanda Broom: Rewild at Grove Square Galleries. Photograph by Paul Aitchison

5. How has the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns affected your creativity?

I don’t live in London anymore, I moved out to Hampshire a few years ago, so for me, personally, it had very little impact because I carried on working in my isolated studio. It almost felt like luxury. I always work hard, but it felt like a privilege to have the time to work.

6. Are there any artists, living or dead, who have particularly influenced your work?

That’s an easy and impossible question to answer because there are so many. The beauty of Instagram, for example, is that you can find amazing artists that you wouldn’t know. There are just so many people out there. In terms of artists that I have loved and that have stayed with me from art college years, there are colourists like Gillian Ayres, Albert Irvin and David Hockney. I also love surrealism, artists such as Leonora Carrington. There are so many…

“Orlanda Broom: Rewild” runs until 11 June 2021 at Grove Square Galleries. For more information, visit: grovesquaregalleries.com

 

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collage artwork
portrait of artist in her studio

Iranian artist Arghavan Khosravi

In our ongoing online series, renowned art consultant Maria-Theresia Mathisen profiles rising contemporary artists to watch in 2021. Here, she speaks to New York-based Iranian artist Arghavan Khosravi about the power of visual metaphors, juxtaposing imagery and how her work reflects on her experiences of growing up in Iran

Maria-Theresia Mathisen

Arghavan Khosravi’s work is not only visually compelling but also loaded with socio-political commentary. I discovered her work in late 2019, a few months before the pandemic, on Instagram and was immediately taken by it. Bright colours and smooth skin are juxtaposed with uncanny elements such as ankle bonds, bombs, fragments of sculptures, shattered structures, ropes and keys. There are recurring symbols for censorship, such as locks, masks and bonds, reflecting the artist’s experience of growing up in Iran.

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

Over time, I noticed that her compositions are becoming increasingly complex, and her paintings more and more sculptural. Arghavan is very ambitious and curious, constantly developing her practice, as if she is trying to solve a problem, or perhaps find a solution to some of Iran’s, or even the world’s problems.

To me, Arghavan’s work feels extremely important right now as it tackles human rights issues with a particular focus on the oppression of women in autocratic systems.

mixed media painting

Arghavan Khosravi, The Key, 2021. Courtesy the artist and Rachel Uffner Gallery

LUX: You are born and raised in Iran. When did you move to the US and why?
Arghavan Khosravi: I was born in Iran and spent almost my whole life there. In 2015, I came to the US to go to graduate school.

LUX: Was it a culture shock?
Arghavan Khosravi: To be honest, I didn’t face that much of a culture shock. I think nowadays, with globalisation and the internet, people from all over the world that are coming from similar cultural classes and generations have lifestyles that are not hugely different. The only thing that I can think of, which still wasn’t a culture shock, but a huge difference (and relief) was that in the US I could wear whatever I want in public; there was no more compulsory hijab (which is an unjust law for women in Iran).

mixed media artwork

Arghavan Khosravi, Connection, 2020. Courtesy Carl Kostyál Gallery

LUX: You have four degrees, two from Iran and two from the US. Why did you choose to do both undergrad and graduate degrees again in the US?
Arghavan Khosravi: I actually have three degrees. I got my BFA in Graphic Design and MFA in Illustration both in Tehran. After being a graphic designer for almost 10 years I decided to pursue my dream of becoming a painter and moved to the US, but since I didn’t have much professional or academic experience in that field, I decided to apply for a one-year non-degree post-bacc program in studio arts at Brandeis University (Waltham, Massachusetts). Over the course of that one year, I could make a body of work which enabled me to apply to a few graduate programs. Eventually, I ended up in Rhode Island School of Design’s graduate painting program.

three-dimensional painting

Arghavan Khosravi, On Being a Woman, 2021. Courtesy the artist and Rachel Uffner Gallery

LUX: Your earlier work from 2016 is heavily influenced by Iranian miniatures, but your style seems to have evolved a great deal in the past few years. What were the museums you visited the most upon coming to the US and which of them provided new sources of inspiration?
Arghavan Khosravi: Persian miniature paintings have always been one of the main sources of inspiration for me. Every time I look at them, I get inspired by one aspect of these works, whether it’s their mesmerising colour palette; their compositions; the way figures are depicted (there’s not much facial expression and the expressive qualities are heavily dependent on their poses and body language); or the way architectural spaces are depicted so that there’s no perspective and no vanishing point, which has a flattening effect. When I place figures that are rendered realistically into that unreal space, the juxtaposition gives a sense of distortion and displacement which can be read metaphorically too. The more I focused on this aspect of the paintings, the more I got involved with building shaped panels (instead of the regular rectangle) to emphasise these architectural elements of the space. This helped the paintings to increasingly exist as a 3D object rather than a 2D surface, which opened a whole new door for me and led me to experiment with different ways to explore three dimensionality in the paintings.

Unfortunately, over the past year I haven’t been able to visit museums due to the pandemic, but when I look back at the few years before that, a few museum exhibitions stand out. One of them was a retrospective of Jim Shaw’s works at the New Museum in New York in 2015 and another exhibition of his works a few months later at MASS MoCA in Massachusetts which truly fascinated me. The way he’s always exploring new different ideas and his never-ending creativity was very inspiring for me. The other inspiring museum exhibition that I can think of was David Hockney’s at the Met in 2017. One of the most inspiring aspects of his works for me was colour.

three dimensional artwork

Arghavan Khosravi, Isn’t it time to celebrate your freedom?, 2021. Courtesy the artist and Rachel Uffner Gallery

LUX: Your work fluctuates between pop, symbolism and surrealism. Which genre, if any, do you feel most comfortable being associated with?
Arghavan Khosravi: I can mostly relate my work to the surrealist movement and I think symbolism is one of the tools in surrealistic storytelling. In my paintings, I like to depict moments that might be impossible to happen in real life. I also use an indirect and subtle approach to convey what I have in mind. This approach slows the audience’s reading of each painting and hopefully, leaves a more effective and longer lasting impression on them.

Read more: Philip Hewat-Jaboor on discovering art through materials

LUX: Can you tell us about some of the recurring objects in your work such as strings, disembodied limbs and floating heads. What do they represent for you?
Arghavan Khosravi: In general, I am interested in depicting scenes and situations that at the first glance, might seem peaceful, normal and comfortable, but the more you look at what’s going on, you find moments where something dark and slightly violent is occurring. The body fragments, for example, give a feeling that the characters in the painting are lacking control not only over the situation, but also their own body. You can look at it as a metaphor for the suppression which happens under autocratic systems.

Another metaphor I use for suppression is the red string. I am thinking about all the “red lines” that are drawn which mustn’t be overpassed. These lines can be drawn systematically by an authoritarian regime or can be drawn by tradition in more patriarchal societies, which mostly, target women. I am mostly interested in using visual metaphors that don’t look too violent at first, but present an underlying sense of suffocation or disturbance.

Arghavan Khosravi, Black Rain, 2021. Courtesy the artist and Rachel Uffner Gallery

LUX: You seem to like adding sculptural and three-dimensional elements to your paintings, and often use a shaped canvas. Do you start a painting knowing that you will use a shaped canvas or do you sometimes change the shape after starting a painting?
Arghavan Khosravi: The sculptural elements started when I decided to experiment with shape panels, which I talked about earlier, I stretch canvas over the shaped wood panels, so it’s almost impossible to change its shape after I start a painting. Therefore, I pre-plan most of the painting before building the shaped panel, and I have a clear idea what imagery is going to be painted within that shape.

LUX: Another formalist aspect of your work is the ‘trompe l’oeil’ technique, which sometimes makes it difficult to delineate what’s painted and what’s not.
Arghavan Khosravi: I am interested in the idea of juxtaposing a two dimensional painted surface which mimics three-dimensionality with actual three dimensional elements in the paintings. I like how it can invite the viewer to explore more time with the piece in order to figure out which part is which. I am also interested in the notion of duality and having contrasting visual elements. This contrast can be in materialistic aspects of the paintings (like the contrast between a 2D surface and a constructed 3D element) or it can be more about the subject matter. For example, the juxtaposition of imagery appropriated from an Eastern context beside Western, or the contrast can be historic versus contemporary and so forth.

mixed media painting

Arghavan Khosravi, Entrapment, 2021. Courtesy Carl Kostyál Gallery

LUX: In one of your works the red string is physically wrapped around a canvas so that you can see dents at the edges. How did you do it?
Arghavan Khosravi: To achieve that effect, before stretching the canvas over the wood panel, I carved the sides of the wood panel in a way which makes the hard surface of the panel look like a soft smooth material that’s being compressed when a rope is tightly wrapped around it. This approach again aligns with the notion of duality and contrast that I talked about in the previous question. This time it’s the contrast is between a soft and a hard material.

Read more: Uplifting new paintings by Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar

LUX: Another Iranian artist that works a lot with trompe l’oeil is Mehdi Ghadyanloo. Do you know his work?
Arghavan Khosravi: Yes, I am very much familiar with his work and really like it. I first encountered his work when he used to make large murals all over Tehran where I grew up and was living before immigrating to the US. It was so fascinating to see his creative ways to give the illusion of depth and space in his murals so that the 2D painted surface of the wall seemed like the continuation of the actual buildings and space surrounding it. Before him (with a few exceptions), most of the murals were at the service of the state propaganda or had ideological purposes.

painting of a mystical woman

Arghavan Khosravi, The Balance, 2019. Courtesy the artist.

LUX: Who are your favourite Iranian artists that deserve more attention in the West?
Arghavan Khosravi: One Iranian artist that comes to mind is Bahman Mohasses. I also really like Nazgol Ansarinia’s work.

LUX: Born soon after the Islamic Revolution, you witnessed Iran’s transformation from a Western-friendly monarchy into a suppressive theocratic republic. How did you experience this growing up and what did your parents teach you?
Arghavan Khosravi: I was born and grew up in a non religious family, so there was a more secular/liberal way of thinking and living, but when I stepped out of that ‘private space’ into the ‘public space’ I could see that everything was very different. So, like so many other Iranians, I was taught by my parents how to navigate this dual life from an early age. For example ,there were certain things we did at home that mustn’t be mentioned at school, or we did things at school that I personally didn’t really believe in like saying prayers with other students which was compulsory in my middle school. Or we had to pretend to abide by some rules in public, which we don’t really believe in, such as the compulsory hijab. I think the notion of duality that I’m exploring in my paintings is a result of reflecting on those life experiences and memories from Iran.

textured painting

Arghavan Khosravi, Fragility of Peace, 2019. Courtesy the artist

LUX: In your 2017 Muslim Ban series you use pages of your Iranian passport as a canvas and there’s also your Self-Censorship series. Can you tell us more about those works?
Arghavan Khosravi: In early 2017, only a week after I came back from a short trip to Iran during the school’s winter break, an executive order was signed which prevented citizens of six muslim-majority countries from entering the US. It meant that if I had returned to the US a week later, I could have got stuck in Iran and wouldn’t have been able to finish my degree. Also, it meant that I wasn’t able to exit the US for an unknown period of time. My first reaction to the news was anger and a feeling of being treated with disrespect. I thought of using this anger as fuel in my studio, but the blank canvas didn’t feel right. So I had this idea of painting on pages of my expired passport and weaving my narrative into the visual structure that was already there.

When you grow up under the suppression of an autocratic system which limits freedom of speech, you start to develop self-censorship as a defence mechanism, and sometimes you’re not even aware of it. Therefore, you start to suppress your own freedom of expression to avoid getting in trouble. In the Self-Censorship series I was interested in exploring these themes using a symbolic language. It is worth mentioning that symbolism itself can be one of the tools to circumvent censorship because when you use symbols and metaphors to convey certain thoughts you can always say that this particular thought is the viewer’s interpretation of your work and not necessarily your own idea. But of course when I use symbolism now, where I have freedom of expression, I have different reasons for this choice.

collage painting

Arghavan Khosravi, Hafez (The Muslim Ban Series), 2017. Courtesy the artist

LUX: Your paintings are so intricate they seem very laborious to produce. How long does it take you, on average, to finish a painting and do you work on multiple paintings at the same time?
Arghavan Khosravi: Depending on the size, it takes me about 2 to 5 weeks to finish each piece. Usually, the paintings with 3D elements and multi-panels take longer because there is more than one surface to paint on. I rarely work on several paintings at the same time because if I leave a painting unfinished and move to a new one, I get very excited about the new piece and won’t feel like going back to the older piece. I have works lying in my studio from two years ago that are still left unfinished.

3d painting

Arghavan Khosravi, Four Elements, 2021. Courtesy the artist and Rachel Uffner Gallery

LUX: Finally, tell us about your current show In Between Places at Rachel Uffner Gallery in NYC. How do you think your practice has evolved or changed since your last show in NYC at Lyles & King in 2019?
Arghavan Khosravi: This latest body of work was made in isolation during the past year of quarantine. The works build upon my previous explorations of techniques taken from historical painting genres, such as the use of stacked perspective in Persian miniature paintings, while also incorporating new sculptural and three-dimensional elements that further emphasise qualities of illusion and artifice. The paintings are rendered on surfaces that have been layered to create visual depth, which somehow evoke the structure of a theatrical set and the corresponding implication of a not-quite-real world built on false appearances.

“Arghavan Khosravi: In Between Places” runs until 5 June 2021 at Rachel Uffner, New York. For more information: racheluffnergallery.com

Arghavan Khosravi’s solo exhibition at Carl Kostyal, London opens in June. For more information, visit: kostyal.com/exhibitions

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Reading time: 13 min
abstract painting of flowers
abstract painting of flowers

A bold new series of paintings by Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar are inspired by the artist’s childhood memories of fields of flowers in the mountains of north Tehran. To Behnam-Bakhtiar, these flowers are symbols of energy and the human soul, expressed through layers of paint, urgent marks and vibrant colour. Here, we show a selections of paintings from the series alongside quotes from the artist about his practice and processes

floral abstract painting

Flowers of the Soul I by Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar

flower painting

Flowers of the Soul II by Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar

“When I create a new work, I seem to be plugged in into another world: a space that is constantly at work and full of wonder. It feels like a dream. I find myself able to feel things which I can’t feel normally – warm lights and energy flowing within and all around me, so tangible they can almost be touched. “

detail of abstract painting

Detail of Flowers of the Soul I by Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar

“In my practice, what is important is the identity of the work present, the creation shifting mindsets and that connection it brings forth between people and the truth about our identity. “

“I paint what we cannot see with our physical eyes but seem to feel somehow, a realm that exists all around and within us, the space between our consciousness and subconsciousness.”

painting detail

Detail of Flowers of the Soul II by Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar

“There is this repetition when creating a work, which is important to me. It is like a dance between my mind, hands and the surface I am working on…I tend to dislike my work very often, the ones that I accept are the canvases that survive the process, the rest are destroyed outside of the atelier.”

flowers painting

Pivoines de l’Âme by Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar

flowers painting

Pivoines de l’Âme II by Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar

All imagery courtesy of the artist. For more information, visit: sassanbehnambakhtiar.com

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Reading time: 4 min

Kevin Pinsembert, Sans Titre (Décor +), 2020. Acrylic on cotton. © Kevin Pinsembert, 2020
Image courtesy of Saatchi Yates

Phoebe Saatchi Yates is the daughter of art world titan Charles Saatchi and the co-founder of Mayfair gallery Saatchi Yates, which aims to support early-career artists from across the globe. Here, she speaks to Chloe Frost-Smith about discovering new talent, her weariness of digital platforms and the gallery’s current exhibition Allez La France!

Phoebe Saatchi Yates and Arthur Yates

1. How important is an ‘in-person’ art experience to you, and what are your thoughts on digital exhibitions?

Something we have learnt over the last year, with the continuous lockdowns, is that although we all have tried our hardest, nothing digital can really replace the joy of experiencing something in real life. I get incredibly weary of digital exhibitions, just as much as I am bored of online shopping for clothes, books and groceries!

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

2. What made you choose London as the location for your gallery?

London is home. It made sense to open here as we wanted to create something which felt completely integrated to our city and community. Being on Cork Street, a road historically protected for art galleries was important too as you feel as if you are part of not only the future of the city, but the past as well.

exhibition installation

Installation view of Allez La France! at Saatchi Yates Gallery, Cork Street, London

3. Talk us through your search for new artists – is each discovery different, or do you have a particular process?

Each discovery is completely different. Some artists we have watched for many years, some we find online, some through friends. It’s important to be curious and look in unexpected places.

Read more: Tessa Packard on charity & creative thinking 

4. Tell us about your exhibition Allez La France! and what drew you to French new wave painting?

Allez La France! is an exhibition which has been in the works for quite some time. Over a year ago we went to Marseille and Paris to visit the collective, and were so excited by the boldness and confidence of the artists’ work. There was also a true charm in the idea that they were painting for painting’s sake, which is something you don’t find very often.

abstract painting

Mathieu Julien, Rouge Camaieu, 2020. Acrylic and spray paint on cotton canvas © Mathieu Julien, 2020. Image courtesy of Saatchi Yates

5. What sort of art would we find on your walls at home, and do you have a favourite piece?

Currently, I am living in a fully furnished apartment, with wallpaper and no hanging space! There is a very long list of paintings I can’t wait to hang when we next move…

6. Which emerging artists are you currently keeping your eye on?

I feel really excited about all the artists we are yet to show! There are so many exciting talents whose shows that we have had to postpone due to lockdowns, so I feel quite giddy about being able to finally see their work in our space!

“Allez La France!” is available to view online until 11 April, after which it will be open to the public until 15 May 2021 at Saatchi Yates Gallery. For more information visit: saatchiyates.com/exhibitions/allez-la-france

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Reading time: 2 min
artist portrait

Antony Micallef in his London home turned studio. Photograph by Maryam Eisler

British artist Antony Micallef’s practice blurs the boundaries between painting and sculpture. His textural artworks are the result of a unique method that combines oil paint and beeswax to create striking, three-dimensional forms. Before the national lockdown, LUX contributing editor Maryam Eisler visited and photographed the artist in his London studio

Maryam Eisler: What made you decide to turn your home into a studio?
Antony Micallef: I have always loved this flat, and I think you really have to love the place where you work. I feel it has a lot of warmth and personality. I was very lucky to eventually buy a new flat on the same road, and the original intention was to use that as a studio, but after some time, I realised that the light in the new space wasn’t as good as my old flat. Getting paint on the walls for the first time was a bit like wearing your best clothes and jumping in a puddle of mud so I had to get rid of that preciousness! It is quite an intimate private space, and that’s the beauty of it. I don’t have many visitors here.

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Maryam Eisler: As a newcomer to your studio, I sense a great deal of physicality in both the act of painting but also in its end delivery – your works glide between painting and sculpture. They’re ‘weighty’ and solemn. And around the studio, there are lots of palette knives, and mountains of stacked paint.
Antony Micallef: I am really glad you sense that. I am really interested in looking at the physicality of my paintings and in the objects they turn into. I’ve often found myself looking at the works of Tony Cragg and John Chamberlain, but also at rock formations while trekking, and early Alexander McQueen. I didn’t know how to fuse all these ideas together so I came up with a new method. I now mix beeswax and oil paint, which allows me to take the paint beyond its normal function. I use heavy palettes, loaded brushes, and loaded paint. It’s a forceful way of painting.

artist studio

Photograph by Maryam Eisler

Maryam Eisler: Can you explain more about how you’ve developed and altered the capabilities and texture of paint?
Antony Micallef: I have changed oil paint to a physical texture, which is like dried oil strips and I manufacture the strips in my flat. If it were solid paint, it would fall off the canvas and so I’ve developed a honeycomb structure that I combine oil with beeswax. It’s a kind of laced oil, which I paint onto. It has spaces in between the strips; it’s solid because I have taken the oil out of it completely. It’s a slow process. I call them carcasses. You stick them down with more paint and then you build your figure, using them as a base.

Read more: The serene beauty of little-known Alpine resort Drei Zinnen

They’re kind of hybrids to me. You’re right in saying they lie somewhere between sculpture and paint. They become objects in their own right. Here, I am constructing this sort of Frankenstein figure from scratch! You see, every artist has an ego, and I just wanted to say that, ‘I’d done this. I came up with this process. My process is unique to me!’ It is such an interesting territory to own and I guess sharing this with the wider audience makes me feel good; it’s great for my mental health.

Constructing Auras No. 1, 2020, Antony Micallef, oil and beeswax on linen

Maryam Eisler: I assume there’s a great deal of recycling going on in your work with unused strips for example.
Antony Micallef: Yes, you’ve touched on something important. All these bits you see here and there, I have cut them off the studio walls and off paintings. It’s all recycled paint. The studio in a sense then becomes part of the process, the walls, the floor… It is a bit like ‘harvesting’. That is why I am really precious with some of my pieces. I could never get these pieces again because the material comes off my studio walls. I have literally carved them off the wall over years. And that, to me, is a really important part of my practice.

cigarette box paintings by Antony Micallef

Photograph by Maryam Eisler

Maryam Eisler: Have things changed much for you since lockdown?
Antony Micallef: I generally don’t see a lot of people, and I’ve seen even fewer this last year. Sometimes, it feels like you’re in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a very small boat, but I have to say that having a visitor in your studio really helps. As an artist, you choose to be on your own, but when it’s inflicted onto you, it becomes something else.

Photograph by Maryam Eisler

Maryam Eisler: Can you tell me more about the body of work which you’ve been developing over a period of four years, and your recent show in Hong Kong?
Antony Micallef: Constructing Auras was my tenth solo show. As you’re nearing the time when the work is about to be picked up, everything starts bubbling inside your head. You’ve lived with these creations for so long and they are about to flee the nest, but it gets to a point where art needs to live on its own in the outside world.

Constructing Auras No. 5, Antony Micallef

Maryam Eisler: How did studying under the renowned landscape artist John Virtue influence your practice?
Antony Micallef: I was taught by John at Plymouth University. I was really lucky to encounter him. He completely changed the way I thought about painting at the time. He taught me discipline. He also taught me how to look at life, figures, how to use a palette, all the mechanics. He was quite brutal with his teaching, which I loved. There was no faffing around. It was so nice to be taught by someone whose enthusiasm energises you.

Read more: Maria-Theresia Pongracz profiles 2021’s artist to watch Sofia Mitsola

I think the best art – that moves you and everyone else around you – is when you can feel that the creator has taken a risk. When you’ve pushed it to the limits of what it is capable of. I remember someone asking John: ‘How do you know when it’s finished?’ To which he replied, ‘Well, the train slows down. Imagine a train going as fast as it can, and when you get into the 90% level that is when the magic starts to happen. You then have to apply the breaks and it’s got to stop right before it hits that wall! If you can get it to 98%, that’s when and where it really happens.’ I always say it’s like throwing a jigsaw piece into the air. When it lands and it all fits together, it feels amazing!

Constructing Auras No. 8, 2017, Antony Micallef, oil and beeswax with raw pigment 

Maryam Eisler: Do you ever bin your work?
Antony Micallef: Everybody bins their work, but you wouldn’t get those few you are really happy with if you didn’t!

Maryam Eisler: I can see the influence of the School of London painters in your work. Is that a conscious reference?
Antony Micallef: I never had the intention to paint like them, but I admire them, of course. When cooking, you have to have your own mixing bowl. You slowly find your own way of preparing a dish. The same holds true in painting.

The V&A had an amazing exhibition called Fashioned from Nature a few years ago. And that was pivotal for this body of work. Sometimes you walk into a show and something clicks.

View Antony Micallef’s portfolio: antonymicallef.com; @antonymicallef

 

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Reading time: 6 min
contemporary female nude
artist in the studio

Sofia Mitsola (Portrait). Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias, London. Photo: Mark Blower.

In our new online series, renowned art consultant Maria-Theresia Pongracz profiles rising contemporary artists to watch in 2021. Here, she speaks to 28-year-old Greek painter Sofia Mitsola about mythology, the female nude, and her artistic inspirations

Maria-Theresia Pongracz

I first discovered Sofia Mitsola’s work during Condo London at Pilar Corrias Gallery in January 2020. Condo which takes its name from ‘Condo-minium’ is a gallery exchange program founded by Vanessa Carlos in London which now takes place all over the world. I always make great discoveries during Condo and so it was no surprise to come across Sofia’s powerful work. Curiously it was one of the last great shows I saw just before the first lockdown.

With a lot of figurative work in contemporary art recently, it isn’t easy to be surprised. It is also hard for an artist to tick all the boxes and equally master innovation, composition, technique, palette and detail. Sofia really does it all. Her work is seductive and slowly draws you in. Colours, nudity and voluptuous forms are striking, but it is the details and mysterious looks of her subjects that have a haunting effect. The work is beautiful and appalling at the same time. The best art should be challenging and ideally never fully understood.

Abstract figurative painting

Afterglow Zenaïda, Sofia Mitsola, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias, London.
Photo by Mark Blower

LUX: To what extent are your paintings influenced by greek culture and mythology?
Sofia Mitsola: Growing up in Greece, you study a lot of history, which, when I was little, I only enjoyed when it was about ancient times. I was really into mythology too, and many of the things that impressed me as a child have somehow found a way into the work. When I am painting, sometimes my characters remind me of a mythical presence that I might have read about, or seen in a painting, and once I start imagining them this way, they are almost turned into that.

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

After moving to London, I spent a lot of time in museums sketching from sculptures and paintings that I admired. These soon became the starting point for developing ideas and works. When I first began working with figures, I used to visit the British Museum and make drawings from the sculptures at the Egyptian room. I remember a small sculpture of a sphinx I drew from, and reading what these female-like creatures symbolised, made me think of the characters I was trying to compose in a different way. When standing behind them, they are seen as goddesses of protection. When standing before them, they metamorphose into devouring beasts that strangle anyone who dares confront them. I really liked how perspective was used in mythology to give dual meanings, and it was then I started thinking of my own characters as divinities with alluring enigmatic gazes and magical powers.

painting

Cactilus, 2020, Sofia Mitsola. Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias, London. Photo by Mark Blower.

LUX: How do you go about creating the physicality of your characters?
Sofia Mitsola: When I am composing a character, I am trying to understand who I want them to be and what their relationship is with the viewer. In my paintings, there are usually two focal points, one is the face, and the other the genitals, which are often in the centre of the composition and almost level with the eyes of the viewer. I want the protagonists’ colossal size and bareness to be intimidating yet something to be inviting about their young, innocent like faces and seductive gazes. In my mind, they invite the viewer into a flirtatious game of looking. They stand naked and exposed before them but they don’t shy away. With their persistent gaze and outspread bodies, they take control back. Very much like sphinxes with magnetising beauty and beastly bodies, my figures share similar qualities. Their flushed, angelic faces contradict their gigantic, distorted bodies that border pornography making them a crossbreed of the divine and the monstrous that attracts and repels, invites and drives away.

painting install

SPY, 2020, Sofia Mitsola. Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias, London. Photo by Mark Blower.

LUX: Can you talk to me a bit about the female nude in your work and how it relates to art history?
Sofia Mitsola: For me, the theme of the female nude is very interesting because there are many ways it can be viewed. I understand it from the experience of living within my own body, by relating to them, and also by stepping back and investigating it as a painter/viewer from a distance.

Read more: Artnet’s Sophie Neuendorf on the rise of a new Renaissance

I am attracted to ancient Egyptian and Greek depictions of the female form, that were made to be seen as deities, to be adored and feared. These appear larger than life, geometric, and austere with penetrative gazes. I am attracted to prehistoric figurines that show raw, unashamed, sexual bodies to depict fertility goddesses. In some western paintings I admire, the female nude is shown small and fragile and shy, looking away. There seems to be a safe distance between the nude and the viewer that allows the later to comfortably examine and take visual pleasure from the former, unbothered. But I really like the intimacy in them, the realness of the characters. The feeling that these people lived and breathed and were humans. I feel that for my work, I want a sense of intimacy that I receive when looking at western painting, and at the same time to create a game of power dynamics between the figure and the viewer that is closer to antiquity.

female nude

Darladiladada, 2020, Sofia Mitsola. Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias, London.
Photo by Damian Griffiths

LUX: Where are your favourite places to go for inspiration in London?
Sofia Mitsola: My number one is The British Museum. I always go to the Egyptian sculpture section on the ground floor, and the Egyptian paintings and funerary treasures upstairs. I never miss the Greek vases with the beautiful line paintings, I discover something new every time I look at them and appreciate the simplicity of the marks. Also I really love the National and National Portrait Galleries. At the National, I am always going to the Sainsbury Wing to say hello to one of my favourite paintings, Portrait of a Young Man by Petrus Christus, and then on the other side to see Holbein’s Christina of Denmark. I also love Nymph by the Stream by Auguste Renoir downstairs. At the National Portrait, I enjoy spending time with the Tudor paintings. The Wallace collection is a very special place for me too, where I love to go and see the miniature paintings.

Gorgoneion, 2020, Sofia Mitsola. Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias, London. Photo by Mark Blower

LUX: What did you get up to during lockdown?
Sofia Mitsola: I was lucky to find my current studio during the first lockdown in May, and since then my life has been pretty much the same. Studio, home, studio. But I’ve really enjoyed how quiet it has been, with no distractions.

When I was stuck at home, I drew a lot, and worked with watercolours and oils on paper, I watched some amazing documentaries about Troy and ancient Egypt and the Russian Revolution, read Nabokov’s Ada or Ardor, Anais Nin’s Little Birds, and Writings from Ancient Egypt, and listened to lectures from a Greek historian, Maria Eythymiou, about the history of the world starting from the first human societies! I also took daily walks in the park, and spent a lot of time cleaning my flat!

Read more: Artist Shezad Dawood on the endless potential of virtual reality

LUX: How the pandemic affect your practice?
Sofia Mitsola: I had the time to slow down a bit and think more of how I want to work in the studio and how to push the practice. I made a lot of drawings which help me give direction to the work, wrote more consistently which for me is another way of drawing, developing ideas, or getting a sense of the atmosphere that I want to convey. I was also making paintings. It’s one of the first times that I worked this way, with all the elements that consist of my practise happening at the same time and it has been really helpful, I feel that the work has had more time to mature.

painting

Tonguelets by Sofia Mitsola. Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias, London.

LUX: Which artists do you admire the most?
Sofia Mitsola: Paula Modershohn-Becker, Leonor Fini, Amedeo Modigliani, Etel Adnan, Petrus Christus, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Artemisia Gentileschi, Konstantinos Parthenis, Paula Rego, Lisa Yuskavage, Hans Holbein the Younger, Alex Katz, Auguste Renoir.

LUX: Are there any contemporary artists with which you spend time and exchange ideas?
Sofia Mitsola: Konstantinos Sklavenitis, Nada Elkalaawy, Ahae Kim, Miriam Naeh, Roy Efrat, Antonia Showering, Alvin Ong, Emma Fineman, Patrick H Jones, and Jane Yang.

female nude

Spoilt, 2020, Sofia Mitsola. Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias, London. Photo by Mark Blower.

LUX: Do you think it’s important for an artist to build a good working relationship with their gallerist?
Sofia Mitsola: I guess it’s different for every artist, but for me it’s very important to work with people that I have a good chemistry with and that we can build a relationship. Trust too. You can usually get a sense of that from the first meeting. If it’s good, it’s good. And with Pilar (Corrias) and Charlotte, who I work most closely with, it has been good from the beginning. They support me in every way and always give me complete freedom. And they are a great help when I feel stuck too!

Personally, I really like working with a gallery because it takes the pressure off and allows me to concentrate on the practice and making work. Admin or dealing with collectors can sometimes be very time consuming, and to be honest not my favourite thing. So I am really glad that they can help there. Also, I think that for a lot of young artists like myself, it is difficult to know how to protect the work, and what choices will help or not your career, and it’s quite important to have someone you trust to talk to about it.

LUX: What are your plans for the future?
Sofia Mitsola: I have a couple of projects for later next year so I really want to take my time planning the paintings. For the development of the work, I want to make big drawings with different materials like charcoal and oil bars, I will try to work in three dimensions, possibly with clay that I play with when I am not in the mood for painting, and continue my miniature paintings. When it comes to painting, I have started thinking more about the space, composition and perspective as well as narrative, so this is where the work is heading to at the moment.

Follow Sofia Mitsola on Instagram: @sofiamitsola
Follow Maria-Theresia Pongracz on Instagram: @mt_mathisen

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Afshin Naghouni in his studio. Photograph by Maryam Eisler

Born in Iran, visual artist Afshin Naghouni immigrated to London in his mid-twenties where he began to establish a reputation for his imaginative and dynamic artworks that blur the lines between figurative and abstract. Ahead of his upcoming exhibition in January 2021, LUX contributing editor Maryam Eisler visits and photographs the artist in his London studio

Maryam Eisler: So right now, I’m looking at your self-portrait. It’s complex…
Afshin Naghouni: When you do a self-portrait, or any focus on configuration, you tend to go towards the physical features, making sure that it looks like it should do. The moment you go towards abstraction, it becomes about focusing on other things rather than the obvious. A lot of it is conscious or self-conscious. I think a self-portrait needs to be more accurate than straightforward representation.

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Maryam Eisler: Yes, I see very few cues about you in the physical sense. Is it difficult to define oneself?
Afshin Naghouni: It is if you think about it; I don’t think about it much. When I was doing it I just thought: this is me painting my inner being. I just splattered myself all over the canvas trying to think about what I am and most importantly what I am not!

Maryam Eisler: Yes, it looks like you splattered your guts! Talk to me about the reality of the last five months for you; this period of confinement and self-isolation. How have ‘Covidian times’ affected your mind, and your psyche ?
Afshin Naghouni: For me, the only direct consequence is that I have not been able to paint. Of course, I’ve doodled around at home, but nothing can replace the air in this place [the studio]. I just love it. Sometimes I don’t even paint; I just sit around, I listen to music and I breathe the air. So not being able to come to the studio for me was difficult. So what did I do instead? Well, I painted in my head, cut off from the outside world!

studio painting

Photograph by Maryam Eisler

Maryam Eisler: What do you mean by ‘painting in your head’?
Afshin Naghouni: It becomes a race between what I can bring into my head and what goes onto the canvas. My mind is always way ahead of me, and I am constantly trying to catch up. When it happens, it is exciting. because you can’t stop and it becomes more physical, the application and all that. The other thing that can happen, of course, is that you haven’t figured anything out and you just want to paint. It becomes a slur because you can be ahead of your thoughts on the canvas, and you need to come back, have a cigarette, have a coffee, and try to figure out what you are trying to do. They are both equally exciting and challenging. Well, not challenging; painting is not hard. The hardest thing is just trying to keep working, and stay motivated.

abstract painting

Untitled #6  (2017), mixed media on canvas 150×120 cm from Afshin Naghouni’s Nostalgia & Reminiscence series

Maryam Eisler: Have you managed to remain motivated during the last few months?
Afshin Naghouni: During this whole period, I have been desperate to work. I only went out for essentials for four months. My issue is that I like people. I am a social creature. I need to have human contact and connection, and a lot of it. So, not having been able to come here [into the studio], to work and see friends, has been very difficult.

Maryam Eisler: But has it also afforded you the gift of time?
Afshin Naghouni: I have had the time to slow down. To kind of bring together all my thoughts and to reflect on the things that are moving me forward. My struggles are more conceptual in nature. For example, I have never been a great fan of abstract painting and that is primarily because I have fundamental problems with modernism, and what it stands for in its essence.

Read more: Why do we act the worst with those we love the most?

Maryam Eisler: What are those problems?
Afshin Naghouni: I find modernism just like [Clement] Greenberg did: elitist, sexist, inaccessible. I am not saying that art has to be accessible, but today, I am personally focused on form, movement, rhythm and the attempt to breathe emotion into the canvas. In the past, I would start with abstract forms on the canvas and I would gradually work my way to make it representational. I think I am going backwards now. I find that reverse process interesting and exciting. I want to create overall compositions filled with life and energy, paintings that are visually engaging, playful and experimental.

I don’t care if it’s done before one way or another. We are at a point where not much is left undone. I pinch, borrow and steal from those before me, to make things work, to empty my guts on the canvas, and then I use my knowledge to polish it. I really don’t know if it’s any good and to be honest I’m too old to overthink it.

Maryam Eisler: Is that not part of the artist’s journey?
Afshin Naghouni: I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and about why I’m doing what I’m doing – trying to make sense of it in my own head. The truth (whatever that is) is that I am sick and tired of identity-centred, self-obsessed art; art that sacrifices a great deal in order to cement the artist’s place as Middle Eastern, African, female, LGBTQ etc; art that identifies the person with everything under the sun, except for being an artist; art focused on addressing something seemingly so profound that it ceases to be art – all that self-obsessed, self-indulgent, pretentious pile of shit that crawls up gallery walls!

paintings in artist studio

Photograph by Maryam Eisler

Maryam Eisler: How about art-driven identity instead of identity-driven art?
Afshin Naghouni: Ah! The art market is such a precarious thing and it has been for such a long time. I do not pander to it much. You have to, first and foremost, please yourself, present yourself I guess. It takes courage to move in different directions and it takes conviction. The truth is that I get bored! I cannot sit down and do the same thing for years on end even if I know my collector base likes certain types of my paintings. I don’t want to leave any what ifs… So I am experimenting all the time.

Maryam Eisler: How many paintings do you trash?
Afshin Naghouni: [Laughs] I do not trash. I do not burn. I just put aside.

Maryam Eisler: Who amongst art historical figures has affected you the most?
Afshin Naghouni: Picasso.

Read more: Artnet’s Sophie Neuendorf’s guide to shopping for art online

Maryam Eisler: What is it about Picasso‘s work that appeals to you?
Afshin Naghouni: His carefreeness, I think.

Maryam Eisler: Is there one of his paintings in particular that comes to mind?
Afshin Naghouni: I will always be in love of his analytic period, but I am also very much enjoying the paintings he did of his lover Marie Therese around 1932-33. I love the freedom of application and the loose strokes, childish, free and sensuous at the same time.

Maryam Eisler: Who else inspires you?
Afshin Naghouni: [Anselm] Kiefer, Cecily Brown, Caravaggio.

Maryam Eisler: What is it about Kiefer’s work?
Afshin Naghouni: The sheer scale, and his ability to achieve such amazing compositions within that scale. He is one of those few artists who has found the perfect balance between form and concept.

abstract earthy painting

Nostalgia (2017), mixed media on canvas 160×200 cm from Afshin Naghouni’s Nostalgia & Reminiscence series

Maryam Eisler: Is that something you are striving for?
Afshin Naghouni: I am still trying to find that balance. Now I do not pay that much attention to concept any more; I focus on form instead. I find it exciting, it gives me energy to think about the things I want to do.

Maryam Eisler: What are you reading right now?
Afshin Naghouni: I am reading The Art of Creative Thinking by Rod Judkins. The author is a Central St Martins graduate. You do not have to be an artist to be creative. Everybody is born with creative genes. They just get suppressed by life events. I’m also reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, but it kind of depresses me.

Maryam Eisler: Why does it depress you?
Afshin Naghouni: The future that Hariri describes is not the kind of society I want to live in.

Maryam Eisler: Do you mean that you like humanity with all its flaws?
Afshin Naghouni: Yes, absolutely. I had this deep and heated conversation with a friend recently, who insisted that art and artists are going to become irrelevant, and that AI is going to create the very best art that art can ever be. But how is that possible? Until AI can get angry, can cry, can fall in love the way that we, as humans, can, it will surely never be able to surpass art created by human hands. Frankly, I would rather not be around when or if AI is ruling the world. It is often our human flaws that add greatness to any artwork.

abstract painting

Untitled #3 (2017), mixed media on canvas 160×200 cm from Afshin Naghouni’s Nostalgia & Reminiscence series

Maryam Eisler: Do you have an overall concept for your upcoming show in January?
Afshin Naghouni: I just want to paint between now and then the way I want to paint, free, without overthinking the process. If I only have five paintings by then, then that will be it.

Maryam Eisler: Talk to me about the courageous choice of colours in your paintings and the energy they exude.
Afshin Naghouni: Those who are familiar with my work know well that it never used to be this colourful. That’s why I say, I feel I have really rediscovered colour. I like and want to play, and if colour is the exciting dimension in the game, then let’s put it to work. I’m also a city boy. I like big cities with all the people that inhabit them. I am in love with London. It is a melting pot of cultures and that in itself is pure colour. The energy in this place is unique. I equally love the countryside, but after two weeks away, I need to return to urban colour.

Maryam Eisler: Finally, I want to talk to you about place. You mentioned that you love London, and urban life. What about the location of this particular studio [in Ladbroke Grove], and the connections that you’ve made with your local community?
Afshin Naghouni: It is amazing. First of all, in this line of arches here, there are mechanics, fashion designers, recording studios, different kinds of professionals working together, next to one another. I know them and they know me. It feels good. I like the walk from here to home and back. I never get tired of the route; everything about it offers me a colourful visual canvas of life in London. When I am going down the road, I just listen to the sounds that accompany me all along, and I feel the energy. I love everything about it. The community around here is also very strong; we try to make things work together all the time. We rely on one another. I really miss that interconnectivity.

Discover more of Afshin Naghouni’s artworks: afshinnaghouni.com
For more information on the artist’s upcoming show at HJ gallery in January 2021 visit: hjartgallery.com

Note: this interview was conducted prior to the UK lockdown in November 2020.

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contemporary art print

Aquajenne in Paradise II Elevator Girls (1996) by Miwa Yanagi. Courtesy Deutsche Bank Collection

At the heart of Deutsche Bank’s worldwide art programme is one of the most interesting and diverse corporate contemporary art collections in the world. It is part of the bank’s sponsorship of the Frieze art fairs and instrumental in the bank’s support of this year’s innovative curatorial and philanthropic projects, including a collaboration with London artist Idris Khan. Arsalan Mohammad reports

DEUTSCHE BANK WEALTH MANAGEMENT x LUX

This turbulent year marks not only the 150th anniversary of the founding of Deutsche Bank, but also the 40th birthday of its iconic art collection, one of the most substantial corporate collections of contemporary art in the world. A specialised assortment of works, numbering some 55,000 pieces, the collection spans styles and genres and reflects a global mix of talent, from art megastars to exciting newcomers. The art is predominantly works on paper, as this somewhat neglected medium was considered ripe for collecting and institutionalising when the collection was first initiated by the management board in the late 1970s. The collection is bound by only one other rubric: that the works should provide creative, cultural and intellectual inspiration to the creative, cultural and intellectual inspiration to the bank’s employees, clients, visitors and artists alike.

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The Deutsche Bank Collection, which is part of the bank’s Art, Culture and Sports programme, is based in multiple sites across Germany and in its offices worldwide. It also sits alongside a calendar of art events – the bank is the long-term sponsor of global art fair Frieze, it publishes an acclaimed arts magazine, engages in numerous exhibitions and presentations worldwide, and maintains an active purchase programme that prioritises discovering fresh ideas and idiosyncratic thought from young and older artists around the world. You can witness this for yourself at the bank’s impressive PalaisPopulaire complex, in the heart of downtown Berlin. A purpose-built forum focusing on arts, culture and sports, here one can enjoy works from the permanent collection alongside works on loan, as well as a lively calendar of music, film and cultural happenings.

black woman shouting

Molo, Kenya (2008) by Zohra Bensemra. Courtesy Zohra Bensemra/Reuters.

This profound commitment to culture is central to the bank’s ecosystem and is a vital component in its identity. It recalls the pioneering spirit of corporate evolution that began when billionaire philanthropist David Rockefeller began the Chase Manhattan Bank’s art collection back in the 1950s. Since then, the notion of a corporate entity finding inspiration, identity and creativity within art has become standard practice, a means of fulfilling social responsibility, nurturing employees’ potential and attracting clients and business from the world’s wealthiest investors.

grand town house

The PalaisPopulaire, Berlin. Image by David von Becker

A significant part of this success is due to Deutsche Bank’s Head of Art, curator Friedhelm Hütte, who has managed the collection for more than 25 years. A quiet and learned person, Hütte’s strategy of proactively engaging with, encouraging and supporting new and unexposed talent over the years has given him an appreciation for edgy new art and access to the creative minds behind it. Since beginning at the bank’s cultural division in 1986, he has carefully steered its growth, enriching the bulk of the collection with a knack for spotting talent early. Thus, the bank’s inventory includes early works by Damien Hirst, Gerhard Richter and James Rosenquist, all acquired when the artists were yet to become as famous as they are now. “We always want to discover new artists,” says Hütte, “This doesn’t mean that the artist has to be young – it could be that an artist is older but hasn’t found the success that we feel he or she should have.”

Read more: The market for modern classic Ferraris is hot right now

As well as supporting artists through purchasing work, the bank is also committed to emerging talent via its Artist of the Year prize, which has catapulted artists from around the world at the start of their careers, such as Wangechi Mutu, Yto Barrada, Roman Ondak and Imran Qureshi, into the global limelight. “It’s not simply a prize of a sum of money, it’s really to support the artist, so they can reach a new level,” explains Hütte, who offers the example of how an exhibition by Qureshi led to his being represented by Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac in Paris, “one of the top ten best galleries in the world!”

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Detail of Blessings Upon the Land of My Love (2011) by Imran Qureshi. Courtesy Deutsche Bank Collection.

In the summer of 2020, amidst social distancing and other pandemic restrictions, the PalaisPopulaire continued with its planned exhibition of work by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Christo, who died in May 2020, is best remembered in Berlin for his 1995 performance in which he and his wife Jeanne-Claude wrapped the Reichstag in fabric. The plans, blueprints, ephemera and sketches for that mammoth undertaking have been on show as part of a major exhibition entitled ‘Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Projects 1963–2020’. The exhibition features approximately seventy works loaned by Berlin collectors Ingrid and Thomas Jochheim, friends of the artist and catalysts for the show.

drawing on paper

Wrapped Reichstag (Project for Berlin) (1987) by Christo. © Christo.

“We showed Christo the [PalaisPopulaire] museum last year,” Ingrid Jochheim recalls. “And he was very fond of it. He had partnered on projects with Deutsche Bank several times in the past, always successfully. Just four weeks before his passing, he wrote to me and asked me to give his compliments to the team there.”

But this being 2020, there are more pressing matters at hand. The reconfiguration of partner Frieze London in the autumn as an online event has afforded Deutsche Bank the opportunity to present a curated selection of works that are relevant to our challenging times. The resulting presentation, curated from the collection by the bank’s international art curator Mary Findlay, gathers a selection of more than 30 artists from around the world, each of whom articulate perspectives inspired by issues such as Black Lives Matter, gender equality and sexuality.

Read more: British artist Marc Quinn on history in the making

Titled ‘Taking a Stand: Art & Society’, the online exhibition will show work by a broad spectrum of artists, including Banksy and Joseph Beuys, Iran’s Shirin Aliabadi and Algeria’s Zohra Bensemra, black American artists such as Kandis Williams and Kara Walker, and well-established artists such as Wolfgang Tillmans, Imran Qureshi and Albanian photographer Adrian Paci.

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Black Lives Matter protest, Union Square (2014) by Wolfgang Tillmans. Courtesy Deutsche Bank Collection

At times such as these, Deutsche Bank’s fleet-footed operation means their global team have not only been able to respond rapidly and with creativity to events, to build shows on an online platform for Frieze or cope with physical restrictions on visitors to PalaisPopulaire, but also to build on their one-world progressive ethos and take direct immediate action to address the entrenched problem of diversity in the arts.

In association with Frieze, Deutsche Bank are launching a fellowship, The Frieze & Deutsche Bank Emerging Curators Fellowship, to support curators from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds in the UK. Financing the mentorship and education of a curator is a complex process, but at Deutsche Bank a solution has been found in which one of their prestigious collection artists, Idris Khan, is to design a face mask for sale, based on a design inspired by Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’. The plan is in its final stages of preparation, but the energy and enthusiasm inspired by the chance to make a difference is palpable in conversations between the Frieze and Deutsche Bank staff involved.

people standing on plane steps

Centro di Permanenza temporanea (2007) by Adrian Paci. Courtesy Deutsche Bank Collection.

“The fellowship is about fostering systemic change,” explains Frieze London’s artistic director, Eva Langret, who came up with the idea. “It’s about organisations across the nonprofit and private sectors recognising that diverse programming is not enough, and instead working together to embed more diverse voices within arts institutions and organisations that lead the agenda.” In its first year the fund will be supporting a curatorial fellowship at London’s Chisenhale Gallery and the intention is to inspire an ongoing strategy to empower arts professionals from across communities to make an impact on the country’s art scene.

Read more: Four leading designers on the future of design

Curating change is at the heart of the idea, and at 2020’s Frieze London, we will witness, albeit online, how well this approach fits with the Deutsche Bank Collection. “Where we can, we buy works that make a difference,” says Findlay. “There is this idea about artists using their creative platforms as activism – well, we are buying art to make our offices stand out and look exciting, but in some of those works, we are very much looking at what the artists are trying to articulate. This concept is about us engaging with society and the virtual platform will have all sorts of different types of work. There’s lots of interesting work here. I wish we could put it all on a wall and not online, but there you go!”

While there is every sign that the complex workarounds, compromises and challenges that have come to characterise 2020 will continue into our hazy and uncertain future, in surveying this tapestry of arts from across the globe, we can at least draw solace and wisdom from the world of art to inspire, educate and support our frazzled minds at times of crisis. And with the Deutsche Bank team’s deep-rooted commitment to giving a platform to some of the world’s most urgent and pressing issues, there’s every reason to support and engage with it yourself this autumn.

artist in studio

Idris Khan in his studio. Photograph by Stephen White

Behind the mask

British artist Idris Khan has been asked to make an artwork to help fund the bank’s new fund for emerging curators. Here he talks about his inspiration for the new work.

“During lockdown, my partner Annie and I decided to leave London for the countryside. When we arrived, the trees were bare, everything was brown and black. But over the months, I focused on the changing colours, something I probably wouldn’t have done otherwise. It was almost like watching four seasons within two months!

“I took several copies of Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons’ and decided to paint all those colours that I saw during lockdown.

“The image on the mask is my version of bluebells. First, I watercoloured the sheet music, scanned each page then digitally layered the music on top. It’s like capturing many moments of time of looking intensively and also the time represented in musical notation, so it’s titled Time Past, Time Present. I think that this represents what we’re all going through, hence the reason to wear a mask.

“I think this fund is incredibly vital, as a lot of funding and support has been cut, especially during the pandemic. I believe the fund will give curators the opportunity to make incredible exhibitions and will go on to support diverse exhibitions, so that when this nightmare is over we can all enjoy looking at exceptional art.”

Find out more: db.com/art

This article features in the Autumn Issue, which will be published later this month.

 

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artist studio
abstract artwork

Untitled drawing by Hugo Wilson made with charcoal, black chalk, sandpaper and a sanding machine, paper mounted on aluminium. Photograph by Maryam Eisler

London-based artist Hugo Wilson works with drawing, painting and sculpture, combining images and techniques from Old Masters with contemporary references to create dynamic, layered artworks. LUX contributing editor Maryam Eisler visits his studio to photograph him and discuss refining his practice, creativity in lockdown and finding artistic freedom
colour portrait of Maryam Eisler photographer and contributing LUX editor

Maryam Eisler

Maryam Eisler: Let’s talk about your surfaces.
Hugo Wilson: I think a lot of my work has been very clean in the sense that the surface is quite finished, and quite considered. Whilst I wasn’t particularly aiming for that, that is just how I work. People have said to me over the last few years, ‘You should be leaving thin bits… you should have thick bits…’ and that is fine, but there needs to be a good reason for it all. Just creating surface texture to please makes no sense to me. I am quite bloody minded. I am certainly not going to do something unless I think it is the right thing to do. But slowly, after five or six years, rubbing away has become a part of my practice. Re-painting has also become a part of it. In the case of these particular drawings, I have also pulled things out of seven or eight dark layers which are muddied or clashed to the point of a problem. Suddenly, a sanding machine seemed like the only option. What I realised is that textures were beginning to appear, but they appeared out of clean, conceptual ideas. That required intuition, that required pulling something out of a chaotic situation.

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Maryam Eisler: There is also great physicality and dynamism involved in your process. Would you agree that the paintings possibly represent a stamping of your own collective energy?
Hugo Wilson: Not consciously, but I think that any great work of art that I love has an honesty of intention, and an honesty of process to reach that intention. In the case of these works, I have, maybe, in a way, understood that my intention is less fixed than I had previously wanted it to be. In the past, I had a plan which I delivered, one way or another, but in this case what I’ve realised is that having a plan is almost pointless. So, creating works that are borne out of an obstacle course make perfect sense. These works also refer to many things, without ever holding a single position. Obviously, collective consciousness then has to come into play.

Man on chair

abstract drawing

Hugo Wilson (top), and one of the artist’s works in progress (below). Photographs by Maryam Eisler

Maryam Eisler: To me, it seems like you are referencing freedom?
Hugo Wilson: I feel freer today than I ever have felt. That is for sure. I think moving towards more confidence is what I’m doing do. I also think that a heart punch is far more powerful than a head punch.

Maryam Eisler: Less agonising over process?
Hugo Wilson: I think all artists have this immense problem when they walk into an empty room with an empty canvas or a piece of clay or a block of wood. So, we sort of have to have a strategy in order to start, but also, we need to remember to break the rules that we have imposed on ourselves and to trust in that process. It is hard because it requires dropping things that have worked whether that is making a successful work of art, or selling it, or being liked by curators. Just because you are an artist you are not immune from all that; I wish I was. This last year was really hard because I had success for the first time in my career, and then decided to suddenly throw a hand grenade into my own practice, but it got to the point that I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do it.

Read more: Diango Hernández’s disruptive Instagram art project

Maryam Eisler: Speaking of bombs, how has this COVID period affected your work?
Hugo Wilson: The last six months have been the best period of work that I have ever had, for two or three reasons. One, the imagined pressure of the art world sort of disappeared for a bit, which I liked. I also realised that I’m terribly untrendy. I think that what is going on in the art world may be a great thing, but the fact that I am not involved in it, is not something that I am bitter about. In a way, I have had to look at that and question ‘well, what does that mean?’ In my case it meant freedom, the freedom to truly know what you care about and want from this. And I think that the answer is to create something, that goes well beyond my own limits, consistently. It can be exhausting though.

sculpture and drawings

A collection of Wilson’s charcoal works and sculptures. Photograph by Maryam Eisler

Maryam Eisler: Would you say it’s also about personal evolution and revolution?
Hugo Wilson: I think last year was particularly difficult because I had given myself a year to change my practice. I thought, okay I shall only do one show, which was the Berlin show I did earlier this year, which actually ended up feeling and going much better than I thought it would. I also had to have my right lung removed. I have been sober for many years since my mid 20s, for a good reason! And suddenly I was on morphine… It was tough, much tougher than I thought it was going to be, because I am one of those lucky people who nearly crashed and burned young, but didn’t. Most of my adult life, however, I have felt pretty happy, no more or less unstable than most other people. And then suddenly, I was right back in the darkness again, mentally. It was very frightening. At the same time, I was sitting in an empty studio. You know, I sound posh. I sound like I have had advantages that actually I didn’t. I was on big scholarships and so on, but actually, I set myself against the world quite early on. I have always been very intolerant of the “hippy artist” and the idea of self-indulgence. As an artist, it’s natural that you experience bleak periods where you don’t like your own work, but you are going to have to keep going into the studio to make it happen. I had one of those periods, quite a long one, and I can tell you, it is hell.

abstract sculpture

An untitled glazed ceramic sculpture. Photograph by Maryam Eisler.

Maryam Eisler: Now you have come out of that darkness with these wonders, and you’ve almost cut out all the noise …
Hugo Wilson: I am using a 300-gram paper on aluminium. This stuff can take a real beating. I am also using sanding machines and spikes, maybe even fire one day.

Maryam Eisler: And yet, you are classically trained.
Hugo Wilson: I am very classically trained, within an inch of my life!

Read more: Loquet’s Sheherazade Goldsmith on sustainable jewellery design

Maryam Eisler: Can you tell me about your early days in Florence?
Hugo Wilson: I remember going on a school trip to Venice when I was fourteen. I was sitting in front of a Tintoretto and I nearly cried. Now, I understand that I was completely moved by the power of the image, but not one part of me thought I was going to become Catholic. I think, in a way, that the sort of silly, ambitious, quite stupid, young man just thought, ‘I am just going to fucking learn how to do that. He did it, why not me!’ The classical training was, by the way, extraordinary. It was a seventeenth century atelier. There was the master, and everyone who had been there longer than they could teach you, and it was amazing; we drew from plaster casts for a year, before we could draw a naked person, and only two years later, could we actually paint. I do not regret the training at all, but it was a very difficult thing to unpick. It was very addictive. The point is: I was interested in that language, and I learnt it.

artist studio

abstract sculpture

Hugo Wilson in his studio with charcoal works in progress (above) and an untitled bronze sculpture. Photographs by Maryam Eisler

Maryam Eisler: So, that old world story is in your DNA?
Hugo Wilson: I am an English man. The works I have seen throughout my life are from this tradition. Slowly, slowly I am getting far more interested in other traditions actually, like Japanese woodblocks for example. I have also always loved those medieval bronzes and the historical anomalies where you look at a bronze from the fourth century and then you look at a Japanese incense holder, and you realise that they are identical, and that idea is at the very core of my practice. That we don’t change. It doesn’t matter what colour you are, or what time in history you are from, we will create idols which speak to us viscerally. I am not really doing anything different. The advantage I have is the internet, two thousand years of art history available at my finger tips and the ability to compare and contrast, and initiate dialogues. Also, 200 years of psychology and human psychoanalysis, and the realisation that actually the human need to create is far more important to understand than what is actually being done.

Maryam Eisler: What inspires you today?
Hugo Wilson: I am far more interested in process than I have been for years. I’m also looking at artists like Auerbach and Kossoff. Lovely Bacon… sexy Francis! Physical Freud…I have equally realised that these intuitive works take a really long time to create. I know that sounds odd, but, in my case, it’s been twenty years of me in the making, from being classically trained to using a sanding machine!

Maryam Eisler: Why so long?
Hugo Wilson: The process is the reason why it took so long. I think I rather stupidly assumed and felt that these were big physical gestures done in a week, but no. I suppose growing older makes you relaxed. But did I trust the process even last year? No. And it was my wonderful panel maker, that called me and he said, ‘Hugo you have ordered ten panels last week, and I came into your studio and every single one of them has been painted on and then painted over. Are you okay?’ To which I said ‘I am not, actually!’  All of that feeds into what is happening now and the weird joy that I am experiencing. I am not often this joyful, trust me!

art studio

Artworks by Hugo Wilson. Photograph by Maryam Eisler.

Maryam Eisler: You seem able to seamlessly move across mediums. Your sculpture works in particular appear to be an extension of your paint brush, with a few ‘sculptural’ interventions.
Hugo Wilson: Yes, that is what I want. I think that, with these new sculptures particularly, I can be “brave” in a way that I would find trite if they were to be paintings. In a way, given that I have not had a formal training in sculpture, I feel I can be braver with it. I am taking an object and in a way re-contextualising it. Just like a scholar rock, but even a scholar rock is a ready-made. I think it talks about what I am interested in, which is the human need to make systemic ideology. Three thousand years of non-monotheistic history has been placed on these rocks. But, it’s a fucking rock! It is bonkers. These things are going in Christie’s for millions!

Even though I had classical training, I then did a very conceptual master’s degree at City & Guilds [of London Art School] and I had a brilliant tutor called Reece Jones. He was an absolutely wonderful man and a good artist. He was also an angry young man; he would punch me for saying that. Most importantly, he made me ask these questions before starting any artwork: Should this be an artwork? Should it be an artwork made by me? And if it should be an artwork made by me, what is the delivery? And in the case of these bronzes, they are far better than anything I could ever draw. I also like the surface which you really notice. I don’t want to talk about the history of sculpture at all. Hence, my choice of sand casted bronze with its non-finish look, like stone or wood. It is a finish which doesn’t hold any historical position, and that suits me.

Find out more: hugowilson.com
Follow Hugo Wilson on Instagram: @hugowilsonstudio

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Reading time: 11 min
abstract painting
abstract painting

Soul Healing by Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar

This Friday will see the public opening of Rebirth, an exhibition of new paintings and the unveiling of a major public installation by French-Iranian artist Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar in the French commune of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar‘s latest exhibition, aptly entitled Rebirth marks the inauguration of the beautifully restored Villa Namouna, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat’s brand new cultural space, alongside the unveiling of a major, public sculpture commission.

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The exhibition, which opens on Friday 11 September with a private view on Thursday 10 September, comprises twenty-five recent paintings, executed in Behnam-Bakhtiar’s distinctive style which involves the scraping and blending of thick, vibrantly-hued oil paints to create  highly emotive, dynamic works.

Abstract painting

Eternal Rose Garden by Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar

Amongst the paintings on show are a selection from the artist’s latest series ‘The Flowers of the Soul’, which feature stylised depictions of flowers created by scraping away a painting’s surface layers to reveal its multicolour substrata. The flowers hold a deeply personal significance for the artist, connected to certain traumatic and transformative memories of war and imprisonment in Iran, whilst also situating his contemporary practice alongside the likes of Cézanne who similarly fell in love with the region’s climate and flora.

Read more: Ornellaia launches auction with label designs by Tomás Saraceno

abstract coloured painting

Summer Immortal Rose Garden by Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar

Behnam-Bakhtiar’s new sculpture, also entitled ‘Rebirth’, will be permanently installed at the Place Des Anciens Combattants D’A.F.N. with a smaller version at the Espace de la Theatre de la Mer. Created from welded sections of wrought iron, sprayed white, the sculpture takes the form of a combined silhouette of three people (a woman, man and child), depicting ‘the value of transferring the necessary knowledge from one generation to another.’

‘I think it’s vital for parents to really think about what kind of knowledge they pass on to their children… [part of that] is the understanding that we are part of nature, and that we are all one,’ says the artist. ‘I’m made of the same things as you are and both of us are made of the same things as nature, which is energy, at the end of the day.’

Benham-Bakhtiar’s exhibition ‘Rebirth’ will open with a private view at Villa Cuccia-Noya on 10 September 2020; the show will run at Villa Namouna from 11 September – 11 October 2020.

For more information visit: sassanbehnambakhtiar.com

 

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Reading time: 2 min
fashion portrait
portrait

Sunset, a limited edition photograph by Cathleen Naundorf. Courtesy of Cathleen Naundorf studio

colour portrait of Maryam Eisler photographer and contributing LUX editor

Maryam Eisler

Following in the footsteps of Richard Avedon, Irving Penn and Peter Beard, Cathleen Naundorf is a world renowned photographer who works with large format analogue cameras to create a unique painterly aesthetic. Photographer and LUX Contributing Editor Maryam Eisler speaks to the Paris-based artist about photographing the Dalai Lama, creative influences and developing her own style

portrait of a woman

Cathleen Naundorf. Courtesy of the artist

Maryam Eisler: Cathleen, you have been working with analogue and large format cameras for some years now. I am interested in your visual aesthetics, especially in what you call your ‘Fresco’ imagery, which sits somewhere between photography and painting, in my opinion.
Cathleen Naundorf: Yes, that is correct indeed. The technique achieves painterly photographs. As a kid, at the age of four, I already had a pencil in my hand; I drew all my life. I was sponsored very early on, and had my first painting atelier at the age of twelve. It was only later that I decided to become a photographer, because I was looking for something that would allow me to both travel and remain close to painting, at the same time. I was young and didn’t want to be isolated in a studio, I wanted to go out and explore the world.

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I was raised in East Germany, and moved out before the wall was taken down; it was very difficult to get out. At the time, I was desperate to travel, and so, I applied for jobs with book editors and printed media. I landed my first job very early on, at the age of 23, for which I had to do a reportage on the Dalai Lama. By luck, I became a travel photographer, and I fell in love with this medium.

corset on a woman

Corset by Cathleen Naundorf. Courtesy of Cathleen Naundorf studio

studio photographer

Cathleen on a studio shoot. Courtesy of the artist

To go back to your ‘Fresco’ question and achieving that painterly look, I decided to work with polaroid because you see the result immediately. Many 70s photographers also used polaroids as it was a great way to check up on lighting during the photo sessions. Helmut Newton used the XS – 70 polaroids, for example. I used small format polaroids during my travels, and took polaroid portraits of the people I photographed, in order to retain an immediate memory of them. From 2003, I started working in studios and so I chose the professional 8 x 10 inch and the 4 x 5 inch polaroid sheets. There were two reasons behind my choice of this particular material. Firstly, it allows for the development of unique pieces, and secondly,  it captures the light in a painterly way. In 2006, I started with the ‘Fresco’ technique, a complicated process, but well worth the complication as it produces stunning results!

Read more: ‘Confined Artists Free Spirits’ – Maryam Eisler’s lockdown portrait series

collage storyboard

One of Cathleen’s storyboards for Anastasia, Vogue Thailand. Courtesy of Cathleen Naundorf studio

Maryam Eisler: I imagine this technique requires everything to be pre–planned?
Cathleen Naundorf: If you work with large format cameras and settings, you have to prepare the photo production well in advance. I draw everything first, each shot, just like you would if you were producing a movie. My storyboards explain the narrative which I have in mind. Each sitter (client or model) receives the story board several days before the shoot so as to get “in the mood”. My team also gets briefed in advance, and as such, all is well prepared. So, once you’re on set, the atmosphere is relaxed, giving time and space to concentrate on the subject, whilst allowing me to pull the trigger at the right moment … the extra ‘wow’ factor!

Read more: British-Iranian artist darvish Fakhr on the alchemy of art

Maryam Eisler: So storytelling is a significant part of your process?
Cathleen Naundorf: It’s always about storytelling. As mentioned, I started as a reportage photographer. When I worked with big agencies, they would always tell me ‘one picture needs to say it all’. I first put this theory to the test when I photographed the Dalai Lama, once when I was 24 and the second time at the age of 26. I think a photograph should always tell a story – this also applies to fashion photography, at least in my case.

vintage style photograph

Magic Garden, III ,Valentino Garavani, Wideville by Cathleen Naundorf. Courtesy of Cathleen Naundorf studio

Maryam Eisler: Would you say that your collaboration with your sitter equally becomes an integral part of the process?
Cathleen Naundorf: I always ask the person if he or she has agreed to be photographed. It’s a question of respect. Some situations are also very intimate, and the sitter needs to feel more comfortable than usual. With culturally diverse ethnic groups, especially, you need to take time, explain, share with them the process and the purpose of your work. It is a question of trust and communication. With models, they may find themselves nude in front of you. As such, you need to develop trust, respect and comfort, in the rapport which you establish with them. As a photographer, you have to have the ability to open the sitter’s soul, and in turn, they need to be made aware of that. That’s when you bring the best out of people.

fashion portrait

Pose enchantée by Cathleen Naundorf. Courtesy of Cathleen Naundorf studio

Maryam Eisler: Do you have a secret formula or recipe in your photography? A signature of some sort?
Cathleen Naundorf: Not really. I am very critical of myself and try to improve the quality of my work with every shoot. It’s a daily task, step by step.

Read more: A new retrospective of photography by Terry O’Neill opens in Gstaad

Maryam Eisler: Most artists are doubters. They never know when the painting is finished. It is quite wonderful to have that certitude and to be able to say, ‘This is done! This is it!’
Cathleen Naundorf: Yes. When I shoot, I say to the team, ‘Guys that is it; we have it!’ It’s also fantastic to have the polaroid result in 60 seconds. Once I had to shoot the cover for a US magazine and I was photographing Laetitia Casta. I only shot seven polaroids and sent just ‘the one’ to the Editor-in-Chief of the magazine. They complained and asked to see more options, but I knew that that was the one. The magazines sold out, and there was the proof in the pudding! When you have it, you have it!

fashion photography

The enchanted forest I by Cathleen Naundorf. Courtesy of Cathleen Naundorf studio

fashion portrait

The doubt by Cathleen Naundorf. Courtesy of Cathleen Naundorf studio

Maryam Eisler: How old were you when you left East Germany? And how much of an influence did your country of origin have on your career?
Cathleen Naundorf: I was 17 when I left East Germany. When I was 6 years old, people around me used to say ‘Oh she is an artist, she is so sensitive’. I knew then that I was different. Being raised under that regime made me very strong over the years. Freedom and human rights took top priority in my life as a result. To be physically and mentally free are essential to me. You need to make choices in life and stand for what you believe in. I had to pack my suitcase in 24 hours and take what I could. That teaches you a lot in life!

Maryam Eisler: The choice of photojournalism could be considered activism in itself.
Cathleen Naundorf: Yes, I wanted to give something back to society. At 18, I became an active member of Amnesty International. I worked on cases in Yugoslavia during the war and also in Turkey. In 1993, I met the Dalai Lama. I was very fortunate. As mentioned before, I did a reportage twice on him. I was the youngest photo reporter and I was also the only woman. It was, and still is hard for a woman to be in photojournalism. In East Germany where I grew up, women and men were really equal. So, when I came to the West, I was disappointed. I felt like I had to battle even more in order to gain respect. Even today, I sometimes feel like I have to battle in order to protect my rights and justify my job.

Read more: SKIN co-founder Lauren Lozano Ziol on creating inspiring homes

Maryam Eisler: How do you marry your two worlds together: activism and fashion? It seems like they would normally be at polar opposites of each other?
Cathleen Naundorf: Honestly, I never saw myself as a fashion photographer. Horst [P.Horst] became my mentor and influenced me in the direction of fashion photography at the beginning of my career, alongside the influences of work by Richard Avedon and Irving Penn. I was eventually taken under Tim Jefferies’ wing (Director of Hamiltons Gallery, Mayfair), and the rest is history! When I moved to Paris in 1998, fashion was a kind of ethnic voodoo, with a touch of glamour, especially during the times of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano. It was great and I saw eye to eye with that kind of fashion. But those times are over, there is no Diana Vreeland or Francesca Sozzani anymore. People think I belong to the fashion bunch, but I don’t really. I am considered an artist, even by the fashion industry, and I always want to keep it that way.

black and white fashion photography

In the clouds, II by Cathleen Naundorf. Courtesy of Cathleen Naundorf studio

Maryam Eisler: Talk to me about the influence Horst had on you.
Cathleen Naundorf: When I discovered Horst’s photography, I called him in New York. I realised, that if this is and can be called fashion photography, then I must try and learn it. His work was magnificent. Later we found out, that my family and his family knew each other, because they each had big shops in the town of Weissenfels, in East Germany, on the same street! Can you believe that? He saw my travel pictures and he said ‘ Why don’t you try fashion?’ He influenced me at the beginning, and, of course, later on in my career, I developed my own personal style.

Maryam Eisler: Where do you find your inspiration?
Cathleen Naundorf: Everywhere. I always have pictures in my head! My fantasies drive me. And, I like to realise my dreams. It is these dreams and fantasies that empower me and make me feel alive!

View Cathleen Naundorf’s portfolio: cathleennaundorf.com
Instagram: @cathleennaundorf

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Reading time: 9 min
Man floating
Man floating with seagulls

darvish Fakhr photographed by Hugh Fox

British-Iranian, Canadian-born, American-raised artist darvish Fakhr’s multifaceted practice embraces dualities – light and dark, play and solemnity, movement and stillness – to create a unique sense of tension. Here, Maryam Eisler speaks to the artist about the meaning of his name, cultural heritage and seeking harmony
colour portrait of Maryam Eisler photographer and contributing LUX editor

Maryam Eisler

Maryam Eisler: darvish is a very telling name. Do you abide by the definition of your name?
darvish Fakhr: I never thought about abiding by it, but it was a name that was given to me by my parents, and it has always fascinated me. Growing up, my parents would have Darvish–related items in the house: the axe, and the hats, dolls. I was always curious about it.
[Note: A Darvish is a Sufi aspirant]

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Maryam Eisler: As a child, growing up in the United States, did you know what a Darvish was?
darvish Fakhr: No. I lived on a ranch in Texas with an uncle for about four months. And he said it’s very interesting that your name is darvish “because you have elements of a Darvish in your personality.” I didn’t understand what he was referring to.

painting of a woman chasing a kite

“I gave her an octopus kite for her birthday. It never flew well,” 2020 by darvish Fakhr

Maryam Eisler: What were the personality traits your uncle was referring to?
darvish Fakhr: I don’t know. It was the first time I thought of my name as something other than a name to respond to. Before that, it was just a very unusual name. My American friends hadn’t heard of it. Even for Iranians, it was a surprise that darvish was my first name. I always loved how Iranians pronounced my name, in the way that it was meant to be pronounced, with the emphasis on the ‘e’ sound. I remember liking the sound of it because it had a very hard beginning and a very soft ending, and I felt that I had some of that in me. I’ve always had different gears in my personality.

Above: ‘Notes from the Balcony’ (filmed in Brighton, UK during lockdown)

Maryam Eisler: Do you think this idea of dichotomy in your personality also originates from a cultural dichotomy? You are half Persian, half English. You also spent 27 years of your early and young adult life in Boston, Massachusetts. I also see a multifaceted approach to your art. Whether it is in performance or in painting, you seem to live and be comfortable with these dualities.
darvish Fakhr: The dualities were confusing to me as a child. I never really felt that I belonged to any one thing. And then, because I grew up in Boston, during the 1979 – 1981 hostage crisis, there was a lot of resentment pointed in my direction. And I didn’t understand it. It was very confusing to me. Even my closest friend suddenly flipped on me. Stones were being thrown at my house. My teachers never sided with me either. I felt ostracised those years. And it culminated into a physical explosion which I remember so vividly, surrounded by these taunting kids. I went into this primordial bestial state that became a form of expression. A warning. And it made everyone back off. They had never seen that side of me. It was a very guttural reaction over what was happening to me.

man with feather

hand holding feather

Here and above: darvish Fakhr photographed by Maryam Eisler

Maryam Eisler: Was art your answer ?
darvish Fakhr: I needed somehow to come to terms with it, in a way that made sense to me. The only way to do it was through art. Art had a certain alchemy; it offered me the idea that I could take these different elements and turn them into something special. It felt like there was a secret there. And even though I grew up in America, I was fascinated with the Iranian culture. The mystical element of it. My grandmother would pray, and I would watch/be/sit with her. A ceremony in every way.

Read more: Three top gallerists on how the art world is changing

Maryam Eisler: When did you leave Iran?
darvish Fakhr: I never really lived in in Iran. I was born in Canada. And when I turned one, we moved to Boston. I also feel more American that British, even though my mother is English, by origin.

Maryam Eisler: Did you feel that duality in your family nucleus as well?
darvish Fakhr: Yes, my father was an engineer who became a stockbroker, and my mother was a playwright. I always grew up with these extremes in my life. It was the norm. We had a very open minded, somewhat eccentric household growing up. A lot was allowed that might not have been in another household. And I was an only child.

Man floating on a rug

Image by Hugh Fox

Maryam Eisler: At what stage in your life, did you decide to become an ‘artist’?
darvish Fakhr: It came as a result of a slow evolution of ideas, wondering who I was and where I fit in. I started off at Bradford College in Massachusetts and then Boulder Colorado. In Boulder, my mother suggested that I go to Italy for a summer. That’s when I really got into painting, in Tuscany. I then went to the School of Fine Arts in Boston, after which I decided that I wanted to move to Europe, and so I did my masters in London at the Slade.

Maryam Eisler: You personally experienced that antagonistic attitude towards being a ‘foreigner’ as a child all those years ago. Today, thirty or so years on, it would seem like not much has changed as we move towards more polarised societal and political spheres.
darvish Fakhr: It is a worrying state of affairs, but I have hope. I hope that deep down people know what the truth is, but it is the fear that keeps them from embracing the truth, fear of the unknown, fear of change. Deep down, I firmly believe that they know what the right thing is, but there are things that get in the way and muddle up their vision: media, propaganda, fake news. We don’t know what to believe anymore. I also have no doubt that there will be an awakening, but it will happen at a gradual pace. You need to have the darkness in order to see the light, and I am interested in that lightness.

Above: filmed in Venice Beach, Los Angeles

Maryam Eisler: Do you find that ‘ lightness’ in your art? Does your art offer you a sanctuary, a state of calm? Or even a state of possibilities?
darvish Fakhr: I don’t really know where the art begins for me. It just is. Every day. I am more interested in a way of being than making art for a gallery show. I like the idea that there is an overlap. Art, to me, becomes a way of life, a way of believing, a philosophy that manifests itself whether you are painting a picture, or flying on a zip line. And the quality that I am interested in is this lightness, enjoyable and fun.

abstract painting

“He remembers his grandmother mostly for her egg hunts,” 2019 by darvish Fakhr

Maryam Eisler: You paint by memory. Please explain.
darvish Fakhr: That’s right. The lack of information in a memory is what interests me, rather than its high resolution. When I was younger I had a car accident, and I was hit hard on the head. My recording isn’t very good as a result, but I am interested in how I choose to remember things and all the other stuff that’s not included in that memory. Memories are always changing, depending on what your circumstances are in any given moment. It’s this idea of ephemerality in art that interests me. Something that is fleeting, something that is flying through space. Dissipation, or evaporation somehow. Contrasting ideas and concepts.

Maryam Eisler: I also see that in your performances… when you ride the invisible, ephemeral musical wave.
darvish Fakhr: Yes. You can’t control the waves but you can learn how to surf. I like that notion of surfing through your existence. When I do these movements, I often do them in public spaces because I like to feel everything that is around me. And I use that energy to shape what I am working on.

Maryam Eisler: I have noticed your hands shaping the invisible when you perform.
darvish Fakhr: I really feel what is around me. I like to be receptive to it. Some people get the misconception that I am in my own world, but actually, I am very present. I let the music dictate my moves. What I like to do is move in a way that feels natural to me. I also like to do it in public, as I enjoy the stirring up of something that I call ‘gentle civic disruption’. When I am moving, the first thing they want to know is “is he a threat?” When they can see that I am not a threat, then they somehow accept it, or maybe ignore it politely. Or alternatively, they are fascinated by it. Something that is unorthodox. I am okay with all of that. But the notion of surfing is a big part of what I do. I try not to premeditate. Nothing is choreographed. I like to do that with my painting too. What a lot of people don’t realise is that there are a lot of paintings underneath those paintings. I am fascinated by this notion of palimpsest. Where we have stories over stories over stories, but nothing gets suffocated. It is all coming through at some level, and I learned that from Iran, from the walls of Iran.

Read more: Fish&Pips co-founder Holly Chandler on the future of travel

Maryam Eisler: What you are describing to me is human history. Personal stories and bigger histories. Is it not?
darvish Fakhr: Yes. But there was something about Iran that was so ostensible. It was on the walls, and even the road signs were changing. They would bleed through. The community would cover up bits here and there, but the paint would crack and there was something underneath. Something of the past.

Man floating

darvish Fakhr is currently collaborating with photographer Hugh Fox on a show entitled ‘Lightness of Being’. Image by Hugh Fox

Maryam Eisler: Where do you find your current inspiration?
darvish Fakhr: At the moment I am excited to be working with photographer Hugh Fox. We are creating a body of work for an upcoming show called Lightness of Being. We hope to show his photographs alongside my paintings along with video and performance pieces. Hugh and I have been working together for about 5 years and when we get together it’s always fun and spontaneous…we just start with a loose idea and then see what happens. The idea could be something as simple as “water” or “corners”.

We do maybe 5% of what the body is capable of doing every day. But, there is so much space there. And the body loves it. I am doing this because I know my body loves it too. And I was starting to break down when I was just painting. I was repeating myself, and I was losing my range of motion. That is when I pulled back. And I stopped painting for a little while. And I have just been working with this notion of fluidity and studying how much is part of who we are as human beings. We are 70% water. We come from water, and then we come into this world. The ageing process is this sort of drying out that happens. I am interested in containing that fluidity and applying it to my art. So that it allows more room for expression. The body ebbs and flows as we inhale and exhale. It is about living it rather than knowing it.

Maryam Eisler: Finally, do you feel that, at this stage of life, consciousness and experience, you now deserve your name?
darvish Fakhr: [laughs] I don’t know. A real ‘Darvish’ goes through a lot of formal training. They study with a master. I wouldn’t say that I can / understand what they understand on that level. I am just doing it my way.

Maryam Eisler: Maybe life has been your master?
darvish Fakhr: That is a nice idea. If it is, then I am still very much a student. My hope is that through my art, the world will see that by borrowing from different cultures, you can create something more special, more unique. I am more about celebrating these differences and combining them into something that can be possibly more harmonious.

Explore darvish Fakhr’s work: darvish.com
Follow on Instagram: @darvish.studio

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Reading time: 11 min
Artist painting
Artist painting

Marc Ferrero in his studio

Marc Ferrero’s unique practice of ‘Storytelling Art’ combines aesthetic styles and visual references from different artistic movements and cultures to create striking, narrative-driven paintings. His most iconic artwork ‘Lipstick’ first appeared on the watch face of Hublot’s Big Bang One Click last year, and this month, marks the launch of the latest edition in monochrome. Here, we speak to the artist about visual storytelling, the language of colour and man versus machine

Artist in the studio

Marc Ferrero wearing his Hublot watch

1. Tell us about the concept of Storytelling Art.

Artistic movements will always be a mirror of their generation. To me, a simple graphic representation doesn’t speak loudly enough to create big emotions, but stories touch many different sensibilities. Telling a story, means that you enter in the imaginary world of  people. Nobody is passive in the face of a story, because it mixes two different concepts, inaccessibility and identification.

Each time somebody stands in front of one of my paintings they can relate to it through their own story; this creates a very dynamic relationship between the public and me as the artist. Faced with a graphic representation you are a spectator; faced with a storytelling painting you are an accomplice… it makes a big difference.

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

I created the Storytelling Art movement because I thought the field of painting needed a new approach. The normal process for most painters is to start from reality, to create a personal vision. I reverse that process by starting from my imaginary world and creating an entirely new world that is expressed through stories and fictional characters.

Compared to the other visual arts, the evolution of framing in painting is close to zero. I purposefully try to create different framings in order to produce more dynamic images and suspense. Storytelling art is not a graphic style, it is all about interpretation. The fact is all paintings tell some kind of story, but with my work, nobody will discover its story through an audioguide… The story is expressed on the painting directly.

Fiction, manipulation and fusion are the main words of Storytelling Art movement. What could be more connected to the time we are living in now?

2. What’s the story behind your iconic artwork ‘Lipstick’?

The central subject of the LIPSTICK painting is a woman wearing large black glasses. In art history, when an artist wanted to create a feminine subject, he made round shapes. For me, what a woman says is as important as how she looks; this is the definition of a ‘modern woman’. My way to express that psychological reality is to use angles, lines, and Cubist forms through the glasses. The LIPSTICK rebalances all these lines because it is a symbol of femininity. All around the main subject, there are many different realistic portraits of woman, who express the different roles that a modern life can offer.

artist watch

Big Bang One Click Ferrero Steel Red

3. How did you go about adapting the design for the latest Hublot Big Bang One Click?

The first time we met with the Hublot team in Switzerland everybody felt in love with my series of LIPSTICK paintings so it made sense to use that design. We worked as a team with Hublot’s graphic designer to translate the spirit of the painting onto a smaller scale. Usually, I work on a much bigger scale so I had to rework some outlines of the different figures around the central subject. To reproduce a painting onto a watch without trying to find the balance between the size of the dial and the spirit of the
painting itself would be a failure for sure. The strap is based on a stencil that I made specially for Hublot; it completes harmony of the watch.

Read more: How Hublot’s collaborations are changing the face of luxury

4. There’s a distinct graphic quality to your paintings – what inspired this style and what role does colour play?

Storytelling Art is a fusion of all kind of graphism on the same plane. This creates different values of time and space, which is absolutely necessary if you want to express several ideas or a specific story through a painting. Until now, an artist typically belonged to one graphic movement only, but to me, that’s old fashioned and doesn’t represent the time we are living in, but it all depends on the purpose of the painting. For example, my most recent paintings are based on abstraction to express a dehumanised world and the struggle of my characters in a society ruled by mathematical formulas and machines. I stick the characters onto the canvas in a comic strip, creating a fusion between abstraction and graphism which has a very powerful visual impact.

Colours have their own language in my work. For example, red is the colour of passion, audacious people and glamour, blue is the colour of transparency that expresses quiet places and the respect of tradition, but if you go to turquoise, it will express tropical places, holidays… Orange is the colour of energy, violet is the colour of dreams, yellow is a very convivial colour etc. Black and white fit with all other colours but never compete with them. Black has no movement and white is the colour of the future. I love to mix, and experiment with colours to create great harmonies.

5. Are you especially drawn to a particular type of story or character?

Mixing the verticality of a painting and the horizontal concept of a story opens up new fields of possibilities. The stories I’m working on go through the filter of my art.

Graphic tools offer me the possibility to divide a story in different sections of graphic styles. Pop art, for example, tends to fit very well with the heroes of my story. The ‘banksters’ of the story are expressed through Cubism. The world of the machines is treated through surrealism and abstraction, which fits
with the idea of a dehumanised world or the opposite idea of a dream world.

When I’m working on a story, I experiment. My studio is a laboratory, not a place where I copy myself. The type of stories and characters I love to create must fit with my imaginary world and my specificity of being a painter, but it could be a surrealistic modern fairytale or a kind of dream with a V8 engine.

Artist painting in studio

6. What are you working on now?

I am working now to adapt one of my stories with movie producers in Los Angeles. The climax of the story speaks about a dark idol who has changed the value of time and created the acceleration of the world. It is a world led by magic mathematic formulas and machines. The heroes (Lisa L’aventura, Duke Spencer Percival, Cello Di Cordoba) have created a secret network called ‘La Comitive Society Club.’ All the members of that network are connected through another measurement of time, in which the time is not based on hours, but on emotions and colours. The time of human emotion will fight the time of acceleration… It is a story about the fight between humans and machines.

Find out more: ferreroart.com; hublot.com

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A view inside a painter's studio
Painting details of two canvases

Details of paintings by Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar

French-Iranian artist Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar gives LUX readers a rare glimpse inside his Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat studio, normally open only to collectors and close friends, and shares insights into the artistic process

Every artist’s studio is unique, but French-Iranian artist Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar’s studio is, to coin a phrase, more unique than most. It is in a “secret” building on the spine of the chi-chi Cote d’Azur peninsula of Cap Ferrat, just outside the village of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. His neighbours are not other artists and craftspeople, but the discreet owners of fabulous villas in what is some of the most expensive real estate in the world. From the balcony of the second floor windows of the studio, you can see yachts moored at St Jean, and, in the distance, the rocky backdrop of Monte-Carlo.

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The studio building is, however, much as you might expect an artist’s studio to be: the communal garden (the studio shares the block with residents) is characterfully overgrown, and the studio itself comprises a small and basic kitchen which is not used for anything other than mixing paints, a tiny bathroom, and two large, bright and light rooms filled with canvasses, paint, studies, sketches and everything in between. There is barely anywhere to sit, and while the balcony looks out over the garden and rows of villas to the sea and mountains beyond, it doesn’t look like it is used for anything except musing.

The setting may seem unusual now, but in fact the artist follows in the footsteps of artists such as  CézanneMatisseChagallRenoir and Picasso, in his choice of the French Riviera as his creative backdrop. The floor-to-ceiling windows provide the artist an opportunity to connect with nature, a theme which increasingly permeates his work. The mountains and climate of the south of France provide a geographic link with Iran, Behnam-Bakhtiar’s ancestral homeland where he spent his formative years and young adulthood, and the culture and language a direct link back into Paris, the city of his birth, 1000km and a world away to the north.

Below, and for one of the first times ever, the artist shares intimate images from inside his studio alongside accompanying commentary about life as an artist under lockdown.

Painter's studio

“Since mid 2019, I have had a calling to focus on our connection to nature and have been painting that mainly. I had this urge to paint art that transfers an experience that is both good for us and our planet. The lockdown just reinforced it even more. The routine has not changed but the focus on my work has deepened.”

Views of the ocean from a balcony

“The view from my studio is a constant reminder that we are part of something much greater and connected to all living beings, and understanding this fact is vital to one’s evolution of the Self. The beauty of nature in its purest form pushes us to see beyond what most of us call the norm – to understand the value and importance of what is provided for us by nature and its energy, which is flowing through us and all around. My location is important because of its energy and what is provides for me on a daily basis – I didn’t get the vibes I get here when I used to work in my studio in London and it showed in my work. All of this is interconnected and will affect the artist path and work throughout the years.”

Read more: Boundary-breaking artist Barbara Kasten on light & perception

Artist's paints in the studio

“I definitely require a certain atmosphere to be able to create. Not that the ambiance needs to be positive and happy for me to create – I’ve done some of my strongest canvases under pressure and negative circumstances. It’s hard to explain, but I place myself in a particular mode when I work. It is all about what needs to pour out of you with the subjects in mind. I’ve had horrible days with so much thought in my mind and once I bring out all of it on a canvas (normally resembles a fight between myself, the canvas, my tools and the paint), I leave the studio with a sense of ease and peace.

I don’t like to have people around when I work. As I create some sort of an energy bubble where I place myself in during the creative process, I can’t have any interference. I do have very few select people (collector friends) who can see my creative process.”

Interiors of a painter's studio

“The studio is divided into five main spaces. There are two painting spaces in two different sections, one for where 90% of the creative process happens and the other for the detailing work. There’s also a storage room where finished works are stored (I can’t show you that as don’t like to show sold works), an equipment and paint room, and a mounting room for when my framing partner passes by to pick up canvases to take back to his atelier and to mount smaller works on the chassis.”

A view inside a painter's studio

“There are some of my collectors who have become friends throughout the years who pass by regularly to see new works and have a chat, which is always fun. Our topics usually revolve around the work, their messages, the process and visionary discussions about life and our humanities. They usually find one or two works they fall in love which I end up putting in the ‘sold room’ until they are picked up. There are maybe three of my collector friends whom I like to listen to as they have a unique eye and understanding of the arts.”

Read more: Examining the work of visual artist and philosopher Wolfgang Tillmans

abstract painting

“This study, entitled Rebirth Under the Gingko Tree, has been a work in progress for about a year, which a larger piece will be based on.”

Large scale abstract paintings

“Both of these canvases have been prepared for my upcoming show Rebirth. Both works were done simultaneously showing each a tree amongst nature. This shot was after each canvas was stretched on a chassis.”

Abstract paintings in the studio

“Space is primordial for me – I have recently taken over the above floor of my current studio to extend my working space.”

Large scale abstract painting

“This work is entitled Eternal Garden. It’s hard to describe how I know when a painting is finished – it is like an internal click and then you know it’s perfect.”

Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar’s upcoming exhibition ‘Rebirth’ is due to open at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat Cultural Space (Villa Namouna) on 11 September until 11 October 2020.

He is represented by Setareh Gallery, Dusseldorf: setareh-gallery.com

 

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Artist working in his studio vintage photograph
Artist working in his studio vintage photograph

Picasso and ceramic (owl) by David Douglas Duncan (Spring 1957), Villa La Californie, Cannes © David Douglas Duncan © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2019. Courtesy the estate David Douglas Duncan

For a special exhibition at Vieux Chalet in Gstaad, Hauser & Wirth brings together ceramics and paintings by Picasso alongside a series of portrait photographs by David Duncan Douglas to provide a fascinating exploration of creativity, intimacy and space.

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Duncan himself was a renowned war photographer and photojournalist, who first encountered Picasso in 1956 when he  infamously rang the doorbell of La Californie, the artist’s home in Cannes. At the time, Picasso was in the bathtub and allowed Duncan to photograph him right then and there, leading onto a lasting friendship which granted the photographer unprecedented access into the artist’s creative processes. Over the course of seventeen years, Duncan took approximately 25,000 images of Picasso, documenting not just Picasso himself, but also his family and friends.

Father and son playing wrestling

Battle between Claude and his father wearing Gary Cooper’s cowboy hat by David Douglas Duncan, July 1957, Villa La Californie, Cannes © David Douglas Duncan © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2019. Courtesy the estate David Douglas Duncan

Painter and a painted portrait of a woman

Pablo Picasso with the portrait Jacqueline à l’écharpe noire (1954) by David Douglas Duncan, 1957, Villa La Californie, Cannes © David Douglas Duncan © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2019. Courtesy the estate David Douglas Duncan

Duncan’s photographs and Picasso’s artworks are displayed side by side throughout the domestic spaces of the chalet, emphasising the intimacy of the photographic perspective as well as the connection between the two distinct artistic mediums. In some of the images, Picasso is seen actively engaging with the lens whilst others are more candid, showing the artist amongst his easels, books, brushes and paints.

Read more: How Galerie Maria Behnam-Bakhtiar aims to inspire change

Ceramic vase painted with man's bearded head

Bearded man’s head (1948) by Pablo Picasso © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2019Courtesy Succession Picasso

The artist’s ceramics are amongst the most captivating works on display, as everyday objects such as bowls and vases are transformed into animal-like creatures through warped swollen shapes and dynamic painted lines. Seen alongside Duncan’s photographs, Picasso’s creative energy becomes even more palpable as does the friendship between the two artists caught in subtle gestures and glances.

‘Picasso Through the Lens of David Douglas Duncan’ runs until 28 February 2020 at Le Vieux Chalet in Gstaad. For more information visit: hauserwirth.com/hauser-wirth-exhibitions/26682-pablo-picasso-lens-david-douglas-duncan

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Installation shot of contemporary art exhibition
Woman standing in front of abstract painting

The gallery’s founder Maria Behnam-Bakhtiar in front of a painting by Farzad Kohan in the exhibition ‘Human Being, Being Human’

Galerie Maria Behnam-Bakhtiar, a new gallery in the heart of Monaco, celebrates its opening with an exhibition of works by Iranian-American artist Farzad Kohan, but it is no ordinary commercial enterprise, as Rebecca Anne Proctor discovers

A visit to Monte Carlo is like stepping inside a gallery filled with glistening works of art. The picturesque town, with its expansive sea views, its numerous neatly landscaped gardens, countless restaurants, luxury boutiques and cultural institutions, continues to fuse its regal past with its new contemporary character.90

Entering this mix of glamour and culture is a new art gallery, Galerie Maria Behnam-Bakhtiar, which opened its doors in December 2019. Named after its founder, the art collector and wife of artist Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar, the gallery is dedicated to contemporary and modern art and highlighting works by established and emerging international artists.

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While the Behnam-Bakhtiars are known for their support of the Iranian art scene, particularly through the Fondation Behnam-Bakhtiar, where Maria holds the role of curator of the permanent collection, Galerie Maria Behnam-Bakhtiar will not limit its exhibitions or roster of artists to any particular culture or nationality. “The nationality of an artist is not what is important; what is crucial is the art and what the artist is trying to say. My mission is to show established and emerging artists from all over the world,” Maria says. The art and objects on show will be specially curated and exclusive to the gallery.

Located close to the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco at the Villa Sauber and to the Grimaldi Forum (which hosts the annual artmonte-carlo art fair), the gallery has placed itself at the heart of the city’s art centre. “Monaco is such a great place for art and culture,” says Maria. “Moreover, here in Monaco we have a wonderful group of collectors, some based locally and others who return regularly. We aim to add a new and exciting dimension to the Monaco art scene with our diverse programming.”

Installation shot of contemporary art exhibition

Installation shot of Farzad Kohan’s exhibition ‘Human Being, Being Human’ at Galerie Behnam-Bakhtiar in Monaco

Woman in front of abstract paintingMonaco offers a particular segment to the European art market. “It boasts highly influential residents and visitors who provide the perfect platform and exposure for our artists,” adds Maria. “And, for generations, the Prince’s family in addition to the government of Monaco have been great supporters of the arts.” Anyone who knows the city will be familiar with its buzzing social life, its numerous galas, operas, ballets and art exhibitions. “It’s wonderful that we will now be a part of this exciting agenda,” adds Maria. “It’s a place where you can really foster connections.”

Read more: Audemars Piguet’s Olivia Giuntini on art and women’s watches

Maria has been on the international art scene since 2009, firstly through the Fondation Behnam-Bakhtiar, established to promote emerging and established Iranian artists, and secondly as a collector. “I have been collecting art and supporting artists for a long time and this gallery is a way for me to further solidify my love of art,” says Maria, who has also hosted multiple non-profit functions in support of the arts in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. “I do what I do out of love,” she adds. “A gallery, like an artwork, is born of passion and dedication.”

The gallery will stage five to six exhibitions per year with, she says, “no specific geographic focus”. The gallery’s inaugural exhibition is ‘Human Being, Being Human’, by Los Angeles-based Iranian-American artist Farzad Kohan. The works on show, with their vibrant palette and meticulously drawn abstract lines, explore a segment of human experience, one marked by positive affirmations. “Farzad’s work was so important for us to start with because of the universal themes he addresses,” states Maria. “His paintings go beyond national and cultural boundaries. He speaks about love, kindness and humanity – themes that touch everyone from all walks of life.”

Abstract painting hanging on gallery wall

One of the paintings by Farzad Kohan’s in the exhibition ‘Human Being, Being Human’

The works exhibited in ‘Human Being, Being Human’ are being seen for the first time at the gallery. In one painting, replete with numerous thin lines, Kohan has written in his signature style the phrase “I have the power”. While at first this might appear boastful, when the viewer looks at the title of the work, To Change, they might think otherwise. “The way one perceives Farzad’s paintings is left up to the viewer’s own perspective,” Maria explains. In another painting. the word “everyday” is repeated, prompting the beholder to focus on the meaning of each instance. Then, as in the former work, one can see the title of the painting: Thankful. Indeed, gratitude for the everyday and for everything in life is a vital component to living a more compassionate existence. “I am a big fan of positive thinking and energy and I think it’s so wonderful to have a work in your home that offers positivity through beauty,” notes Maria.

Kohan’s work places an emphasis on form and material allowing for a reflection on the accumulation of various parts that make up a whole. For Kohan, art creation is akin to the diasporic experience, with which the artist, born in Tehran and now living in LA, is familiar. All stages, materials and processes, like all chapters in life, are part of a larger work and greater vision for the artist. In addition to his paintings, Kohan also makes installations and works on paper, particularly ink drawings.

Read more: Meet Russian style and fitness guru Polina Kitsenko

“He has developed signature techniques which he applies so skilfully to his multi-layered paintings,” says Maria. “I really connected to his ‘Human Being, Being Human’ series, where each painting is poetic, sentimental and beautiful not only visually but above all in its message. To me these works are brilliant because they incorporate various affirmations in the shape of an artwork.”.” Another facet of Galerie Maria Behnam-Bakhtiar’s activity is publishing. “Being a true bibliophile, one of the most exciting aspects of launching the gallery is the fact that we will run our own publishing house to produce books and catalogues to accompany our exhibitions.” This, in turn, Maria hopes, will open the door for dialogues between the gallery, its artists, curators, writers and of course, readers and visitors.

Installation view of abstract painting exhibition

The goal of the gallery, as Maria states, is to give back to the larger community. “I want the gallery to serve as a platform that inspires change and highlights the importance of social responsibility,” says Maria. “For every exhibition, we donate a portion of the proceeds to a selected organisation that makes this world a better place.”

While the gallery is in essence commercial, its aims are higher. “One of the main reasons I love art is for its educational side. I appreciate surprising angles, different views and the diversity that art offers in its subjects and many explorations,” she adds. Galerie Maria Behnam-Bakhtiar, like the artworks it chooses to exhibit, offers an artistic and peaceful space in the heart of busy Monaco – a brief escape through art from the chaos of modern life.

‘Human Being, Being Human’ by Farzad Kohan runs until 4 March 2020. For more information visit: mariabehnambakhtiar.com

This article was originally published in the Spring 2020 Issue.

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Exhibition installation shot
Exhibition installation shot

Installation view of Maturation by José Yaque (2020) at Galleria Continua Roma, St. Regis. Image courtesy the artist and Galleria Continua

Founded in 1990 by three friends in the Tuscan town of San Gimignano, Galleria Continua now represents the likes of Ai Weiwei, Anish Kapoor and Michelangelo Pistoletto with spaces in Havana, Paris and Beijing. Last week, the gallery opened its first location in Rome within the St Regis hotel. We spoke to co-founder Lorenzo Fiaschi about the opening, artist residency programs and the year ahead

Man wearing pink suit jacket and red trousers

Lorenzo Fiaschi, Co-Founder of Galleria Continua

1. Why Rome and why now?

The people, situations and places we encounter are what inspires us, our projects don’t come from how the “market” works or from collecting. When we find somewhere with which we feel a certain type of harmony, we launch ourselves into it, body and soul. We let ourselves get swept away by passion and luckily, results follow. In Rome, we have collector friends who follow and appreciate us, so we’re happy to create this new adventure in order to see them more often.

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2. How did you first develop a relationship with the St. Regis?

We started our collaboration with The St Regis Rome through a project with Loris Cecchini. His exhibition had great success and created a lot of interest and buzz. Some Romans were curious about the installation Blaublobbing that you could see from outside and entered the hotel to discover the other works. A place that hosts international artists while creating a dialogue between the works, the space and the guests that stay there is something new and it worked. We then followed that with an exhibition by Pascale Marthine Tayou, an artist who celebrates life through his works. Forms, colours and a mix of human and geographical oddities invaded The St Regis and it was another thrilling experience.

The General Manager, Giuseppe De Martino, from the beginning has been a promoter of an open relationship towards the world of contemporary art, at this point he showed us a very unusual wing of the hotel, unknown to guests, the Sala Diocleziano. We liked it and so accepted the challenge, imagining what it could become and deciding to open a new exhibition space.

Artist installation in hotel lobby

If I Died (2013), sculpture installation by Beijing artist duo Sun Yuan & Peng Yu installed in hotel lobby at St Regis Rome by Galleria Continua. Image courtesy: the artist and Galleria Continua. Photo by Ela Bialkowska, OKNO Studio

3. What are some of the challenges of opening a gallery within a hotel?

The challenge is to stimulate and draw in people who don’t know, or don’t frequent the contemporary art world. The challenge is to bring the gaze of the hotel guests onto forms and languages that are unusual for them. Art opens us up to new realities and new ways of thinking.

The educational aspects of Galleria Continua Roma’s program aim to bring children closer to contemporary art by providing them with suitable reading keys, not only for the understanding of an artistic language for the time they live in, but also for the creation of creative knowledge and stimulants. The intent is to educate about art through art.

4.Can you tell us about the concept behind José Yaque’s exhibition Maturation?

José Yaque, as the first artist in the new space, represents a continuation of the Cuban experience which began with the opening of Galleria Continua Habana. He’s a witness and representative of a gallery experience which aims to weave relationships between cultures, geographies and diverse individuals, Yaque conceptually represents a bridge between Cuba and Rome.

Read more: Artist Richard Orlinski on pop culture & creative freedom

For Maturation, he presents a series of new paintings and an installation from the ‘Tumba Abierta’ series, an archive in transformation made up of natural elements (plants, seeds, fruits, leaves); new forms of landscape where matter, colours and smells magically transport the viewer to other places. José Yaque’s paintings are like windows opening onto a landscape. Mixing and applying the colours using his hands, a sort of magma is formed and transformed when he wraps the works with plastic film before removing the protective layer, once dried, resulting in an eroded painting.

Installation view of exhibition with artworks hanging on walls

Installation view of ‘Maturation’ by José Yaque (2020) at Galleria Continua Roma, St. Regis. Image courtesy the artist and Galleria Continua

5. How will the artist residencies work?

We’ll also be launching an artist residency program that will be selected by an expert committee every 6 months, giving an opportunity to young artists from emerging countries to stay in the capital, to increment their personal and professional growth by confronting themselves with the immense contemporary, and antique Italian artistic heritage. The works done during these stays will be presented to the public in the spaces of the gallery.

6. What other developments do you have planned for this year?

Coming up, with the Chinese artists Sun Yuan & Peng Yu (their exhibition constitutes a third stage in the collaboration project with The St Regis Rome, after Loris Cecchini and Pascale Marthine Tayou) we organised talks at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma and a talk at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Carrara. We’re always open to any collaboration that can create an exchange and a dialogue.

In 2020, we are celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of Galleria Continua so there are many exciting things to come. At the end of the summer we are opening a new location in Sao Paulo in Brazil in the Pacaembu stadium, a historic building in the heart of the city, since 1940 it has been a central part of the city’s cultural life.

In September, we will be celebrating this anniversary where everything began, in San Gimignano with an exhibition of Chen Zhen inaugurating on 18, 19 and 20 September 2020.

‘Maturation’ by José Yaque runs until 28 March 2020 at Galleria Continua at The St Regis Rome. For more information visit: galleriacontinua.com

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installation view of artworks on gallery wall
installation view of artworks on gallery wall

Installation view of Lethe by Henrik Uldalen at JD Malat Gallery, Mayfair

Henrik Uldalen is a self-taught artist, who caught the attention of gallerist Jean-David Malat via his Instagram account. His impasto portraits depict the tumultuous variety of human emotion. Following the opening of his second solo show Lethe at JD Malat Gallery in Mayfair, we speak to the artist about inspiration, social media and the colour pink.

Artist sitting in sutdio

Artist Henrik Uldalen in his studio

1. Can you tell us about the concept for Lethe?

The show, in broad terms, is about history versus the collective memory, and how the zeitgeist of our time is polarising the society with the use of fear and glorified notions of the past.

2. What inspires you to start a new series or artwork?

Most of time I don’t need inspiration to start a new series. The need to create and express is always within, and if I don’t get it out of my system I know I won’t be a happy man. Over the years I’ve come to learn this about myself, and how to practically force myself out of the door in order to function as a person.

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3. Are the figures you paint imagined or drawn from personal memories?

The people you see are models that I approach, but all the figures are also me. Every piece I make is a self-portrait projected onto a stranger, expressing my inner most intimate feelings and moods.

Abstract portrait painting of a woman

Artwork by Henrik Uldalen

4. How do you think social media is impacting the way we view art?

Social media is a blessing and a curse. The way you’re able to reach out to people across the globe with the click of link is mind boggling. Especially growing up in a small town in Norway this impacted my career in a massive way. Unfortunately, I find social media too superficial and narrow to be able to convey any deeper meanings from the artist to the viewer. In the same way that you can’t fully appreciate a beautifully cooked dish described through even the most flowery language, you’re not able to feel a painting as you’re supposed to in a split second over a 13x7cm phone screen.

Painting of figures embracing against pink background

Artwork by Henrik Uldalen

5. The portraits in Lethe are set against a pink background. What significance does the colour have for you?

The colour pink in this exhibition represents the veil we cover our eyes with when we think back on our past. A comforting lie, telling us that everything will be fine as long as we return to our glory days.

Read more: Galerie Maria Behnam-Bakhtiar opens in Monte-Carlo

6. Which artists have most influenced your practice?

I usually look for inspiration in  fields of art other than my own. Movies, TV, books, plays and music are my main sources. I need to not understand the technical aspects of the artwork if I’m to appreciate the piece fully. If I see a painting I would immediately look for compositions, colour combinations and brush strokes, but in reality, I should just feel the piece of work.

‘Lethe’ by Henrik Uldalen runs until 11 January 2020 at JD Malat Gallery, 30 Davies St., Mayfair. For more information visit: jdmalat.com

 

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Vibrant abstract painting
Vibrant abstract painting

Red Extremis (2019), Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar

Last week saw the opening of Franco-Iranian artist Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar’s latest solo exhibition Extremis at the Setareh Gallery in Düsseldorf

A glamorous collection of international guests filled Setareh Gallery in Düsseldorf for the opening party of Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar’s latest exhibition, which included an exclusive candlelit dinner amidst the paintings. Amongst those admiring the bold new artworks were model Jodie Kidd, singer Pixie Lott with her fiancé Oliver Cheshire and actress Millie Brady.

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Dinner party in an art gallery

Dinner guests at art gallery

Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar with model Jodie Kidd (right) and Amber Le Bon (left)

The exhibition’s title Extremis comes from the latin phrase in extremis, meaning in ‘an extremely difficult situation’ or ‘at the moment of death’, an apt name for this collection of paintings that delve into a turbulent period in the artist’s life in post-revolution Iran.

Artist standing amongst work in art gallery

Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar standing amidst his artworks

Guests admiring artworks in gallery opening

Guests admiring the paintings in detail

Read more: How Hong Kong’s M+ museum will transform Asia’s art scene

As with all of his works, the paintings were created through the artist’s signature method which involves scrapping away the upper layers of paint away to leave the under layers exposed. Each work takes several months or even years to complete as the artist progresses from bright and vivid colours to darker tones creating a unique sense of multi-dimensionality and movement.

Private view at an art gallery

Vivid blue abstract painting

Sky is the Limit (2019), Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar

Vivid abstract pink painting

Passage of Life (2019), Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar

‘Extremis’ runs until 23 November 2019 at Setareh Gallery, Düsseldorf. For more information visit: setareh-gallery.com

 

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Abstract painting in bleached colours
Portrait painting of a woman's face

‘Twenty Seventeen’ (2017), by Luc Tuymans, Pinault Collection

Favouring themes of conflict, violence and death, renowned Belgian painter Luc Tuymans fulfils the brief of brooding artist, yet his work is deeply layered and complex. With two major retrospectives on his work being held in Europe this year, Millie Walton meets the man behind the canvas
Painter Luc Tuymans in his studio

The artist in his Antwerp studio

Through a garage door and down a wide passageway: a man’s bleached face stares blankly ahead with large, piercing eyes. To the right, there are two more enormous pale faces. “These are dead people,” Luc Tuymans says of the series of three portraits hanging in his studio in Antwerp. They will soon be shipped off to form part of his upcoming show at De Pont Museum of Contemporary Art in the Netherlands, one of two major retrospectives this year. We sit on two sagging armchairs; there’s a small table between us with a cup of cold black coffee and in front of us, another much smaller painting of a ghostly, hooded figure tacked onto the wall with masking tape. It’s a present for the director of De Pont, Tuymans tells me, lighting up the first of many cigarettes. Apart from the paintings and a table stacked with paper and dried-up paint mounds, the studio is stark, almost blindingly white in the sunshine. A former laundrette, Tuymans bought it over ten years ago, having previously worked in a much smaller apartment, which looked “more like Francis Bacon’s studio”. This place, he says, is, “antiseptic, but it works well”.

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The Belgian artist famously completes most of his works in one day, giving the impression of a feverish outpouring of creativity, but really the works have been brewing for some time, often for months, before Tuymans applies paint to canvas. For him, the process begins with a careful curation of pre-existing imagery, drawings, Polaroids and photos he takes on his iPhone, or things he encounters online. He selects his source material according to its relevance and paintability, by which he means, “what kind of kick I can get out of it”. Considering that much of his subject matter is violent, morbid or at the very least, deeply cynical, we might consider these ‘kicks’ to be somewhat sadistic.

Painting of a target with blue centre

‘Disenchantment’ (1990), by Luc Tuymans, private collection

Right from the start of his 40-year career, Tuymans has been depicted by the media as the brooding artist, in part due to his intimidatingly large physical presence and flickering eyes, but also because of his ongoing fascination with the darker corners of European history and reluctant approach to beauty. Speaking of his current retrospective exhibition at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice, he laughs growlingly at the idea that people might consider his paintings beautiful. In the press video for the show, he is depicted as a stereotypical villain lurking in dark alleyways and brandishing his paintbrushes as weapons. It says a lot that Tuymans himself made the short film.

Collage painting of a man wearing sunglasses

‘Die Zeit (pt 4/4)’ (1988), by Luc Tuymans, private collection

And yet, something in Tuymans tells you not to trust appearances. Just as his paintings may appear prosaic in their imagery, their significance is deeply layered. To view his work is to enter into a game in which you neither know the rules nor the aim. “You could actually see my work as the deep web, or the precursor of it,” says Tuymans with a slight smile, making it hard to gauge how seriously to take such statements. Nevertheless, his practice is certainly preoccupied with peripheries, hidden objects and meanings, things the ordinary eye would ignore or miss. There is a tension in his paintings between uncovering and disguising, remembering and disremembering. As with the series of cadaver portraits, his subjects often seem to be disappearing, fading from memory and simultaneously, clinging desperately to life.

Read more: The new age of Chinese ink art

Abstract painting in bleached colours

‘Allo! I’ (2012), by Luc Tuymans, private collection

“From very early on, my work was born out of an insane and very profound distrust of imagery,” he says, which is now especially relevant in the age of the digital image and mass reproduction – where the lines between originality and forgery are increasingly blurred. This distrust, in fact, was the reason Tuymans started painting as a teenager in the late 1970s, seeking a deliberate ‘regression’ by creating a work that had the appearance of another era and thus, developing a practice of so-called ‘authentic forgery’. However, this seems somewhat reductive to Tuymans’ intentionality, which is one of total disillusionment. Take, for example, the mosaic of pine trees that covers the floor in the entrance hall of Palazzo Grassi. Visitors might be forgiven for assuming it to be part of the Palazzo’s grand decoration rather than an act of wilful deception by Belgium’s most famous contemporary painter, who worked with an Italian firm to perfectly match the green marble to the existing floor colouring. Then there’s the fact that the mosaic is based on Tuymans’ iconic 1986 painting Schwarzheide, named after a Nazi labour camp where many inmates were worked to death. This seemingly picturesque cluster of pine trees represents the evergreens planted along the border of the camp to hide it from public view.

Abstract painting of flowers in a vase

‘Technicolor’ (2012), by Luc Tuymans, private collection

Portrait of a priest in bleached paints

‘München’ (2012), by Luc Tuymans, Pinault Collection

Encountering works such as these for the first time, how can we know or begin to understand their embedded contexts? “I am a big believer in not overestimating or underestimating the public,” says Tuymans. “I don’t believe in wall texts. You’re given a reader, which you can choose to look at whenever you like, but there is a point I’m trying to make in the experience through which you have a feeling of not just oblivion, but utter ignorance.” This comes from the fact that the exhibition at Palazzo Grassi, titled La Pelle after Curzio Malaparte’s book of the same name, is a retrospective show in one of the world’s most visited cities, so the audience being addressed is the wider public rather than art experts. Tuymans notes that many viewers may be drawn not by the art, but by a “certain kind of voyeurism to get into spaces such as the Palazzo”. He relishes the idea that the exhibition may disrupt their expectations, functioning as “a strong confrontation with the space”.

Read more: Photographer Viviane Sassen’s ‘Venus and Mercury’ at Frieze London

Installation shot of a painting in a grand gallery space

Installation from ‘La Pelle’, ‘Turtle’ (2007), by Luc Tuymans, private collection

Does he think of himself as a political painter, then? “No artist can be political because you can’t load up an artwork from the start, if you do, you’re just making propaganda,” says Tuymans. “But that doesn’t mean the work cannot have a political stance at a certain given moment.” Whether his paintings work or not, in his opinion, has a lot to do with the images that surround him. “I need an extreme tension when I paint,” he claims, also referring to the anxiety that he feels each time he approaches the blank canvas. There are conditions for his creative process: Thursdays and Fridays only (“because it’s the end of the week”), a clear head (“no drinking the night before”) and a sense of risk. “I think that fear of failure is very necessary,” he says. “Otherwise I may as well do a 9-to-5 job.” Of course, failure is a less painful prospect when you’re one of the world’s most respected painters. Now, Tuymans has the luxury of “throwing away” a painting when it’s not working, and by that he means literally into the bin. Antwerp residents, take note.

Abstract painting of a clown

‘Ballone’ (2017), by Luc Tuymans, private collection.

“Whenever I’m asked the question: why do you still paint?,” muses Tuymans, “the answer is always: because I’m not f*cking naive. Painting is a medium that works within its own proposition with time and it’s always had this inheritance of being an anachronism within that time, which has an appalling impact on your brain.” The impact he speaks of relates again to the multilayered aspect of his work, to the way in which he both draws from and mimics the past, while simultaneously and inevitably applying his contemporary, subjective perspective. It is this perspective, combined with the cultural context in which the work is viewed, that creates its relevance. So the significance of Tuymans’ paintings – as perhaps with all artworks – is continuously reforming. “I’m currently working on a two-year project with three scientists,” he says. “We’re going to put [my] work into algorithms. Not to make a painting with a computer, because that’s stupid, but to see what the signifiers mean in terms of language. Language is something that is always changing and the aim is to compare that to the anachronism of painting and to see what the outcome would be.” Admirers of his work will anticipate this next incarnation with interest.

This article was originally published in the Autumn 19 Issue.

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Reading time: 7 min
A man painting onto an orange wall
A man holding a paint palette

The artist Secundino Hernández in Venice, holding one of his preparatory studies for a larger palette painting

LUX Contributing Editor and photographer Maryam Eisler is entranced by Spanish artist Secundino Hernández. Here, she visits and photographs him on his residency in Venice to discuss inspiration and physicality in painting and the organised chaos of the creative process

Maryam Eisler: It is intriguing to hear about your visceral/carnal take on Venice; its tones and its ‘fleshiness’, as you call it.
Secundino Hernández: It was a coincidence. I only noticed it when I came here. I never had these memories about Venice before; I never thought about the colour of the buildings looking like flesh. It suddenly became evident as I looked out the window of my studio. I walk the city streets inspired, and I now combine the flesh tones by mixing them in the studio.

Maryam Eisler: What about the parallels with the work of L.S. Lowry?
Secundino Hernández: Yes, the palette! It’s amazing how Lowry developed his whole career with only five colours! The challenge is not to imitate, but to be inspired by his process. I have done this before with watercolours, based on Cezanne’s 14 colours.

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Maryam Eisler: It’s interesting that you’re taking a figurative approach to painting in Venice. It seems to me that you are very much about this yin and yang, constantly meandering between lightness and heaviness; between monochromes and colour, the abstract and the figurative.
Secundino Hernández: Yeah. Someone asked me once, after I was done with these black and white works: “What is next?” and I said, “Back to the body.” It was shocking but it was true. After the freedom of the abstract paintings, I needed to go back to the exercise of representation. The mentality changes with the technique. It’s a new, open field for me. This is the most exciting part of painting. It’s not that I feel obliged to do this or that, but I push myself to try something new all the time. That’s what makes it rewarding.

Painting of a female nude

Maryam Eisler: You have taken an almost academic and art-historical approach to figuration; you even use a human model, although your figurative work is quite abstract.
Secundino Hernández: I want to explore how to paint figuration, after painting abstraction for a long time. It’s what I feel comfortable with. That’s why I paint with a model present and be academic in that way, but I always try to go a step further.

Maryam Eisler: So, you layer your work? You take all your past experiences, including the abstract, and layer it with the figurative. And then there’s magic…
Secundino Hernández: Yeah. I don’t move to figuration just for the sake of it. It’s about this inner exercise in order to see where the abstract works lead to. It’s like a mirror game. I want to test my abstraction, and for that, I need to have a reference, and that reference at this moment is the figure. This is the starting point for something new. The main thing is to open possibilities and new potential. I always thought it was easier to explain figurative work more than abstraction because abstraction is based on concepts, but I am realising that figures and bodies can also be very conceptual. We have seen the figure represented in paintings for centuries, so how do I paint a figure as if it’s being painted for the first time?

Artist painting a model in the studio

Hernández works with a live model to inform his figurative yet abstract works

Maryam Eisler: Going back to the language of the figurative and carnal, you often talk about ‘skin’ and ‘bones’, even with your abstract paintings. You scratch the surface of the painting like the surface of the skin and you dig deep into its bones.
Secundino Hernández: The pure linen is the bone because everything starts from this structure. I also like the idea of going backwards. It’s more like a sculpture, where you are sculpting and taking away from the form. Normally with a painting, you add to it. I like the idea of working with almost no paint at all, or even just with the primer.

Watercolour painting of a female nude

Maryam Eisler: You talk about ‘scars’ and you’re interested in dereliction. I see it so evidently as we walk through Venice. Anything that peels, anything that’s scratched, anything that has weathered texture to its surface. Is there an element of temporality and or timelessness in your work?
Secundino Hernández: Yes, that is very much present at the beginning of the palette works. They are nice to admire, but for me, they’re about the memory of what happens in the studio – every day, the process, the passage of time. I used a clean brush and I started to mix colours and they started to grow and grow and grow. I like this idea of growth and subtraction because the works are like pendulums. Some are about adding, and others are about taking away. Everything happens in between and in the physicality of the paintings.

Read more: Louis Roederer’s CEO Frédéric Rouzaud on art and hospitality

Maryam Eisler: Speaking of physicality, your act of painting is very physical, almost performative. You also ripple between large and small-scale works…
Secundino Hernández: It’s demanding. I like it now, but maybe in ten years’ time I will not have this energy level. It’s about not repeating the same process, the same scale. So, going back to the body, I thought it was nicer to paint on a small scale because it is more practical and, in a way, easier to develop the idea faster.

Maryam Eisler: In both your abstract and figurative work, in the way that you use the power-jet, the steamer, in the way that you peel and scratch the surface of the canvas, it seems to me that there is an element of chance and creative fate.
Secundino Hernández: It’s all about fate, you know. I believe that it’s got to be that way, otherwise I would never do any of it.

A man painting onto an orange wall

Hernández is inspired by derelict surfaces and the ‘fleshiness’ of the colours in Venice, such as this peeling wall and rows of buildings

Maryam Eisler: Does the sublime play a role in your practice? Spirituality, or just trust in the universal powers of being?
Secundino Hernández: It’s about reflection. When you work every day as I have for so many years, there needs to be something meditative and spiritual in the process.

Maryam Eisler: Primal?
Secundino Hernández: Yes. I’m a very primal person [laughs].

Abstract white artwork

‘Untitled’ (2018), by Secundino Hernández, rabbit skin glue, chalk, calcium carbonate, titanium white on linen, 276 x 249 cm

Maryam Eisler: You also go from monochrome palettes to a plethora of colours. Is there something emotive going on when you do this ?
Secundino Hernández: Actually, it’s about practicality. When I go to the studio, I start mixing colours and I work on these palette works which have no limits. If I get a bit overwhelmed or stuck, I go back to the palettes. The palette works are always there because their physicality enables the creation of other paintings. Without them, the others don’t exist.

Maryam Eisler: Coexistence and codependence? From peace to chaos?
Secundino Hernández: Yes, but it’s organised chaos. I’m not that chaotic, as you see in this studio. I’m very tidy. The surface of the canvas, on the other hand, looks chaotic because I tried this and I continued with that; everything is very well planned, most of the time. I even do small sketches to plan it all out in advance. Especially for the large canvases – because if you start painting a 5-metre canvas like a crazy monkey, it’s going to be a crap painting.

A man standing above Grand Canal venice

A man standing on a bridge holding a notebook

Hernández on a bridge near his temporary studio in the city. Above, on the roof of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, overlooking the Grand Canal.

Maryam Eisler: You’re often compared to American Expressionists, such as Pollock.
Secundino Hernández: I think it’s fine, but I feel more comfortable with ‘slow motion’ Expressionism.

Maryam Eisler: Let’s talk about your studio and the lonely business of being an artist.
Secundino Hernández: It’s always a lonely business. Because right or wrong, you are the one and only final judge. And you have to trust yourself.

Read more: Spring Studios Founder Francesco Costa on creative networking

Maryam Eisler: How much work do you destroy?
Secundino Hernández: I try to be successful with everything. But if I do destroy work, I don’t think about it anymore. I learn from the failure and move on. Now, with age, something strange is happening. I sometimes struggle with my paintings and what I can’t control is the frustration. With age, your passion is meant to lessen. It’s not the case with me… it’s getting stronger every day, and I judge myself all the time. I always said there are no mistakes in painting. But how do you know when something is good or bad, right or wrong? It’s difficult. It’s about the relationship between your actions and what you present to the world. I guess I’m only human!

Maryam Eisler: Would it be fair to say that painting is about reality – your reality?
Secundino Hernández: Yeah. That’s the miracle of painting. With some dust and a little bit of egg, you paint something that never existed before. It’s amazing. This is the miracle of painting I think. Also, painting for me is a way of naively understanding the world. Here, with the act of painting, I see Venice with different eyes. I see its surface, its different skin colours and its many people.

Abstract coloured painting

‘Untitled’ (2018), by Secundino Hernández, acrylic, alkyd and oil on linen, 261 x 196 cm

Maryam Eisler: What does it mean to be a painter in the 21st century?
Secundino Hernández: I don’t really know what it means. But I want my paintings to age in a timeless way. I want them to still feel fresh and talk to you in 40 years. This is the whole point. I may be asking for too much. But that’s what I am trying now and always will. Now, more than ever, I’m getting very ambitious. This morning, I was reading an article about Rembrandt and it said that the difference between Rembrandt and his contemporaries was that he not only was a great painter, technically speaking, but that he provided the figure with a certain life and soul. And that’s why his paintings look alive, even today. This is the point. And I was wondering if Rembrandt was even conscious of this. Maybe he was simply enjoying painting or maybe he was suffering and struggling as well, but it’s nice that at least someone writes in this way about your work, 300 or so years later.

Maryam Eisler: And the role of social media in the life of a 21st-century artist? Unlike most artists, you’re not present on social platforms?
Secundino Hernández: I’m not on Facebook and I’m not on Instagram. I have no time for that. Once I went on Instagram and I saw that there were 2,000 posts with my name, then I calculated, if you spend one minute per post, that’s 2,000 minutes of my time, which means two days of my life nonstop doing this sh*t. I just couldn’t do it. I prefer to sit and do nothing.

Maryam Eisler: Is it actually important for people, especially artists, to do nothing?
Secundino Hernández: It’s very important for everyone to be bored. I’m even making big efforts to check my mobile messages once or twice a day only. It’s difficult. It’s like cocaine. I feel like my brain needs it.

Secundino Hernández is represented by Victoria Miro Gallery. His latest exhibition runs at Victoria Miro Venice until 19 October. For more information visit: victoria-miro.com

This article was originally published in the Autumn 19 Issue.

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Reading time: 10 min
Painter's hands using a scraper to shave paint on a canvas
Detail painting of an artist applying paint onto a canvas

Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar’s technique involves painstakingly applying layer upon layer of paint

Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar’s body of exuberant, multi-layered paintings, created with a signature technique that sees each point on the canvas scraped and remixed hundreds of times, tell a story of his land of birth, France, and his family homeland of Iran. Ahead of his upcoming show Extremis at the Setareh Gallery in Düsseldorf, Rachel Spence speaks to the French-Iranian artist about beauty and turbulence

With their radiant, Mediterranean palette and shimmering pyramids of brushstrokes, many of Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar’s paintings strike the viewer as praise songs to life in all its natural beauty.

Entirely in oil, and all abstract, his signature style is the result of a scrupulous and lengthy technique; each one requires months to complete. “I work with a lot of different types of paint,” he tells me. “I have to get the consistency right, place the paints layer by layer next to each other, let them get absorbed, then scrape them off and repeat the process about 500 times.” Look closely at his paintings and you see that sometimes the paint is less scraped than shaved.

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Painted in glowing Fauvist colours – raspberry, azure, lemon, rose pink and sunset yellow are dominant, although black occasionally intrudes – the effect is that of a flickering mosaic assembled from fragments of stained glass. In many of his paintings there are shimmering outlines of shapes and figures emerging from the background, often open to interpretation – is that a tree, a boat, two women? His technique means each change of colour, and hint of a figurative shape, is the result of a slight change in layering of a spot on the canvas.

In his studio in the south of France, Behnam-Bakhtiar’s latest works, to be shown at a solo exhibition at the Setareh Gallery in Düsseldorf this autumn, “are my story in reality”, he says. Propped up on the walls, an explosion of colour and joy, they also hide symbols from his past and his countries – he considers himself a French-Iranian artist, rather than taking the identity of his cultural homeland wholesale. In one, a pomegranate tree, rich in cultural symbolism, emerges from a blaze of scraped-oil colours.

Detail shot of an artist scraping paint

Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar’s most recent works resemble a flickering mosaic of colour

The studio looks out over the most perfect of settings, the garden dropping down towards a view of the harbour at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, yachts floating on the water with their wealthy owners inside, the mountains of the Alpes-Maritimes rising sharply in the background.

Behnam-Bakhtiar’s images make the spirits soar, as does the location in which he is speaking to us. But they hide a story that is more painful than might first be imagined.

Behnam-Bakhtiar’s history is entwined with his French land of birth and his Iranian roots. Born in Neuilly-sur-Seine on the outskirts of Paris in 1984, he can trace his heritage back to Iran’s ancient Bakhtiari tribe. More recently, his great-uncle Shapour Bakhtiar was the last prime minister of Iran under the doomed regime of Mohammad Reza Shah, who was overthrown by the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Shapour Bakhtiar was murdered in Paris in 1991, allegedly by agents of the Islamic Republic of Iran that succeeded the Shah.

colourful layered abstract painting

Like many Iranians of their generation, Behnam-Bakhtiar’s parents had left after the revolution. However, his mother went back with him to Tehran in 1994. Their return was troubled from the start.

“It was totally insane. There were forces in the street all the time. There were people outside [the house] trying to break down the walls.” Though he was then just a “typical French kid” suffering acute culture shock, he did his best to embrace his new home. “I started to speak Farsi and really tried to integrate myself as an Iranian.”

Coming from a creative family – both parents being artists – he wanted to be an artist too. As he learned about his homeland, he started “recording the jewels of my country” – the textiles, architecture, patterns, motifs and landscapes which have enriched Iranian culture for centuries. In those days, his chief tool was a camera and the photographs he took influenced collages made in the early part of his career.

Read more: OMM’s Creative Director Idil Tabanca on creating an art institution

But even as he fell in love with Iran’s visual bounty, Behnam-Bakhtiar was also discovering the country’s darker side. “From the age of 13 or 14, I was having to become the man of the family in Tehran,” he recalls. As he attempted to defend his home, the young artist found himself “many times” in trouble with the authorities.

At 19, he enrolled at the American University in Dubai. He double majored in information technology and finance, but he was “always studying art on the side”. Among the first works he showed, at an auction organised by the Magic of Persia foundation in Dubai in 2009, was a sculpture entitled Mitra. Inspired by “the feminine figures of Iran, the poets and singers, important people,” Mitra marked the embryo of a journey that would see Behnam-Bakhtiar devote himself to expressing “the real image of Iran and Iranians,” to counterpoint the myriad stereotypes of “bad people, terrorists with beards who shout ‘Allahu Akbar’ on the street.”

His commitment to truth-telling unfolded through early series such as A Reason to Fight (2013) and Aftermath (2014), which focused on the Iran-Iraq war. “It did very well, but many people were confused,” he recalls of paintings that aimed to pay homage to the young soldiers who defended “our identity”, but that also trespassed on the sensibilities of those who felt the war was best consigned to the history books.

Another series, The Real Me, from 2014, used bold collisions of Iranian patterns and iconic architecture with images of contemporary young people, including the artist himself in “extravagant situations”, for example, on the beach or enjoying cars and motorbikes.

By now, Behnam-Bakhtiar was living in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat with his wife Maria Zakharchenko, following in the footsteps of a train of creative beau monde, including Jean Cocteau, Picasso and Matisse, who fell in love with the region’s spectacular light and abundant plants and flowers. Here, the couple, alongside Sassan’s brother Ali, set up the Fondation Behnam-Bakhtiar, which promotes artists of Iranian descent and Iranian culture.

Painter's hands using a scraper to shave paint on a canvas

Yet despite the beauty around him, Behnam-Bakhtiar was, paradoxically, turning inwards towards an exploration of his own past. In part, the shift was prompted by a downturn in his health as a result of his youthful trauma.

“I felt really bad,” he remembers now, his voice dipping towards sadness. Fortunately, thanks to “valuable advice”, he pursued healing through techniques such as meditation and Qigong. As he recovered, he had “an awakening moment”, which helped him to “understand our inner beings, how we are connected to the energy that surrounds us and how, if we understand how to use [this energy] we can live a better life.”

Out of this came his 2017 series Oneness Wholeness, exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery, and the Villa Santo Sospir (once home to French artist Jean Cocteau), alongside works by Cocteau himself. The mixed-media paintings, with their scintillating strata of colours, evoke the sensation of a late Monet or Renoir were it to be left out in the sun to melt and drip down the canvas. They emerged out of Behnam-Bakhtiar’s effort “to paint the energy network that surrounds us”.

The new paintings, part of a show called Extremis, at Setareh Gallery, are more complex in their use of colour, light and form than any the artist has done before. He hopes they will evoke his own journey from darkness to light and he likens the new paintings to “shields of humanity”, which will inspire his audience to unlock their own powers of healing. “You have so much power and will inside yourself,” he insists. “If you focus on it and believe in it, visualise it, you can obtain it.” That manifesto for a better life seems to be working.

‘Extremis’ runs at the Setareh Gallery in Düsseldorf from 24 October. Find out more: setareh-gallery.com

Five other Iranian artists to watch

By Anna Wallace-Thompson

YZ Kami
The artist explores a Sufi-esque journey into the self through large-scale portraits. The subjects are at once ethereal and yet deeply personal, often appearing hazy, as if wrapped in a dream.

Farhad Moshiri
No