POUREA ALIMIRZAEE, Fragile masculinity

POUREA ALIMIRZAEE, Fragile masculinity

Still in his senior year at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, the name of Pourea Alimirzaee is already circulating among art collectors.

Originally from Iran, Pourea deals in his work exclusively with the subject of fragile masculinity, also called toxic masculinity. He has created this character, a kind of human being between woman and man, who looks very similar to the long-haired young artist. Self portraits? “Yes, of course there are similarities”, he replies with a laugh and self-confidently and adds, “As a viewer you have to deal with it, either it bothers you or you feel attracted”.

How did art come to you?

I’ve initially studied computer engineering in Tehran, but I was always drawing. I just didn’t know at that time that I’ll continue in art.

So how did you come to Vienna to study art?

I needed a change at one point in my life, a new challenge. At that time, I was playing the bass in a band in Iran. So, one day I’ve met a friend of mine on the street who told me to try the admission exam for the Conservatory of Vienna. I’ve done it… and a couple of months later I found myself in Vienna studying bass at the conservatory. But the way they taught music was too conservative for me, so I decided to apply for the Academy of Fine Arts in 2015 in figurative painting with Kirsi Mikkola. And I got in!

Looking at your paintings, there are is always this character with this long hair set in this dreamy environment …

Yes, I’m actually working on the subject of “toxic masculinity” or “fragile masculinity” which refers to certain cultural, traditional and stereotypical masculine norms that can be harmful to men, women and society overall. It also brings up the position of men who behave in a feminine way but are not gay.

I have struggled my whole life with this kind of stereotypes and society that tells you to play this role of being a “real man”.

So, when I came to Vienna, I’ve started to explore more this feeling that I had and to do more research on “toxic / fragile masculinity”. It’s a trend that started around four years ago, so I thought it’s actually time to talk about it.

So, in this case are these portraits in your paintings actually self portraits?

Of course there are similarities!
I’ve created this character where you’re not sure if it’s a man or a woman with long hair. The long hair is normally a very feminine symbol, and here you have this dude standing in this picture trying to be confident, just be. As a viewer you have to deal with it, either you feel disturbed or intrigued.

And as a musician, any music when you paint?

Yes, the movie soundtrack of Kurosawa’s “Rushmon” over and over again. It’s brilliant! It brings me into a kind of spiritual state of mind.

Photos : Anahita Vessier
Cover photo : Navid Moaddeb
Text: Anahita Vessier
Pourea Alimirzaee Instagram

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A STRANGER’S HAND, Gideon Rubin in conversation with Roman Hossein Khonsari

A STRANGER’S HAND, Gideon Rubin in conversation with Roman Hossein Khonsari

«…However the face gives priority to the self. You are you. In this sense, you could say that the face is not “seen”. It can only be embraced by your thought processes: it is uncontainable, it takes you beyond… »
(Emmanuel Levinas)

From protesters in Hong Kong to spectators of the film Joker, which features an urban revolt led by a grimacing clown, the face becomes an important issue of political and social commitment, identification and recognition. States and big companies that collect computer data are interested in this facial recognition that some citizens refuse, for whom covering their face with a mask is a way of preserving their freedom. But what remains of their identity behind these hidden faces ?

Projecting an identity on deleted faces, is a commun subject in Gideon Rubin’s work as well as in Dr. Roman Hossein Khonsari’s daily practice as a maxillofacial surgeon, reconstructing lost faces due to accidents or diseases. 

Both are craftsmen of faceless memories, mastering exceptional manual skills, one with a brush, the other with a scalpel, and confronting themselves constantly with the question of history, memories, traces of life, identities behind these faces without features.

This conversation between the artist and the surgeon, imagined and orchestrated by Anahita Vessier, is an interdisciplinary exchange inviting the audience to dive deeper into Gideon Rubin’s work on the occasion of his exhibition “A Stranger’s Hand” at Galerie Karsten Greve in Paris and to discover still unexplored corners in his artistic universe through Dr. Khonsari’s approach as a scientist of humanities.

Credits :
Photos by Flaminia Reposi
Video by Alban Jadas for Galerie Karsten Greve
Text : Anahita Vessier

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RANA BEGUM, Light, colour and form

RANA BEGUM, Light, colour and form

British-Bangladeshi artist Rana Begum has been moving from Bangladesh to England when she was eight, without speaking any word of English. She has chosen from that moment on, art as her mode of communcation. This permanent urge to create has led her to become one of the rising stars in the international art scene.

She once said about her practice “The need to create is always there. I took a visual route. It’s not necessarily one that people always understand, but I am happy with it. Even though sometimes, I may not be sure where I’m going, I feel confident that this road is taking me somewhere.”

How did you get into arts?

I arrived in England in 1985. I didn’t speak a word of English so when I started school it was really hard – I spent most of my first day really bored and trying not to fall asleep! The next day my teacher gave me some colouring pencils and paper. Suddenly I had a way to communicate. I drew constantly and all of my pictures went up on the wall. It gave me such a positive connection with art from a young age.

So becoming an artist was quite a struggle for you. 

Yes, I think that’s fair to say! Being both female and Muslim meant that I had to work very hard not to have either of these things define my work or how it is perceived. I didn’t make things easy for myself though. I started out as a figurative artist which was in conflict with my family’s religious beliefs but, thanks to the support of my headmistress and my uncle, they came around.
It’s all part of the journey that has got me to where I am today.


Light, Colour and repetitivity are very important in your work. Any connection with your childhood in Bangladesh where you grew up until you were eight? 

Yes, it’s quite strange because, for a long time, I didn’t feel at all connected with my experience growing up as a child in Bangladesh.

It was only when I was in cognitive analytic therapy, a means of the rediscovering memories, that I was able to discover why I did certain things as a child in Bangladesh and how they influenced my work later. I really do believe things happen for a reason!

For example, I used to stare into the rice fields and these images are extremely vivid. I remember the repetitiveness, the water, the wind, the movement and the light reflecting on the water. I recall being told off quite a lot for sitting and staring. At the time I don’t know why I was doing it. But now these colours and forms are manifest in my work, as if they somehow imprinted in my mind as a child.

Colours are very important to me. I grew up watching Bollywood movies and I absolutely loved their vibrancy.

Also, my love for repetition derives from my religious upbringing. I grew up reading the Qur’an and praying five times a day. The routine of prayer as well as the movements you do when you pray, instilled this repetition that forever permeates through my work.

These three things, colours, light and form are like a triangle that have shaped my practice.

And how did it feel to return to Bangladesh as an artist in 2014 to exhibit at the Dhaka Art Summit ?  Have you been nervous? 

I was really nervous, it felt like a really big deal! I knew that I’d go back to Bangladesh one day but I didn’t think that I’d go back to exhibit. This was around the time I was in therapy and had uncovered some more childhood memories. It felt particularly fitting that the brief was to use materials that were produced locally. While growing up I had a family friend who looked after me and she used to weave baskets. I wanted to incorporate that childhood memory so I thought why not create a structure with a basket formation.

 When I was a kid, I used to go to the mosque early in the morning to read the Qur’an. The mosque itself was very simple with a fountain in front which has since been demolished. I remember the room filled with people reciting the Qur’an. There was the sound of voices alongside that of pages turning with sunlight peeking through the window. It was a strong multi-sensory moment of light and sound. This is what I wanted to recreate at the Dhaka Art Summit, an experience that was intense yet calm and meditative.

 Another highlight from my return to Bangladesh was that I met Ziba from Parasol Unit in Dhaka.

This was a very important encounter in your career.

Meeting Ziba was a very special moment in my career. She gave me an incredible opportunity to have a solo show at Parasol Unit in London.

Through her work as a curator, I was able to create a narrative that helped me to understand where my work comes from, to access where I was at that time and let me know that I was going the right direction. This show truly gave me the confidence that I needed. 

As an artist, do you think it’s important to leave room for accidents and let go sometimes? 

You have to! Otherwise, you’ll produce the same stuff over and over again. Each accident is special and has to lead to something else. It might be the tiniest detail that the next art piece answers. So much of my work stems from chance encounters – the play of light on a wall or from experimenting with a new material. I think it is essential to maintain a level of curiosity and freedom when creating work.

And when you look at a finished art piece, does it happen that you’re unsatisfied with the outcome? 

Sometimes yes and that’s when I leave it alone for a while and will come back to it. There are times when I don’t want to let go of the works. However, to me it’s more important that the work gets out when its finished and can interact with viewers and its environment. Because temporal factors such as light play such a crucial role in my work, you can never really say that a work is finished because it will take on a variety of new and unexpected states depending on the time of day, various densities of light etc. That’s why I love public art. You can push the boundaries you would not be able to tackle while in the studio.

Any public place where you dream to have one of your art pieces? 

Dia Art Foundation!

And what about collaborations?

I love collaborating with people from different disciplines because there are things to explore that you might not have thought of.

For me, its vital to be open to conversations and criticism. That’s the only way to continue growing and learning.

Was it always easy for you to talk about Islam?

That was one of the things that was really difficult to me for a long time because I did not want to be pigeonholed, to be pushed into a certain direction. I did not want my gender, my religion or my culture to be an issue. It was imperative for me not to focus on those things and painting offered me the freedom that I needed. Now I don’t have an issue talking about the influences.

What is your first thought when you think of Iran?

That is a place I would love to go to…geometry, colour and delicious food comes to mind!

All photos of Rana Begum at her studio by Philip White
Cover picture by Josh Murffit
Text: Anahita Vessier

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GEORGIA RUSSELL, Windows onto untamed nature

GEORGIA RUSSELL, Window onto untamed nature

To observe Georgia Russell working on her paintings is just fascinating. Originally from Elgin in Scotland, Georgia creates these impressive paintings that remind of the wide and wild grassland of the Highlands moving in the wind with all its colors and luminosity. By cutting out stripes and ornaments on several layers of paper and canvas with a scalpel, she creates these tridimensional effects and her artwork becomes plant-like windows, with light filtering through and offering glimpses of architecture.

Today Georgia lives and works with her husband, the Venezuelan artist Raul Illarramendi, and their two kids next to Paris. Her extraordinary artwork can be seen in shows all round the world as well as in private and public collections, including the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.

You’re living and working next to Paris, in Méru. What made you move to Paris after graduating from the Royal College of Art In London ? 

During my studies at the Royal College I had been selected for a residency at the Cité des Arts Internationale in Paris. During this time I had started my work on cut books and was sourcing my new material there so it made sense to return once I had obtained my Masters in London.

That was quite a while ago! Since then you became a successful artist. Currently you’re showing your new work at Gallery Karsten Greve in Paris. What was the inspiration behind this  exhibition called “Paintings” ? 

My most recent exhibition shows a leap from contained artworks in plexiglass to painting on the canvas.

I wanted to work larger scale and see what it was to make actual “paintings”.

Recently I have been inspired by Helen Frankenthaler and her use of both sides of the canvas and Clyfford Still’s vertical compositions.

These new large scale paintings become almost sculptures. You’re cutting out ornaments and fine lines with a sharp scalpel and then you reconstruct them by inlacing them which creates a very interesting tridimensional effect with a very particular movement. Could you explain a little bit more this concept of « creative destruction » ?

I am interested in negative space and how it changes a material. I don’t see it as a destruction but more like a reconstruction.

I am curious about the idea that something has been changed and cannot go back to its original state. Something emotional happens when we realise something is absent. This does not have to be about loss but can evoke feelings of freedom or release.

There is this repetative gesture that you apply meticulously on your paintings. How does it feel do be concentrated for hours, for days, for weeks on one piece doing the same movement over and over again? 

It doesn’t seem repetative to me, there are so many differences in every stroke. I love being concentrated on a composition. The world around disappears and all I think about are the effects of shapes on other shapes, recto versus verso, colours against other colours, negatives beside positives, movement.

This movement in your work is like a choreography of lines and shapes that remind me of Isadora Duncan’s modern dance ballets and her words about being an artist « You are once wild, don’t let them tame you ». What do you think about this quote? 

That’s a great quote, I should remember it every day!

Your husband is the Venezuelan artist Raul Illarramendi. Do you sometimes ask him for his advice?

Yes, when we have time! Life is pretty busy and speeds past. If I have a real problem or I am not quite sure I always like to talk it through with him.

In your busy schedule as an artist and also as a mother you probably find some time to go to museums and other exhibitions. And what if you were locked up at the Louvre Museum for one night! Which sections would you go to and spend your night? 

I normally head to the painting department but recently I went to see the near eastern antiquities where I found the winged human headed bulls called Lamassu or Shedu. Their symbolism and story in history is amazing.

What comes to your mind when you think of Iran ? 

I think mainly of the artist Shirin Neshat.

Photos by Anahita Vessier
Text: Anahita Vessier

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RAUL ILLARRAMENDI, Drawing the traces of time

RAUL ILLARRAMENDI, Drawing the traces of time

As soon as you enter Raul Illarramendi’s studio, you feel the dynamic creative energy of this Venezuelan artist. Having left Venezuela 18 years ago, he reconnects with his origins in his latest work. Fascinated by the traces of time and their identity, he investigates in his new exhibition “Offerings” the story of the double cross that feel off the roof of Caracas Cathedral during the earthquake in 1967. He reproduced the imprint of the cross silhouette on the asphalt with high-precision and impresses the spectator with his large size pencil-paintings by applying a technique that employs drawing in an unusual way.

Raul Illarramendi  lives and works with his wife, the artist Georgia Russell, and their two children next to Paris. His work is regularly shown in solo and groupe shows in Europe, Latin America and the United States.


You’re from Venezuela where you began your artistic training in Caracas as the  assistant of the painter Felix Perdomo. You continued then your studies in Evansville in the United States before moving to France and doing an MA of visuel arts at the University Jean Monnet in Saint Etienne.
Now you live and work next to Paris, in Méru, with your wife, the Scottish artist Georgia Russell, and your two kids. 

What a journey driven by your passion for art !
What did you learn in each country in terms of art and the way of approaching it as a painter?

Even though I’ve lived in these countries for long periods of time, I don’t consider myself as a well-traveled individual. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to places, but my work has always anchored me down. I like absorbing the identity of the place I’m in, and that takes time. I think that artists look inwards before they look outwards. In my case I need to know where I am and what the context is in order to create. Every place, every studio has brought a different experience, taught a different lesson and left traces that have shaped my identity as a painter.

These traces of life are a very important subject in your work, expressed through traces of dust, dirt, scratches or fingerprints on walls, on doors, in an urban environment that usually people like to erase or clean up. You however reproduce them by showing every single detail in your very own style.  

Yes, but to me the whole picture is as important as the detail. Perhaps it is my fault, that the physicality of that new surface lures the viewer towards the detail. Every trace represents an individual event, identity, intentionality, an accident that I construct, compose and control. Then there is the composition.

“I really think more of the traces of history rather then the history of traces.”

Since the beginning of abstraction, many artists have looked into these stains, willingly or not, like a throw of dice, searching for a Gestalt.

Talking about accidents and control, do you like to let go sometimes and accept unpredictable accidents while working on a new painting? Or are you an absolute control freak ? 

I don’t control everything, no.
It is true that I like pushing drawing as far as I can into its technical frontiers. There are remarkable artists that push much further, to the point of erasing the hand. I know my limits and have learned to use those limitations as yet another tool. If you solve all the problems technically, then there is nothing left to solve. And painting is about solving problems.

And if you’re not finding a solution, do you ask your wife, the Scottish artist Georgia Russell, for her advice or opinion when you feel stuck with a painting?

We do visit each others studios to give our opinions, specially at the most critical moments, when we are hating and doubting everything before a show. We encourage what’s good and call out the bad choices. Even though I would agree to being less accepting when it comes to criticism, we both come out stronger at the end.

Right now you’re showing your latest exhibition “Offerings” at Gallery Karsten Greve in Cologne that is about the traces of the cross of the Cathedral in Caracas that feel from the rooftop during the big earthquake in 1967 that hit the city.
Was it important for you to reconnect again through your recent work with Venezuela that you’ve left 18 years ago?

Yes, distance and time became catalysts for this series. Like many of my subjects this project came to me without looking for it. The premise was very simple. A spiritual event that sits on a historic account full of wholes, a symbolic metaphor to the current state of crisis in the country, a personal connection and a painting challenge.

“It has been two years since I started the project and in that time you encounter a great amount of meaningful connections to life, to history, to people and to yourself. It has definitely brought me back to the place where I was born.”

When I was visiting your studio, first thing you did, before starting to work on your paintings, was to put on a record. Is music important for you ? 

Yes, I’m very much attached to my music. There is almost always some sound coming from my stereo. When I’m not listening to my records, I am on the radio or an audiobook, the only literature I have time to consume now. I like my records because my siblings, who are much older than me, had a record player that I love but was not allowed to touch. Now I have my own and love the sound and can play with it.
I’ve been listening lately to “Cantos Campesinos” from Isaac Sasson, who plays many instruments from Venezuela, and mixes folk and traditional sounds. Also this fun Turkish band Altin Gün, it get’s me dancing.

What comes to your mind when you think of Iran? 

My perception of Iran is very limited but I can think of rosewater and safran, the prince of Persia (the game that occupied much of my screen-time during the nineties), good friends, beautiful people.

With very different histories, there is a real connection between Venezuela and Iran that I can only wish would go beyond geopolitics and special interests, and focus more in culture and fraternity.

Iran, a place I would very much like to visit.

Photos by Anahita Vessier
Text: Anahita Vessier
Raul Illarramendi Instagram

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GIDEON RUBIN, Craftsman of faceless memories

GIDEON RUBIN, Craftsman of faceless memories

Gideon Rubin is a contemporary Israeli artist and a rising star in the international art scene.

His work is about the memory of something that is at the point of fading away. By blurring identifying details, erasing the facial features of human beings, he invites the viewer to complete these unexisting details by using his very own memories. This “dialogue” creates a very personal relationship between the artwork and the audience and evokes a feeling of intimacy and nostalgia.

Being the grandson of Reuven Rubin, the famous Israeli painter, did this influence your decision to become a painter?

Looking back obviously it did but it took a long time for it to come out.

I was about 22 years old when I started painting and if you’d ask me before what’s the least possible career or job prospect, painter would have probably topped the list, mainly because of my grandfather and the position he occupies within the canon of Israeli art. For years, for me, viewing his work was actually tainted by the fame his work carries with it back home.

“It was not just a flower, a house or a portrait, it was a “Rubin” first.”

I guess this was probably the main reason that when I finally did find ‘painting’, a life long commitment, I chose to do it outside my home. It was only then that I discovered so much of his work; sensitivities, paint application, tonality and how much of it actually filtered to my DNA.

You were in New York on September 11th, 2001. Did this experience have an influence on your work?

It changed my life so it definitely changed my work as well.
Before 9/11 I used to paint from observation, focusing on full figure self-portraits that took months to finish.

When I got back to London on the first commercial flight to leave NY, it felt as if I escaped hell. I was so happy to land in London, I wanted to kiss the ground but I just couldn’t paint like before. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror anymore so I began making these small toy still-life paintings.
Instead of one portrait, painted for three months, I painted now three paintings a day. It felt as if I was unloading a huge burden. As artists we are lucky, we have our work in order to deal with all the shit that happens around us.

Being a sort of « craftsman of memories », each of your paintings has this incomplete detail of faceless human beings. What is the reason, the intention behind these portraits without features?

More than anything it’s an abstraction tool, a way I enjoy directing and dissecting what I see and the surface of the painting. Simplifying it.
Growing up I was fascinated by the little figures in my grandfather’s landscape paintings; just little blobs of paint to describe a face, limbs or body. In my work I try to strike a balance between the general and the specific, the ‘public’ and the ‘individual’, which I find fascinating.

When I began erasing the facial features it was something altogether different. Painting old toys I was reacting to the physical erasure of the doll features after years of being handled and played with kids. As my work shifted back to portraiture, I found out fairly quickly that I can describe what I need without the features.

“I was and still am fascinated by how much information we gather between us that is outside the face.”

Our mannerism, style, the way we dress, walk etc. We ‘read’ each other and any human portrait, by first and for-most our facial features and then everything else. I’m interested in reversing this process, everything else comes first and then leave an opening, a question mark. an untold story. For me the act of erasing is as important and positive as a mark making.

While working on your paintings, how do you perceive time in these very intense and creative moments?

It’s difficult to put these moments in words, especially, if words are not your thing and you don’t want to sound cheesy.
But if I have to I can say that I learned not to look for these moments. Just work and work. When they come, it’s great, you are in the action itself and there is nothing else, but as soon as you begin to think about it, acknowledging you are or were in “it”, it is gone.

Is there an author, an artist, a musician that has changed your perception of art and inspired you in your process of creating?

Velasquez, Goya, Rembrandt, Chardin, Soutine, Guston, Manet, Bacon, Freud, Morandi, Alys, Richter, Rotheko, Matisse, Picasso, Diebenkorn, Hemingway, Kerouac, Camus, David Grossman, Primo Levy, Leonard Cohen, Bowie, Dylan, Allen, Tarantino, Almodovar, Nina Simone I can go on and on…

What do you feel when you’ve just finished a painting and you look at it?

Disappointment, as if I could have done it better. Sometimes it’s true, luckily sometimes not.

Is there a quote, a proverb that guides you through life?

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” (Pablo Picasso)

“An intellectual says a simple thing in a complex way. An artist says a complex thing in a simple way.” (Charles Bukowski)

Do you work with music? What’s your favourite musician that you listen to at the moment in your studio?

It shifts, at the moment I’m listening to a bit of soul like Erica Badu, Lauren Hill and my usual outdated Jazz, Nina Simone, Coltrane, Miles Davis to a bit of Bowie and Leonard Cohen. Lately, I find I listen more to classical music. Piano, a lot of piano…

You were recently invited by the Museum of Contemporary Art of Chengdu in China to a group exhibition under the title “Memory Goes As Far As This Morning”. This invitation also gave you the opportunity to visit the province of Xinjiang which is home of the Uyghur, an ethnic minority that primarily practices Islam. How was this experience for you?

It was really quite remarkable, a once in the life time experience. I was specifically interested, as my wife, although mainland Chinese, was born in Xinjiang, in Korla and I have heard much about the Turkic peoples where she was born. Their look is closer to Israeli than Chinese she used to tell me and that I would like the food.

“She was right in many aspects and I could find quite a few similarities between the Uyghur people and people from the Middle East.”

It was a very different experience than traveling in China, mainly due to very tight security, a result of years of political unrest, which I have to say added to an uneasy feeling throughout but this huge area has so much more to offer, a unique history of the ancient silk road which is incredibly preserved due to the dry weather conditions, to the highest snow peaked mountains that look as if they were taken from the Swiss alps.

From the vibrant markets full of spices to the beautifully hand crafted artifacts, and the beautiful scarfed women, it all seemed to belong to a different time and a magical place.

What comes to your mind when you think of Iran?

Generally I always think of how I enjoy meeting Iranians since I moved to NY and then London. I find so much in common and much to appreciate, from my point
of view, food and cinema come first to mind. ‘A Separation’, ‘About Elly’…
I also think it’s a shame that I can’t visit.
I see the meeting points, the dialogue, the art.

Portray by Shira Klasmer
All other photos by Richard Ivey
“Boy”, 56x51cm, oil on canvas, 2011
“Untitled”, 66x71cm, oil on linen, 2012
“Pond”, 200x150cm, oil on linen, 2016
“Class of 1947 (Prom)”, 12 paintings each 25x20cm, oil on linen, 2012
“Yellow Blindfold”, 107x102cm, oil on canvas, 2015
“Policemen”, 35.5×30.5cm, oil on linen, 2015
“Untitled”, 26x19cm, gouache on paper, 2015
“Sunset”, 150x200cm, oil on linen, 2016
Text: Anahita Vessier

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MATHIAS KISS, The artist with the golden hand

MATHIAS KISS, The artist with the golden hand

Mathias Kiss is a French artist, iconoclast and dandy with boundless creative energy. In his art he folds academicism to find new codes and to break down the barriers between disciplines by association French classicism and avant-gardism.

His extravagant and oversized installations are shown in the most prestigious galeries and museums such as the Palais de Tokyo or the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, and his artistic universe seduces luxury brands like Hermès or Boucheron.

When did you decide to become an artist?

I’ve started an apprenticeship as a painter and glazier when I was 14 years old. When I was 17, I’ve joined the Compagnon du Devoir where I’ve been working for 15 years. My dream was to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Paris if I had the chance.
But finally all these periods in my life have given me the tools, skills and knowledge to do the work that I’m doing today.

My art is inspired by my life with all the traumatizing experiences.

What kind of trauma?

Which girl wants to go out with a construction painter!

Failing school when you’re 14 and starting a job when you’re so young is very complicated. Nobody was interested in a guy like me. Everybody was studying, doing a white-collar job, being a graphic designer etc.
It was really hard to feel alone and to be considered as an outsider.

How would you define yourself? Craftsman? Artist?

When I was with the Compagnons, my only goal was to become as good craftsman so my boss wouldn’t get angry and shout at me because the sky on the ceiling wasn’t perfectly painted.

I couldn’t even imagine to have thoughts like « Why not painting the sky red instead of blue? ».

Many years later I’ve managed to emancipate myself and get free from the rigid conventions and move towards art.

At the being of my career as an artist, people didn’t know what to think of my work, which category they could place it. Fortunately some trusted me and encouraged the others to buy my work.

Why this urge to break the rules ?

When you work for the Compagnons you grow up with a compass and a triangle which is symbolizing the rules. People of my age weren’t interested in my work. Too classic, too rigid, too dusty. I needed to break down these barriers, free myself from these technical and aesthetic conventions.

So I was wondering how it would be possible to preserve the historical codes of French savoir-faire and incorporate them and place them into a contemporary context.

My work consists of two groups of artwork:

One is under the title « Sans 90° » which contains all the work inspired by the thought around the absence of the right angle such as the mirrors « Miroirs Froisées », the trompe l’oeil marble « Igloo » seat, the « Magyar » carpet.

The other group entitled « Golden Snake » gathers all the work that deals with experimenting with architectural elements of French classicism and questioning the artistic working process.

Why is gold such an interesting material for you as it takes a very important part in your work?

Gold is light, is life. It’s not only opulent, kitschy or outdated.

Gold allows to engage a conversation about power, for example the power of seduction of a woman enhancing this by wearing jewelry, or the power of men, who have always fought for possessing it.

Are there new challenges that you would like to face in your work?

As a Compagnon I’ve been working in all the important historical dwellings of the French Republic, such as the Comédie Française, Opera Garnier, Conseil d’État, and many others. Even though I had the chance to work in those sumptuous places, I was very unsatisfied with my work and decided to turn to contemporary art.

So a perfect mix of both experiences would be to build installations for public spaces, a kind of tribute to Paris, the city of sights and museums.

I’m thinking for example of adapting my installation « Golden Snake » that has been exposed at Palais de Tokyo for an urban environment where kids can climb on it or people can sit on it.
That would be an interesting project and a real challenge.

Aren’t you feeling anxious when you’re standing in front of those wide empty spaces at the beginning of a project?

The bigger the space, the more I dig it! To me it’s like a huge white sheet of paper where I can let my artistic imagination run wild.

You’ve done a lot of thai boxing and you have been even participation in official competitions until you were 30. During your exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo you’ve invited the world box champion Patrick Quarteron to have a little box match together in front of your installation « Golden Snake » for the magazine Numéro. What have art and boxing in common? 

It’s true that people don’t see the points that these two worlds have in common.

A boxer is a guy, standing half-naked on a stage trying to win and being applauded by the audience that is standing around and watching. This is total narcissism and exhibitionism, isn’t it!  The need of love and standing in the lime light is not far from an artist.

Both are also taking risks, accepting knocks and leaping into the unknown.

 What’s your next project?

A carte blanche project for the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille for April 2019.

What comes to your mind when you think of Iran?

The sumptuous festivities that were given by the Shah of Iran to celebrate the 2500th anniversary of the Persian empire. It’s crazy that people still talk about it. It almost became a kind of monument, a very strong symbol.

All photos by David Zagdoun
Featured image of Mathias Kiss on Home by Wendy Bevan
Photo of Mathais Kiss and Patrick Quarteron by Stépahne Gallois for Numéro
Text: Anahita Vessier
Translation: Anahita Vessier

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HORMOZ HEMATIAN & ASHKAN ZAHRAEI, Electric Room, art under high tension

HORMOZ HEMATIAN & ASHKAN ZAHRAEI, Electric Room, art under high tension

Tehran has a rich and vibrating art scene with highly talented artists, many of them were born after the Islamic Revolution.

Hormoz Hematian, founder and director of Dastan Gallery, one of the edgiest art spaces in the Iranian capital focusing on contemporary art, and his friend Ashkan Zahraei, Dastan’s curator and communication manager, travel constantly between Tehran and the most important art fairs around the world to promote the work of their artists and to develop international collaborations.

These two workaholics and unconditional art lovers have a thousand creative ideas in mind, are not afraid of any challenge and have launched “Electric Room” in 2017, which is certainly one of the craziest, most intense and ambitious art projects that makes Tehran a true reservoir of creativity and one of the most interesting and dynamic spots for contemporary art.

‘Electric Room’ is a very interesting and challenging art project that you have both developed and introduced to the Iranian art scene. How did this idea start?

AZ: Tehran has a very small art community. So through my work as a writer as well as a curator, both through working at Dastan and independently, I met a lot of artists who wanted to do art installations but there was no space in Tehran for experimental projects.

So that’s why Hormoz and I had the idea to launch the art concept ‘Electric Room’.

The concept was to showcase 50 experimental art projects in 50 weeks, introducing each week a new project and usually a lesser-known artist. So, it has a precisely defined beginning and end.

That’s a very ambitious and crazy project! 

HH: Yes, the challenge was enormous! It’s more than some galleries show in five years.

Having three other galleries in Tehran, I was missing the spontaneity of doing a show. So Electric Room allowed us to give back and find again the romance of art.

So, in June 2017 we opened this temporary exhibition space, not bigger than 30m2, in downtown Tehran, right next to the Faculty of Art and Architecture, and within minutes of walking to the Faculty of Fine Arts and many of the city’s other cultural or artistic institutions.
There are a lot of students, so the vibe of this area is really good and dynamic.

We called the project Electric Room because one wall is almost entirely covered with electric switchboards and control units. It’s a very cool and unusual place.

AZ: Luckily we’re both workaholics!

The project was amazing and so intense for so many months. We wanted to offer people a unique experience.

We had only one day to take down an exhibition, repaint the walls and install the new show. And this every week, for 14 months. It was such a crazy rhythm!

And how did the Iranian audience react on this concept?

HH: The reaction was fantastic!

At each opening the ambiance was so vibrant, and literally « electric ».

We had so many people coming, that there was not even enough space inside the gallery for all the visitors.

And what kind of audience came to the openings?

HH: The right people. Young people, art lovers, potential clients, people who weren’t normally into going to galleries but loved the vibe and were intrigued by the space.
Each opening took 4 to 5 hours.

AZ: We were also inviting other galleries to show them the artists.

The fundamental idea of Electric Room was to be spontaneous, open, accessible and generous.

Showcasing 50 art projects of 50 different artists in 50 weeks is quite a challenge. How did you constantly find new artists?

AZ: We were focusing on several different types of projects:

Installation projects, single-piece exhibitions, photo, video or multimedia projects, and also archival projects, like the « Tehran UFO Project ».

I’m a UFO enthusiast, so this show was an archival presentation of documents, articles and films relating to the historical incident from 1976 when UFOs have been seen over Tehran. I really like the idea that a non-art project becomes art.

HH: At the beginning some artists were quite skeptic because it’s a very unusual way of presenting art, they didn’t want to take a risk. So we had to start with the ones who trusted us.

AZ: That’s why we did our first few shows with artists that we already worked with at Dastan, including Sina Choopani, Mohammad Hossein Gholamzadeh, Meghdad Lorpour, and others.
These artists already had their followings and showing their work created more trust for other artists we wanted to work with.

We were able to work with extremely talented people in Iran, some of which normally don’t want to collaborate with galleries.

Among those artists that you were showing some are Iranians who live and work abroad. Why is it still important to them to show their work in Tehran at your gallery?

AZ: Electric Room created an opportunity to exhibit one’s work among a much wider scope and a more detailed program.

Many of these artists chose to exhibit at Electric Room because they wanted to be part of the experience and the program.

You’re working on such high-level art projects with Electric Room and Dastan Gallery and have gained a great reputation in the international art scene. But where does this love for art  initially come from?

AZ: For me, visual art is a combination of my academic background (writing, critical theory) and a practical touch.

As much as theory and literature can give insights into the world, art gives me greater opportunities for communication and dialogue.

HH: My grandfather was a general before the revolution; after the Shah was overthrown, he left the army, turned towards painting and became a self-taught, amateur artist.

Whenever I went to visit him in his house in Khorasan, there was one room for his paintings, another one for his calligraphies and one for his instruments.
There was a certain magic to it. And I saw how art saved his life.

Did Trumps’s policy put an end to the Iranian art boom?

AZ: No, serious artists will always find a way to express their ideas. If there is no high-quality paint or paper in the stores anymore, they will use cheaper one but this won’t stop them from being creative, being an artist.

Living such an intense experience for 50 weeks, how did you feel during the last show of Electric Room?

HH: Very emotional.

AZ: I was unsure how to feel in the beginning, but the last day was indeed quite sad. As much as I was sure we needed to end what we had started, letting go felt very difficult.

All photos of Hormoz Hematian and Ashkan Zahraei:  Roxana Fazeli
(with Atefeh Majidi Nezhad’s work “Revision: Zero-G”)
All photos of exhibition at Electric Room courtesy of Dastan Gallery:
Photo exhibition 1: “Unsafe zone/domestic production” by Amin Akbari
Photo exhibition 2: “The champion” by Mohammad Hossein Gholamzade
Photo exhibition 3: “We are” by Sina Choopani
Photo exhibition 4:  “Memebrain” by Taba Fajrak & Shokoufeh Khoramroodi
Photo exhibition 5: “Inevitably inescapable” by Siavash Naghshbandi
Photo exhibition 6:  “Tehran UFO project”
Photo exhibition 7:  “Tangab” by Meghdad Lorpour
Photo exhibition 8: “Mutual tongue” by Milad Nemati
Photo exhibition 9: “The shaving” by Farrokh Mahdavi
Photo exhibition 10: “Interview” by Sepideh Zamani
Electric Room
Text: Anahita Vessier

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CHRISTELLE TÉA, The mystery of clearly defined reality

CHRISTELLE TÉA, The mystery of clearly defined reality

The first time I met Christelle Tea, I was intrigued by this person who looked like a chinese girl from 30s with this pale skin and with this eccentric hat on her head wearing a little black dress. She reminded me of the main character in Marguerite Duras’ s « The Lovers ». It’s this contrast between her extravagant look mixed with this juvenile behavior and naive sincerity, that surprised me.

Shy and discret by nature, I discovered the other side of Christelle during our shooting at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris when she was posing in front of the camera. This body that seemed so fragile one second ago showed all of a sudden strength and confidence.

Christelle knows how to play with her image. Brought to art by destiny driven by her extraordinary talent, Christelle Tea reveals in her work with virtuosity the truth of an instant with all its details and invites the spectator to look and to look over again at this very specific moment.

Where does your passion for drawing comes from?

I’ve been drawing since I’m a little girl. My parents had a Chinese restaurant and I’ve spent all my afternoons there with my sister. We were so bored. One day I told my mum  and so she gave me a notebook and a pen that she was using to take the clients’ orders. From that moment on I was drawing all the time.

It was not only an occupation but also a way of expressing myself because I was extremely shy. I was a very quiet and discret child.

Until I was six, I didn’t speak french at all even though I was born in France and lived in France all my life.

At home we only spoke Teochew, a Chinese dialect from Guangdong, a province in the south-east of China.

So when I started to go to school I felt like an alien, I didn’t understand any word the teachers and the children were saying.

Drawing helped me to escape, to express myself, to be understood. For me drawing was a means of expression and communication.

So it was from that moment on that you’ve decided to become an artist?

My mother always said if she knew she would have given me a calculator rather than the notebook and the pen; and for my father being an artist was not at all an option to earn your money.

I’ve discovered Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or Picasso when I was in high school during art classes.

Years after, I was lucky enough to be accepted at the Beaux-Arts de Paris. It’s a real paradise to study art there. You can choose any class you want and experiment in this breathtakingly beautiful location.

So it’s finally destiny that brought me to becoming an artist.

You went to China during your studies for an exchange program with the Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. Did this experience help you to reconnect with your Chinese origins?


These six months helped me to renew my ties with my Chinese origins and I’ve discovered also the differences between the Chinese and French way of teaching.

While studying in Beijing, I was allowed to study only one technique, no way to choose more than one. However this helped me to have a real expertise. So I’ve decided to learn wood engraving with Master Xu.

And when I had some time off, I was walking around the city with my drawing tools. I felt free like a bird!

I was drawing in the streets, at the market, at the museum, in the hutongs of Beijing.

So you’ve got always a drawing board, a sheet of paper and an ink pen with you. That’s a real mobile studio ! Would you like to have a real artist’s studio to go there and work every day?

During my artist residency  at the Museum Jean-Jacques Henner in Paris, I have had actually a studio for 6 six months but I was never there.

For my work, I need life, I need mouvement.

This life, this mouvement that you mention you capture them on the spot and without doing any sketches before in your portrays. Real life drawings of people at home, at work where you don’t miss any detail. Is it important for you that people are pleased with the outcome of their portray?

I don’t try at all to praise the person that I’m drawing.

What I’m interested in those drawings and portrays drawn on the spot is to capture the world around those people, the immediate reality with all its details that should not be seen but that exist, like the pile of messy cables underneath a Louis XV inlaid marquetry desk or a piano unable to hide the tube of a vacuum cleaner.

It’s in those details that you’re face to face with reality. 

Regarding this, I’ve always liked Garry Winograd’s quote:

« There is nothing as mysterious as a fact clearly described ».

I don’t try at all to neither flatter the person that I draw nor to do a photographic reproduction of her and of the familiar environment around her. She rather becomes an element among others in this composition where every object, every book, every musical instrument, every painting on the wall is illustrated precisely and meticulously.

And when you don’t draw?

When I don’t draw I study opera singing at the conservatoire of the 16th district in Paris with Alexandra Papadijakou.

Music and drawing are very important and complementary to me. Both are a haven of creativity and artistic expression.

By the way it’s the passion for music that gave me the idea to create the huge mural drawings inspired by the opera « The Tales of Hoffmann » of Offenbach or « Faust » of Gounod. I’m also showing myself in those two frescos.

Being a music and art lover, which artists are you fond of?

In music, Bernstein, Mozart, Puccini.

In art, Hockney, Dürer and Sam Szafran who gave in his work a lot of importance to details and he never went to his own opening shows.

And you, do you like to attend your own opening shows?

It’s important to go and see who is interested in my work.
And also in respect for the people who made the effort to come and discover my drawings.
Above all that, it’s a great moment to spend with friends.

What comes to your mind when you think of Iran?

I think of the photographer Ali Mahdavi. I made his portray and I love his work.

All photos of Christelle Téa:  Marion Leflour
All drawings: Christelle Téa
Drawing 1: Jean Michel Frouin, artist painter and carpenter, 2015, ink on paper, 65 x 50 cm
Drawing 2: Morphology gallery at Beaux-Arts in Paris, 2012, ink on paper, 50 x 65 cm
Drawing 3: 2 for 1 at Xiyuan market, 2014, ink on paper, 301 x 412 mm
Drawing 4: Cécile Guilbert, writer, 2015, ink on paper, 65 x 50 cm
Drawing 5: Concert of Christophe Chassol, composer-musician, at the Silencio Paris 2018, ink on paper
Drawing 6: The Last Judgement and the Colleone, Chapel of Petits-Augustins at the Beaux-Arts de Paris, 2012, ink on paper, 50 x 65 cm
Drawing 7: Ali Mahdavi, plastic artist, director and art director of the review “Désirs” at the Crazy Horse, 2015, ink on paper
Special thanks to Valérie Sonnier et Philippe Comar of the Beaux-Arts de Paris to give us the permission to do the shooting of Christelle Téa at the  gallery of morphology.
Text: Anahita Vessier
Translation: Anahita Vessier

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IMAN RAAD, Disturbance to reality

Disturbance to reality

Drawing from Persian miniature painting, South Asian truck ornaments and digital glitch imagery, Iman Raad’s work has immediately impressed me because of its intensity, its explosive mix of colours and the contradictory combination of beauty and fear, pleasure and pain. Looking at his paintings the viewer witnesses a moment of rupture, a frozen moment of reality when something is about to happen.

In this interview this Iranian born Brooklyn based artist guides us through his latest work that has been recently shown at the Sargent’s Daughters Gallery in New York.

Observing your work, you’re using elements of folklore Persian mythology such as typographic details and allusions to Persian miniature. Is this Iranian culture and folklore an important source of inspiration for you?

Yes, It has always been sort of like that. But it’s actually beyond a source of inspiration. It’s a basis of my thinking structure, either subconscious or brought on consciously.

I attempt not to indicate “iconically” to Persian culture in my work, so you could hardly recognize elements of folklore. Iconic indication to “other ” cultures is a Western approach to art because it’s an obvious representation of other cultures and is available to be taken out of its context and is easy to communicate and so to consume.

“But my work constantly refers to Persian culture “indexically”, since this is rooted in my thoughts. I have lived with this culture, I breath it, I learn from it and I construct my language to dialogue with art history through it.”

This is, I believe, the contemporary approach to ethnicity and cultural identity.

You’ve recently had a solo show “Tongue Tied” at the Sargent’s Daughters Gallery in New York. Could you explain a little bit more your latest work for this show.

In the exhibition there was a variety of works that I have made in 2016, all under the umbrella of one single title: ”Tongue Tied’.

“To me paintings represent a moment of disturbance to reality.”

I create this disturbance through wrong perspective, disordering physical rules, image replication inspired by digital glitch on screens as well as representing momentary events as threshold of a crisis. Objects and fruits appear to be self-conscious animate things.

In the ‘Tongue Tied” show there is a series of 9×12 inch egg-tempera paintings that were lying down on their individual narrow shelves. I recently started painting with egg-tempera on panels. The process is slow and tiring which I hate, though I seriously need this sort of meditative time. I enjoy the way egg’s yolk flows on smooth surface of claybord panels, and so the texture that unmixed pigments make. The colors are bright and I like the way it looks like painted tiles.

I also showed a large marker painting on paper that I’ve created earlier. This drawing represent a complex interplay of ornamental tablecloth, wallpaper and carpet interrupted by long rows of overlapping birds move across the painting. It took me a month to finish this 5-foot-by-7-foot drawing.

The Hero of the exhibition, I sometimes call it Don Quixote, is a flat figure kneeling down with a flag in his hand and a self-portrait of me on his chest imitating Barbara Kruger’s work “Your Body is a Battleground”.

The show also includes a site-specific large-scale mural painting on the walls of Sargent’s Daughters Gallery’s office. This was made in four days with two assistants and lasted for the exhibition time.

You’ve done also a lecture performance called “Two-headed Imagomancy” with Shahrzad Changalvaee, another Iranian artist and your wife: What does the title mean and what is this performance about?

Shahrzad and I both come from a graphic design background. We were members of the Dabireh Collective before we left Iran. The Dabireh Collective was founded by Reza Abiding in 2008. It was a collective of graphic designers, type designers and linguists researching with a focus on Persian language, alphabet, calligraphy and typography.
Since we’ve been moving to the US we got offers to talk about our graphic works and we decided to turn our talk to a collaborative lecture-performance in form of storytelling.

“Its form is inspired by Pardeh-khani, a form of storytelling tradition common in coffee-houses in Iran.”

Our narrative comes with stories within stories, some historicals, some personals, some myths or fictions. But all stories deal with language and script, mainly Persian-Arabic script history. Each performance has an exclusive unique backdrop painting, containing illustrations for the story and a significant image referring to the venue that it’s happening in.

“Two-headed” in the title refers to us as the storyteller couple and “imagomancy”, we made it by combination of imago + mancy. “Imago” is the Latin word for “Image” and “-mancy” refers to the divination of a particular kind, like bibliomancy, geomancy or palmomancy. So “Imagomancy” means the divination by means of images.

The poems of Hafiz or Rumi are very present in everyday life in Iran. Is there a poem that guides you through life?

Not really any specific I could remember. Maybe generally as you say it’s present in Iranians everyday-life, it has affected my thoughts subconsciously like almost all Iranians.

Any future projects?

To keep working.

All works by Iman Raad
Text: Anahita Vessier

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