A CONVERSATION WITH SHAHIN DARDASHTI

ON HER ART, THOUGHTS, and EXHIBITION

 

Q: How long have you been painting?

A: Since I was thirteen years old, I would say. However, until found my way as a painter, my work merely consisted of copying the works of others, particularly the artists of the Realism school of painting. During that period, I wouldn’t consider myself a painter, because I didn’t feel I had anything of my own to offer. The reason was obvious. I was not paintng anything that was of my own artistic creativity. But, as I began to paint in the school of Impressionism, I found my way and have since been creating rather prolifically.

Q: What do you mean by “not having anything to offer?

A: As long as a person is copying or imitating other painters’ works, he can’t be considered a creative artist, no matter how well he does it. For instance, it would be like reciting somebody else’s poetry, even eloquently. Does this make a person a poet? In fact, when it comes to copying, a camera can do a far better job in rendering the likeness of a subject in a matter of seconds. Nowadays, some are even using

the laser technology to reproduce the oil paintings of the great masters, to the point where only the experts can tell the difference. Imagine if the cameras were available during Rembrandt’s lifetime. Would he have still spent all that time painting so many portraits? I wonder.

 Q: You mentioned Impressionism as the school of art in which you paint. What has attracted you to this particular school?

A: I used to paint in the school of Realism, which requires producing the likeness of an object with no deviations. Whereas, Impressionism enables the artists to paint their own impressions of that object, which allows for creativity, innovation, and particularly, Idealism.

Q: Would you please elaborate on the distinction between Realism and Idealism in the art of painting?

A: When a painter, such as myself, faces the practical problems of representation, she has two main courses Open to her; to represent Objects as they appear to her physical eye, or as they appear to her mind’s eye. In the first case, she emphasizes nature, in the other, her imagination; the world of appearance, as opposed to the world of essence; reality as contrasted with ideality. The realist is more concerned with rendering the actual, tangible object that she sees with all its particular, and peculiar characteristics. The idealist, on the other hand, puts the emphasis on abstractions, which is to say she eliminates the extraneous details and concentrates on the inner core; the essential qualities of things. In sum, a realist tends to represent things as they are; and idealist, as they might or should be.

Q: So, by transferring to the school of Impressionism, you chose Idealism over Realism in your art. Is that so?

A: Well, you could interpret it that way. And, I did so by realizing that Idealism as a creative viewpoint in art goes beyond actual observation, and seeks concepts closer to the ideal or perfection. My own experience proved this. Before I began to paint in impressionistic style, I could not express myself through representation of objects in an idealistic style this, of course, does not imply that other schools of painting don’t offer such opportunities. So, my favorable views on Impressionism should be taken merely as an indication of my preference for this style, without downplaying the significance, as well as the magnificence, of other schools of painting.

Q: Is there also some personal or emotional reason for this preference?

A: No Doubt. And, it could be traced in the cultural-social characteristics of the environment in which I grew up. As a female, I was raised in Iran, where, except for a slim percentage of the population, women were not considered equal to men, let alone acknowledging their needs and desires for self-expression. Whereas, such needs are more pressing for an Iranian woman than, for instance, her American or European counterparts. The reason is self-explanatory; the more the discrimination and inequality in a society against women, the more pressing their needs for expression. Keeping this in mind, you can see how the school of Impressionism, which requires rendition of one’s own impressions, would become my preference.

Q. it is interesting. Looking from this angle, it could be assumed that the paintings of the impressionists bear their own personal marks, even though they all adhere to the same principles of their school of art. Is this a correct assumption?

A: it is true. And, as far as impressionism is concerned, it must be so, too. In fact, this is why the works of the great artists such as Claude Monet, Paul Cezanne, Augusta Renoir, or Van Gogh can be readily distinguished from each other, although they are all impressionists. In other words, even though all of them considered similar principles of impressionism, their works are greatly different impressions of things.

Q: What are some of the specific characteristics of your art?

A: My choice of colors, for one. I have been frequently reminded that the coloring of my paintings is finding its own entity. There is also the manner in which I render my impressions. For example, usually when the fish are painted, they are displayed in a fishbowl, a pond, or some other man-made confining environments. But, when you look at my. ‘Painting of the fish titled “The Deep,” you will find them in their natural habitat; the nature. Therefore, one can infer that my impression of life, as a painter, is that of freedom in the natural environment, not mere existence in a contrived surrounding which hinders growth, progress, and fulfilment.

Q: While you were discussing your painting called “The Deep,” I detected a social undertone, to say the least. Do you deliberately choose subjects which have social connotations?

A: I am progressively moving in that direction. Yes, you could say so.

Q: Are there some specific subjects that you have in mind?

A: Generally speaking, it would be painting my impressions of human conditions, which is the case in all forms of arts with a social undertone.

Q: Does choosing Impressionism as your school of painting mean that you don’t paint in other styles?

A: Not at all. I also have abstract and realistic paintings. In fact, you can see some of them displayed at my exhibition.

Q: What prompts you to select one style of painting over the others while choosing a particular subject to paint?

A: As a rule of thumb, I paint in abstract to express my inner feelings and thoughts. I apply impressionism to render my impressions of the outer world, the nature, life, etc. However, if my purpose is to paint the visual realities as they seem to the physical eye, I use the realistic style. This, of course, is a general rule. Otherwise, there have been times that only in the aftermath of a painting I realized what style I had

applied. And, I must add that there were times when the reason for choosing a particular style had remained unknown even to my own self!

Q: You said you would paint in abstract if you were to express your inner feelings or thoughts. Does this mean that other styles of painting don’t offer such a capacity?

A: Of course they do. But, I have my own line of reasoning for making such a choice. Come to think of it now, it might even be a natural selection rather than a choice purposefully made. Let me explain what I mean.

We know that the locations for artistic creativity and imagination, and subjective functions, are mainly in the right side of the brain. Whereas, the left side has dominance in analytical, logical functions, as well as objective matters. Accordingly, it is obvious that when an inner feeling, which is subjective in nature, is awakened in me, its manifestation is best presented in an abstract or subjective style of painting.

Q: How is this done by an artist? Explain to me how you paint a subjective phenomenon, such as a feeling or a thought, by using objective tools such as the paint, form, color, light, etc.?

A: This is precisely why I consider the abstract form of painting as the most expressive and effective means of painting a subjective phenomenon like one’s feelings. Because, a painter has to apply identifiable or objective tools, such as the ones you have mentioned, to give a subjective phenomenon an objective, visual quality. This would make her

rendition rather unfaithful to the subjective nature of that phenomenon. However, when that feeling is painted in abstract style, its subjective quality will be preserved, in spite of the objective tools applied to render it. In other word, if the means of the left brain makes the painting of a feeling an identifiable and objective visual reality, the use of the abstract style will maintain that feeling’s subjective originality, or its right-brain quality.

Q: Let’s go back to the idea of painting with a social undertone. Do you choose social themes as a matter of personal taste and interest, or you believe in some sort of social responsibility for painters as artists?

A: All painters, and all other artists for that matter, who submit their arts to the society, have such a responsibility. This has been a 20th Century phenomenon. For instance. All forms of arts were vastly influenced by two big world wars, particularly the World War 2. Arts in this century have reflected the artists’ reactions to and positions vis-a-vis the unbearable destructiveness, injustices, and gross disregards of wars for human conditions and dignity. The reason is simple to understand. How could an artist living in the Nazist Germany, for example, paint the beauty of the spring and be unmindful of what was taking place around him?

Although the “social responsibility” of the artists came to be considered as mainly the 20th Century phenomenon, it doesn’t exclusively belong to this century. For example, Degas’ paintings of the war in Spain is an indication of this reality But, it was in the aftermath of the 2nd World War that having social responsibility came to be expected of all artists.

Last year, I came across a book containing the selected works of the Impressionist painters of the late Soviet Union.

This book, called the Hidden Treasures1, was distributed in the U.S. on the day of Mikhail Gorbachev’s trip to Phoenix, Arizona for a speech engagement. The paintings in this book, which were created in spite of the censorship, depict the artists’ impressions of the social realities and life conditions in the Soviet Union. I thought those were some of the most impressive examples of what is meant by the social responsibility of the artists.

Q: What do you perceive as being the most effective way for an artist to fulfill her social responsibility?

A: obviously, there are many ways of answering this question. But, let me respond this way.

Generally speaking, a painter deals with four different types of realities; subjective reality, such as feelings, emotions, or sentiments, that are abstract; visual or objective reality, which has to do with the world as it seems; social reality, which has to do with the human conditions in the environment; and the ideal reality, which doesn’t exist, but the artist wishes it had, such as the world peace, eradication of poverty, disease, famine and illiteracy, and the abolition of racial, gender and other forms of discrimination.

Now, in order to answer your question, I would say that if a painter is knowledgeable about these types of realities in her

world, and is able to apply the most impressive techniques and styles of painting to depict these realities she can fulfill her social responsibility as an artist.

Q: which social themes do your paintings depict?

A: Lately it has been about the social status and life conditions of the women in our society. I have been researching in this area, and you can already see some of my results in a few of my paintings.

Q: Now, let us turn to our society in which you are exhibiting your art. In your opinion, to what extent is this society familiar with and interested in the art of painting, and, to what degree it welcomes art exhibitions?

A: Unfortunately, our Persian society is not sufficiently familiar with this art. The proof of it is that one can seldom see the members of this society at the museums or art galleries. Needless to say that there are a great many artistic talents among us, particularly in the younger generation who has access to far more resources and opportunities than our generation had. But, there are not enough among us who show interest in the art of painting. And, this might be one of the main reasons why a great number of artistic talents in our society remain undiscovered.

Q: How could interest in this art be generated in the Persian society?

A: By informing and familiarizing the people with this art and by creating curiosity in them to visit art galleries and museums. Over the time, this could hopefully be transformed into an ongoing and steady public interest in the art of painting.

Q: Let us now discuss one of your paintings which is called “The Will”. Does this have a social message? and if so, what is it?

A: Here I am showing a flower blooming in the heart of a sun-baked and desolate desert which seems to have all the indications of being barren. The message is that the human beings can, too, grow and flourish, in spite of the unbearable life conditions, hardships and handicaps, if they will it. I believe this is a very appropriate and timely message for the Persian society that, for the first time in its long history, found itself migrating in such great numbers.

Q: Is this idea of having hope under adverse conditions an example of what you called the ideal type of reality?

A: Perhaps. But, I, particularly as a mother, feel it is an objective reality, especially in relation to our younger generation. In spite of the hardship of imigration, our children have really competed and succeeded in the educational, occupational, professional, social, and business areas. And this, for a generation caught between two diagonally different cultures, has been a remarkable success. In fact, because of this success in the face of hardship, I sincerely trust that our, younger generation will be far more productive than us.

Q: Do you keep abreast of what goes on in Iran concerning the art of painting?

A: More or less, and only through the publications that reach us here. In general, I have not seen much innovative works of art in them. Besides, they hardly reflect the realities that are going on it there.

Q: How about the Iranian painters abroad?

A: There is not a steady flow of exhibitions. And, those held, sporadically are not sufficiently encouraged by the public. However, innovation and creativity, in both style and content, are far greater among the Iranian artists abroad than those who paint in Iran.

Q: Do you have a message for your fellow artists in the way of innovation and creativity?

A: Yes, but just as a fellow painter, not a messenger! Do not be weary of being labeled as a renegade when you show your innovative works. Remember that being a renegade is a prerequisite for being innovative. Also, keep in mind that, until an innovative artist finds those who share or appreciate her ideas about art, she will have to live in an artistic isolation.

Q: Have you as a painter encountered what you called the “Artistic Isolation?”

A: Absolutely. Those in my surroundings, mostly recognize only the realistic style as the true paiting, and don’t value the others as the Impressionism or abstract art. However, since I

tend to do what I preach, the style and the content of my art has not been influenced by their comments. I strongly believe that, while choosing a theme or a style, an artist who wants to be innovative and creative must mainly depend on her own thoughts and feelings, instead of the views of others.

Q: Thank you for this opportunity to talk, and I hope to see your future exhibitions. Is there something else that you would like to add?

A: No. And thank you for this talk.