20 October, 2017 | Share Article
Adel Younesi says: “I like to make my artworks look more cosmopolitan and not to use so much Iranian elements.”
Visual Service of Honar-Online: Adel Younesi is a young artist and his first exhibition was very successful, in which, one of his artworks was purchased by Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. After gaining experience in portraiture, following Alireza Sami Azar’s recommendation, he created a new environment in his paintings. In an exhibition, held in Asar Gallery, he’s artworks entered a new world of painting and abstract, which afterwards, could be seen as the main theme in his artworks. He has been pursuing more activities in France and other European countries in recent years. He held an exhibition entitled Phantasia (Common Sense) in Iranshahr Gallery. Under the pretext of this exhibition, we have been discussing his thought and artwork.
Mr. Younesi, what was the reason for you to not hold any solo exhibition in Iran, for 7-8 years?
My last solo exhibition in Iran was held at Henna Gallery under management of Mrs. Sasani. It was very successful in terms of selling and had a good reflection in a series of publications. After that exhibition, I worked with Mr. Etemad. Based on our agreement, Mr. Etemad was selling my artworks, with one condition that my artworks should have been exhibited in the exhibition. According to the volume and details of my artworks, a collection needed at least one year or one and a half year to be completed. Thus, I was sure that I have an exhibition every 1 or 2 years. During that time, one gallery offered me to hold an exhibition at Nicolas Flamel Gallery, in Paris. Earlier in 2005-2006, I was offered by Mr. Tehrani, the manager of Asar Gallery, to hold an exhibition in “Steps Gallery”, in London. Unfortunately, due to the military service, I was not able to go to London. For holding an exhibition in Nicolas Flamel Gallery, there was no obstacles for me to go to France. I decided to go to Paris and besides attending my own exhibition, also visit the Ursi and Montpellier Museums. Therefore, I held an exhibition in the Nicholas Flamel Gallery. After two years of working with Mr. Etemad and attending Art Istanbul and Art Dubai, I did not continue working with him. Later, he offered me to start working with him, but this cooperation was no longer possible due to my workload.
Last year, you published a book from your artworks in Paris. How did you get to the idea of publishing a book from your artworks?
During the two years of working with Mr. Etemad, in which, he was selling my artworks, I was thinking about publishing a book. In Paris, a publisher, named “Loft”, offered me to publish a book there. Based on their offer, I could publish my book with some changes or censors, in Iran, later. Thus, I accepted and the collection of books about my artworks have been published in 4 parts, in Paris. At the same time, I signed an agreement with Laurent Strouk Gallery, in Saint-Germain, Paris. This gallery is one of the top-notch galleries in Paris and they had a good understanding of my artworks. The director of this gallery was one of the few people who comprehended my works layer by layer. I have been working with this gallery about two and a half years and my last exhibition was held by this gallery before New Year. I had a collection of 20-25 chapters, from which, they selected 10 artworks and exhibited in a solo exhibition. They, mostly, chose the artworks with Iranian elements to showcase my artworks as Iranian Artworks with Iranian identity. Mr. Amirian was interested in the rest of the artworks that had an international and more sophisticated theme and by his efforts, my artworks had been exhibited in Phantasia Exhibition in Iranshahr Gallery. However, most of my audiences are Iranian, and I was looking forward to showcasing my artworks in Iran.
In the artworks that you have presented at the Phantasia Exhibition, you have paid less attention to Iranian elements and symbols, and artworks such as orange taxi, which is familiar to the Iranian people, or a figure that has an Iranian look and feel has been removed from your work. On what basis did you try to make these changes in your artworks?
The collection of artworks that I presented in the Phantasia Exhibition, is the result of a 4-5 years effort. The process of drawing these paintings took a long time. This was due to the change in my tendency. In my artworks exhibited in Paris, I was using Iranian symbols, but generally, I would prefer my artworks to be more international and cosmopolitan, which can be comprehensive for everyone in any part of the world. In Phantasia Exhibition, I decided to use the influences from Iranian poems and proverb as Iranian symbols. Last year I became acquainted with the concept of Eastern philosophy and the philosophy of the Illuminati, and for this reason I am more sensitive to my artworks. Generally, I try to lead the audiences to a specific concept, in my artworks. For an instance, Attar Neishabouri, in his poems, refers to the old-style transportation, which were using horses and donkeys in the past. I get inspired by that poem and, instead, refer to the modern style transportation such as modern vehicles. Another example could be a famous poem by Hafiz, in which, the poet refers to some kind of gesture between two lovers. This kind of relations in the modern world does not exist anymore, so to show the exact meaning, I try to change the style and present the same concept in the modern world. As, showing the old-style concepts in old style forms, does not make sense anymore. I was looking for real figures in my paintings, as my profession is realistic figurative painting. I have learnt painting, visually and did not have any specific teacher. Among all kind of paintings, paintings with figurative themes had more effects on me. One of the figurative painters that, unconsciously, I am more inspired of, is Justin Mortimer. For this exhibition, I liked to paint the figure of Shah Abbas, but I did not bother myself to design clothes and arrange a combination of figures. Thus, I painted figures with more visual attraction for Phantasia Exhibition.
It seems that the artworks that you have presented at the Phantasia Exhibition have been created very separately, but eventually they all related to each other unconsciously.
You have mentioned that your artworks are conceptual, and you studied about them, but did you really think about the concept and the relations between them while painting these artworks?
No, I have not really thought about it. Often, the audiences talk about my artworks, and I just find out what features I have used unconsciously in my work. I feel a connection between items in my artworks, but these relations are not that obvious for me to talk about them. At the Phantasia Exhibition, I tried to completely remove judgment. People and cultures are different from each other and we cannot judge people and cultures with a movie, book or any other artwork. Judging is an integral part of the artist and audience’s minds, and the judgment, in audience’s mind, also affects the artist's art and thoughts and covers everything as well. I tried to set aside this judgment and bring my thoughts on the canvas.
How important is time for you and how long does it take for you, to create an artwork?
It is hard for me to sign a painting, and I am always patient with this. The collection of artworks exhibited in Phantasia, took about 4 to 5 years till I could sign them. Most of the times, I spend a lot of time on a painting and after that, the form and shape of my artwork has completely changed. Most of the artworks, presented in the Phantasia Exhibition, have this feature. This happened to me when I was working on the Sled and Zebra paintings. The background of Zebra painting at first was a golf course with about 2 or 3 athletes, but after a while it changed to a few ropewalkers and finally I removed all and replaced with a Russian ship and I think it gives a better feeling and is a better match to the whole form of the artwork. Amongst 300 artworks that I have showcased in my exhibitions, just 20-25 artworks might have not been changed. There is an old slang, which says the painter’s hands are not capable enough to paint the exact thought of the artist and I have completely felt this weakness. Usually the medium of painting is not enough for what is in my mind, and the artwork rarely happens to get close to what I was thinking about.
The chosen colours in your artworks, showcased in Phantasia Exhibition, are the result of a continuous exploration and it seems like it is changing during a specific process. Are the selections of the colours or even changing them, because of the changing in your theory or you have selected them in accordance with the painting?
The selection of colours in my paintings is inspired by the history of 45 to 50 years of the visual art's culture in Iran and Saghakhaneh Style in the Old Iranian paintings. In Saghakhaneh Style, colours are mostly in a grey theme and usage of shining colours is rare. After that era, a very well-known painter, Hannibal Al-Khas, started working and he chose the colours in an interesting way. I strongly believe in his teaching. I was never one of his students, but I know that Mr. al-Khasa has trained students like Mr. Ahmad Vakili. I have seen the works of Mr. Vakili. He used blue colour with such courage and daring that the painters of past generations never did that, or they used blue colour mostly for details. The selection of colourful theme specially in the background of my artworks is related to my futurism mind. I would like that when the next generation painters look at my artworks, understand the differences between choosing colour in their generation and previous generations. Most of the figurative painters of our generation, use the colour cautiously, but I have the courage to use colours. One of the reasons is that using colour is compatible with my own spirit. Many people believe that my artworks are so cheery. Mr. Aghdashlou says that in Adel’s paintings no blood comes from someone's nose and no one is ill. Everyone is busy doing something that works with energy. This is a perfectly correct theory about my artworks. Even though my work has bitter sides, these bitter sides appear when one of the audiences put himself instead of one of the painting’s subjects. For example, I have a work that seems so happy, but in this artwork, church is drowned in water and you can see water in every place of the painting. Perhaps if someone places himself in the subject of that painting, he will be horrified. One of my friends told me that your artworks are kind of native Surrealist; the elements you choose are familiar for the audience, but at the same time, it is unusual for the audiences. It was a very interesting comment for me. I love the theme of peace in my drawings. Even if I paint a predatory animal, I will not paint it in hunting position. My attention is mostly on emotional side of the animals and I bring the predator animals in a friendliness form with weaker animals on the canvas. I do not have much faith in the war because I have come from a generation who saw the devastation of the war. That is why I would like to paint things, which are more appealing for the audiences.
You mentioned that you are looking for a future in your artworks. How much do you care about the past and present as well as feature?
I pay attention to all three, past, present and future. My attention to the past is usually due to usage of old figures and historical photographs. And, I show the situation, in which, people are placed nowadays, so that this is how I use the present time. Of course, the characters in most of my artworks do not show any specific actions. The future time in my work is a kind of chaos in subjects. I have an apocalyptic theme in my art or a situation that you have not seen before. Therefore, I pay a lot of attention to all three times, but the feature more appears in my artworks.
The title of your exhibition is Phantasia (Cosmopolitanism), how did you choose this topic?
The title Phantasia is derived from the concept that Sheikh Ishraq, Suhrawardy, poses. This subject has been raised by Suhrawardy and Abu Ali Sina has completed it. Mullah Sadra also talked about it. I wrote about it in statement of exhibition. Suhrawardy says that it is an emotion within the people that the West calls "Phantasia" or "fantasy". Sheikh Ishraq says that people have 5 perceptual feelings: hearing, smell, taste, sight, and touch. These 5 senses together make people get an understanding of their real life. But along with these five senses, people also have other senses like mood, imagination, and intellect that the brain can lead to discovery and intuition. These senses are more common in sleep. People communicate, walk and fly in sleep. The dead people come to sleep, and one person may sleep in Tehran and in Paris simultaneously. Or you may be a child and an old person at the same time. So, in a dream, different dimensions of time and space collide, and the person enters a weird universe that has never seen it. "Cosmopolitanism" refers to multiple senses except 5 apparent senses. These senses make people feel different when they are sleeping. In my works, I sometimes use signs that are like a dream interpretation. The content of my work is completely different from the appearance of my work. If my works get rid of content and get into a dream, and that content will not be decoded, I cannot say my works have an exact wisdom. This is an interpretation that makes my artworks look better. The audience does not understand what is in my mind until they understand the content of my artworks.
What other kind of paintings you have except the figurative drawings on the wall of the Iranshahr Gallery, and what kind of artwork was included in your other exhibitions?
From the time I found myself and put away the pattern in the painting, I began to paint a still life. The artworks of the idle nature that I painted were like I was trying to choose its lighting in a way that it is going to disappear, and to use it in a couple of warm and cool colours at the same time. The first exhibition I organized was in 2002 or 2003 in the Sheis Gallery under the management of Mr. Sheis Yahyaie. Perhaps the Sheis Gallery was not among the major galleries of those years in Tehran, but Mr. Yahyaee knew his work well and did something that many of the more well-known galleries were unable to do. He sold a collection of my artworks to Tehran Museum of Contemporary Arts. That is why my first exhibition was a very successful and had valuable feedback. After working on a painting of still life, I travelled across the streets of Tehran looking for a subject and took pictures from every subjects that I saw, and then painting them in the same way. After a while, I became acquainted with the works of Lucien Freud and became interested in portraiture. I started painting people’s face and made a portrait painting collection in the "Mehr O Mah" and "Elaheh" galleries. I did not portrait the famous people, I painted the face of the people around me. Any attractive face that I saw, I chose to be my subject for painting, and I would paint a person's face without adding any content to background. Portrait a person who is not famous, made all the attentions, focused on my technique, theory and colouration. The artworks of this collection were once visited by Mr. Sami Azar in the "Mehr O Mah" Gallery and he said that I wish that these works were bigger, so they would have been more impressive. Under the influence of this sentence, I painted a set of portraits with 2-3-meter drawings and perform them at the Museum of the Pasargad Bank. After that, I was tired of drawing portraits and began to draw artworks which are in Phantasia Exhibition. I started this process ten years ago with an exhibition in the Asar gallery, and I think if I want to focus on such works for another 50 years, I will still have a subject for work. There are too many subjects in human, objects and animals, which never let you finish your work. I really like abstract painting and if I want to put one painting on wall or even buy one as a gift I will choose abstract paintings. When I buy a figurative artwork, I constantly want to fix it and I would like to work on it myself. That is why I do not like to buy figurative artworks. I am an avid fan of abstract paintings and I believe that abstract painting never ends, and it never dies.
You learned the painting yourself and did not have a specialist teacher, but you are currently teaching painting and taking a series of students. Do you teach them to paint like you or they are free to paint whatever they want, and you just make them aware of other traditional ways for painting?
My classes include 3 semesters of 8 sessions. From the first semester, I inform my students of a condition, that if they do not reach a new area in art, they would not be qualified for the second semester, because if anyone is to copy my works and apply my techniques, it does not have any advantage. From the beginning, I even ask them what studies they have had. I do not want them to come to my classes and be impressed by my work practices. I have a student who works in calligraphy and he is trying to create a new era in calligraphy. I also have a student who works on sculpture. I do not know anything about sculptures and techniques, but I try to comment on the type and form of his work, and I try to guide him in a wat that he can find his individuality in his works. I believe in my individuality, too much. If the artwork does not show the artist’s individuality, he will be away from creativity. In fact, instead of creator, he will be a producer of artworks.
You have been in Paris, the capital of modern art in the world, and held an exhibition, as well as in Tehran as the cultural capital of Iran. How do you assess the status of contemporary Iranian art and contemporary art in Paris? Do you think it is true that some people say the contemporary Iranian artists copy their artworks?
Unfortunately, young Iranian students are hurt from two areas. First one is the university area that I criticize especially for the method of teaching in some Iranian universities. I really like the method of Shahed University in teaching because they do not work on student minds and tell them what they should do. At Shahed University, only the training and techniques are taught to the students, and when they graduate from the college, they use their mental achievements. That is why great painters graduate from this university. There are many professors in Shahed University who were participate in the Holy Defend works, but you cannot find any student there who is under the influence of these areas because the faculty does not affect their minds and allowed them to make their own decisions.
So, the first problem of Iranian students is the universities whose professors want to bring the students to their own style. The second problem are galleries. Our galleries try to find out what is easier for them and they do not come and find talented young artists. They want the artists who have already made themselves known and famous. Of course, many galleries do not have the literacy of artistic choices. I think it is necessary to choose an artwork that you have a sufficient knowledge about, and at least have some information about contemporary art history. The history of contemporary art is longer than the art history of 50 or 100 years. In Paris, galleries like to choose artists that are famous, but the difference is that in Paris, young artists are introduced to various festivals and others can see their artworks. Having a gallery in Europe is much harder. I know that few years ago, there was not any gallery to present the artworks of great painters as Mr. Massoud Saadodin in Germany. However, there are more facilities in Europe for teenagers to work and improve. There, materials are cheaper and more comfortable, so that painter can work, but in Iran, a painter should pay 5 Million Tomans (approx. £1,000) to buy 10 canvases. How can a young artist have this much money to spend for artworks? In Europe, there are some organizations that support teenagers. There are workshops where young people can go there and work. Paris is one of the most expensive cities in Europe. You must pay too much money to rent a studio of 30-40 meters, but the government created 500-600-meter studios that artists can register and go there for working. There is closet and colours in those studios and artists can put their stuff there. The light and the roof of those studios are also suitable for work. We do not have these places in Iran. Unfortunately, in future we will understand what happens to us, because many talented people that could have shown themselves within the next 15 to 20 years already changed their job.