Poets and Prophets are among the main themes of Tanavoli's works that have been created since early 1960s. Referring to Persian mysticism, poet is considered as a symbol of the pious Muslim as well as the Sufi. All of the celebrated Persian poets such as Rumi, Hafiz, Omar Khayyam and Saadi were great exponents of Sufism and mysticism in which the love for human being stands for the love for God and the beloved is indeed God himself. Thus, both the poem and the sculpture can express the presence of God through the same means of symbol and metaphor.
In Persian poetry the emphasis is on subjective interpretation of reality rather than its external manifestations. Consequently, it treats real objects not so much as entities in themselves, but as abstractions of themselves. Hence, the Persian poet is not interested in individual traits, as he tends to deal with 'types' rather than individuals. These types embrace a wide range: the Lover, the Beloved, the King, the Prophet and the Poet which is the subject of Tanavoli's sculpture.
Lyrical Persian poetry features some general characteristics that help to explain the essential qualities of Tanavoli's sculptures. One underlying aspect is the idea of concealment and revelation at the same time which emerges not only in poetry, but also in other dimensions of Persian culture, most notably in architecture. By creating his sculptures and thus disclosing his inner world, Tanavoli reveals his emotion and ideas, and at the same time hides these revelations behind the veil of abstraction. In a wider scope, the Islamic practice of abstraction often manifests itself through the process of veiling and concealing. What makes the abstract, veiled art object still accessible to the viewer is the fact that it offers glimpses into its emotions by its mere presence, just like a poem encourages the viewer to seek for emotion behind abstract words.
In line with the concept of abstraction as veiling, Tanavoli reduces elements to simple geometric forms that give few clues to the viewer. Although many of Tanavoli's bronzes depict human figures, as we can gather from both their statuary forms and their titles in works such as Prophet in Love (1962), Poet with the Symbol of Freedom (1962), Poet in Love (1962) and more recent works like this one, Standing Poet (2007) and lot 131, The Poet and the Cypress Tree (2007), he obliterates distinctive facial features, poses or hand gestures, all of which carry the expression of sentiment.
The all-over covering by letterforms of certain parts of this sculpture and on lot 132, Poet and Cypress, is reminiscent of Tanavoli's earlier Walls of Persepolis and Walls of Iran series. In the former, entire surfaces are covered by small figures, which almost resemble calligrams. In the latter, the surfaces are covered in Farsi script. The shape of these pieces resembles the giant stone piers left standing in Persepolis, and an echo of this is seen in the present sculpture.
Tanavoli is considered as one of the pioneers of the Saqqa-khaneh school; a neo-traditionalist movement emerged in the 1960s and counts among it a number of the leading Iranian modern artists (see introduction to lot 133). He was the representative of Iran at the 29th Venice Biennale in 1958.
Works from "Poet" series are part of collections in such institutions as the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Grey Art Gallery, New York University, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tehran, and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.