Tanavoli's works have sometimes been described as "poetry in bronze". He believes that sculpture is a kind of poetry. As he says "I wrote my poetry on the surface of the sculpture". For Tanavoli, bronze is the most appropriate material for his sculptural poetry. The main series of Tanavoli's sculptures are Heechs, Poets, Lovers and most notably the Walls, which is exceptionally combined with his Heech in the dazzling piece that is presented here.
While Heechs seem to be Tanavoli's most famous works, the monumental series of bronzes, the Wall, represent the sculptors greatest and most mature achievement. Cast on a wall, the shapely silhouette inspired a relief-like homage, its surfaces modeled after Egyptian, Sumerian, Arabic or Farsi reliefs, whose surfaces were articulated with intricate and somewhat illegible inscriptions.
Tanavoli has long been inspired by the word Heech, the Farsi word for "nothing", which has created in numerous and ever more ambitious forms. Comprising three letters in Persian language, the word symbolizes for him both ambivalence towards the past and a sense of meaninglessness or dissolution with an inadequate present. He once described the word as his reaction to his environment: "the school whose methods and pedagogy I could not believe in, the artists who were trumpeting some new artistic phenomenon from the West, and the aristocrats proudly bought their second hand merchandise provoked in me a reaction of protest. Heech was the voice of this protest".
Mysticism enhances Tanavoli's fascination with the Heech, but as he himself acknowledges, he was also drawn to its calligraphic shape because of its resemblance to the human body. If the word itself suggests melancholy, Tanavoli's Heech sculptures are joyful works. They stand, sit or recline as sensuously eloquent reminders of the plastic nature of Persian calligraphy. In the present work, Heech, with a quizzical look, appears to be composedly pressed by the Wall . By reducing his vocabulary to this versatile anthropomorphous figure, Tanavoli is, in a way, reacting to the calligraphic excess of the day exploring the formal, the aesthetic and narrative power of a seemingly simple image.
Heech in the hands of Tanavoli means everything; it is fascinating and flexible. If we give dimension to the word Heech, from a sculptor's point of view, we will realize that it is one of the most artistic combinations that the three Farsi letters have made. So it can be easily accepted that a sculptor knowledgeable about form can employ the word to make various attractive forms that somehow refer to the human being: 'If the astonishing resemblance between a Heech and a human being did not exist, I would have never involved myself in making it', says Tanavoli.
Heech also renders in a single word the point of view of pious Muslims, as well as that of the Iranian mystic or Sufi and its greatest exponent Rumi, that God is permanent, while everything else has no true substance, bound to vanish; the other seeks dissolution of the individual personality to find union with the Godhead. It symbolizes the verdict of final condemnation and the powerlessness of mankind.
The other concept of Heech relates its social and political dimensions. For Tanavoli Heech is the mirror of his time, a form that reflects the events he faces or witnesses. Numerous variations of this single word, alone, or in a cage, or together with its beloved are a few to mention. Though it is hard to interpret or translate them in words, but one can trace their routes and mystical meanings in the social context of the artists life.
In the present work The Wall and the Heech, the figure of the Heech is placed between two walls in horizontal direction. It is like he is being pressed under a heavy press machine. Here the surface of the sculpture is void of any texture or calligraphic
elements, often seen in his other walls. Therefore the plainness of the wall has further emphasized to the silence of the subject and its dept. Tanavoli is considered as one of the pioneers of the Saqqa-khaneh school; a neo-traditionalist movement emerged in the 1960s and adhered by a number of leading Iranian modern artists. However, he stands out among his peers in this group owing to his investigative outlook towards various dimensions of Iranian culture. Tanavoli has fully grasped the relationship between the aesthetics of poetry and the arts, provides visual equivalents for literary concepts. He is therefore as much a sculptor as a poet.
Lyric 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 seems to stand for the concept 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 begging the viewer to seek for emotion behind abstract words.
Parviz Tanavoli was the representative of Iran at the 29th Venice Biennale in 1958. Works from The Wall and Heech series in collections such as the British Museum, London; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, Vienna; the Ludwig Museum, Aachen, Germany; Gray Art Gallery, New York University; the City of Isfahan and the City of Tehran.