From a distance, intensely busy surfaces appear to be rendered in microcosmic detail, yet when viewed more intimately, recognition dissolves into a frenzy of sensitive and compacted brush work. Ali Banisadr handles paint with a sentient physicality. His extravagant textures and vibrant tones visually translate the experience of taste, smell, and especially sound into fields that project dissonant rhythms.
Both Infidels and The Marvels of the East possess all the qualities of an outlandish landscape, their rich aromatic colors disseminating a fairytale landscape that’s both majestic and medieval. Amidst his lush surface, splendor gives way to embellished anarchy and carnage as onslaughts of painterly gestures replicate the chaos of an attack. Banisadr’s experiences, including the traumatic violence he witnessed as a child and the tumult of fleeing his war-stricken home at a young age color his work and is apparent in his choice of subject matter as well as painterly style and compositions. Similar to Hieronymus Bosch, to whom he is often compared, Banisadr creates vast landscapes that border on the fantastical in their complexity, yet also contain a great amount of figurative detail resulting in a frenzied and hypnotizing canvas.
The fractured background, reminiscent of stained glass, is inspired by Banisadr’s recollection of the sound of shattering windows during bombings. This synesthetic connection between auditory memory and visualization is consistent throughout his work. “The bombing, the air raids; I witnessed so many ruins and chaos everywhere,” he explains. “When the vibrations and explosions of the air raids occurred, my mother recalls I would make drawings to try to make sense out of what was happening. And I think that stays with me even now, where I still see the world as this chaotic, potentially dangerous place. Trying to make sense out of it in a visual way is the only way I can understand”
“Sometimes I forget what I put in. I want to capture things in that way, where you're looking into your memory, a dream or hallucination. The characters become a mixture of archetypes, [and] that's what I like. You're trying to figure it out and your brain wants to categorize things, but it can't because of this motion. You want to solve the problem, but it never gets solved. It's like when you read a really good book and the story never leaves you. I sometimes say the conflict in the work is the conflict of my own thoughts and anxieties. It's a civil war in my head. The top part [of my artwork] is you letting go and floating. You become part of the air and you've tapped into the heartbeat of the universe. I guess that's what people do when they meditate” (A. Banisadr, quoted in conversation with B. Groys, in Ali Banisadr: One Hundred and Twenty-Five Paintings, London 2015, p.25).
At first glance, Infidels appears jubilant and celebratory. Marvelous colors fill the canvas in brilliance and warmth, saturating every surface in iridescence. But upon further observation, eyes begin to adjust to reveal the characters and chaotic exercise of the scene. Warriors, weapons and warfare come alive, leaping off the canvas. Like most of Banisadr’s work, this painting is both virginal and violent. Puffing clouds and flowering trees provokes a dialogue between the serene and the horrific.
The Marvels of the East is more transparent in its depiction of pandemonium. The scattered gestures of red paint throughout the canvas instantly resonate as symbols of the wounded, and the few brushstrokes of orange pigment come alive on the canvas as spontaneous bursts of flames. Fragmented objects fly through the air in a fanciful dance, while land and water divide the battlefield, creating a confrontation between chaos and tranquility.
Banisadr is originally from Tehran, and moved to America when he was a child. His works are influenced by his experiences as a refugee from the Iran-Iraq war, and his unique approach to abstraction evokes connotations to displacement, memory, nostalgia and violence. Banisadr’s thought-provoking works are housed in many prestigious public collections worldwide including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Saatchi Gallery, London and the British Museum, London among others.
“I never think about actual things when I'm painting. I'm not thinking ‘I'm going to put a person here, a tree here and a bird there.’ The beginning stage is always the sound. From that, slowly, stories come about based on what I'm reading or thinking at the time, but if I didn't have that sound I don't know what I would do” (Ibid.).