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Mohammed Ehsai (Iranian, b. 1939)
Mohammed Ehsai (Iranian, b. 1939)


Mohammed Ehsai (Iranian, b. 1939)
(i)- (iii) signed in Farsi (lower left)
(iv) signed in Farsi (lower right)
oil on canvas, in four parts
each: 28 ½ x 28 ½in. (72.5 x 72.5cm.);
overall: 57 x 57in. (145 x 145cm.)
Painted in 2007
Anon. sale, Sotheby's London, 23 October 2008, lot 224.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.

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Lot Essay

Through his fusion of the Iranian heritage with his own original designs, Ehsai is one of the leading artists integrating Persian script into new artistic expressions moulded by symbolic art forms. In the present work, the artist emphasises the word Allah by repetitively painting it throughout the four parts, giving it prodigious attention. This reverberation is reminiscent of the ritual Sufi practice of the zikr, a form of piety in which the believer is engaged in the rhythmic repetition of the name of God. The artist’s participation in this exercise demonstrates his devotedness and the importance of Allah to him.

Even though the content of the writing is significant for Ehsai, he does not try to make the meanings clear by using easily identifiable outlines. Instead, the Iranian calligraphic letters take different shapes and forms in each of the four panels, slightly packed in some and gracefully flowing in others. According to him, the letters and words in the work are used generally as a means of expression. The almost circular distribution of the repeated word over the canvas could be referencing the sacred walks around the Ka’aba in Mecca. The palette used could potentially have deeper connotations as well; the shades of royal blue and turquoise introduced in this composition are reminiscent of the tiles seen in Persian and Islamic architecture since centuries. Similarly, the golden yellow is normally used in the decoration of revered mosques. To that note, the choice of a black background is Ehsai’s way of creating emphasis on the accentuated word through the proper contrast of dark and bright colours. His neat brushstrokes bring together Western abstraction and Chinese brush painting in a modern way, all while taking the viewer back to his Iranian cultural roots. The bold and expressive work seen in the piece clearly shows his strong calligraphic background, exhibiting a mixture of modernity and tradition, which he is famously known for. Despite calligraphy being the main observed component, this masterpiece requires sensitive perception more than expert reading skills, because what the artist aims to convey is the heavenly power that script has conventionally possessed.

Although abstract art and stylised art have many similarities, Ehsai believes that they can largely differ with regards to the artist’s perception. For him, if there is a certain relationship between the decorum of calligraphy and holy principles, an artist’s mentality should progress within this context to be able to create a genuine piece. Ultimately, when a work is authentic, it has an unchangeable connection with its origin. His aesthetic language adapted from various art movements is unquestionably a unique way of transforming the traditional Persian script into one exceptional abstraction.

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