Studio visit: Reza Derakshani

The painter who has made music with Madonna on his love of art, and why he chose to reconnect with his Iranian roots

Reza Derakshani, who was born in Sangsar, a small village in the northeast of Iran, recalls the moment in New York in the 1980s when he decided he wanted to be an international artist. ’I thought maybe I should just ignore my past — my culture. Which obviously doesn’t work,’ he says. 

In his biography, Derakshani describes his nomadic early existence, growing up in ‘a great black tent on the top of a mountain, among horses and fields of blue and yellow flowers.’ He talks poetically about watching moonlight, which passed through holes in his tent canvas to create ‘constellations’. 

Study took Derakshani to the considerably brighter lights of Tehran and, later, New York, where he began to paint. Though he initially sought to distance himself from his youth in rural Iran, it became a ‘powerful’ source of inspiration — the artist cites the Hunting series, which draws upon the Persian miniature tradition, and new works, which incorporate traditional calligraphy. 

A talented composer and performer, music is at the heart of Derakshani’s practice: ‘There are elements of music that I see clearly in my work,’ says the artist, who has previously collaborated with Madonna and John Densmore of The Doors. ‘The music I study and play is all improvisational; that has translated into my visual art. I don’t have a plan, I don’t have any sketches.’

Today, Derakshani lives and works between Tehran, the US and Europe. Between them, painting — the ‘foundation’ for his love of art — remains a constant: ‘The idea is to create something that takes you out of that two-dimensional surface,’ he explains. ‘It’s amazing when it happens — it’s the highest level of joy and satisfaction.’