Manoucher Yektai (American-Iranian, b. 1922)
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Manoucher Yektai (American-Iranian, b. 1922)


Manoucher Yektai (American-Iranian, b. 1922)
signed and dated 'Yektai 64' (lower right)
oil on canvas
36 x 56in. (91.4 x 142.2cm.)
Painted in 1964
Gertrude Kasle Gallery, Detroit.
Private Collection.
Anon. sale, DuMouchelles Fine Arts, 20 September 2015, lot 2048.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Detroit, Gertrude Kasle Gallery, Manoucher Yektai, 1965.
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Lot Essay

Christie's is honoured to present a rare masterpiece by the highly acclaimed and sought after artist Manoucher Yektai. Exemplary of the fascinating creative fusion that can be achieved through the cross-cultural dialogue of painterly techniques, Iranian native Manoucher Yektai pursued his career in the creative freedom of the West with the profound influence of both French and American techniques. Having completed his artistic education in Paris and consequently moving to New York in the Post-War environment, Yektai reaped the benefits of these two vibrant cultures, rich in creative history and bold in cultural diversity. As a Modernist painter unlike any other, Yektai sets an unparalleled standard for Middle Eastern painting with his Expressionist technique and unique surface textures. A seminal figure in the establishment of the New York School, Yektai's influence and reputation as a painter extend far further than the Middle East. His considerable contribution to the Post-War American language of creativity made him a respected peer of numerous pioneering artists in the West. This present work, an outstanding rare landscape painting within Yektai's oeuvre of figural canvases, marks a distinct turning point from the norms of his painterly process, making this a truly one of a kind piece.

As a true Modernist painter, Yektai's painterly trajectory was founded on the desire to establish a new creative aesthetic. While it is undoubted that he drew on the various creative influences of the West, it was his own creativity that drove the process behind his artistic ethos. Leaving Tehran at age 22, Manoucher Yektai moved to Paris to study at l'Ecole Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. Kicking off what would become truly formative years of discovery in terms of seeking his artistic maturity, Yektai relished in the opportunity to express his creativity in the freedom of the Western world. Whilst studying in Paris, he was exposed to the timeless technique of some of Europe's greatest painters such as Cézanne, Bonnard, Matisse and Vuillard. Drawing great inspiration from their technique, the artist developed a key trait of his painterly hand. Through great finesse, the artist crafts unique surface textures on his canvases through the use of thick impastos.

This however was not enough for Yektai, who sought further channels for artistic expression. Moving to New York in 1947, finding eventual identification with the Modernists that would soon become the founders of the New York School, Yektai established his artistic career amongst America's greats. Artists such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman and Willem de Kooning were not only friends of the artist, but were more importantly his artistic peers. 1945 was a crucial turning point in Western history marking the end of the Second World War. Resulting in great American prosperity politically, socially and economically, the Post-War environment became a breeding ground for cultural revival. Artists and creative minds were reveling at the idea of forging their own artistic lexicon as New York became a global hub for the arts. Pining for this artistic identification and armed with true creative passion, the artists who formed the New York School shaped Modernist painting around the world.
Living amongst the action and vibrancy of this newly powerful nation, Yektai, who had moved from France, sought to establish his own artistic passage drawing from the great innovations of American Abstract Expressionism.

In 1952 Yektai gained the admiration of renowned gallerist Leo Castelli. Needing no further assurance in the quality of his artistic production, Yektai was enveloped into the emerging movement of Abstract Expressionism. Through Castelli, Yektai met Rothko, Tobey and Guston amongst others and in the mid-1950s, his work was displayed in shows alongside pioneering Modernist painters such as Pollock, de Kooning, Newman and Kline at the Stable Gallery in New York City. Living and working amongst artists such as these, it is undoubted that Yektai is an artist with considerable artistic credibility and one who truly experienced the creative dynamism of American painting.

Alongside being a painter, it is important to note that Yektai's creative talents also lay elsewhere. For Yektai, it was a necessity to be true to his Iranian and Persian roots which he was able to do through poetry and literature. As a published poet whose works were widely distributed in Iran, it was essential for the artist to remain true to his individual ideology. Though the literature and text remained off the canvas, it was undoubted that it contributed tremendously to his creative process.

Shying away from articulate representation, the artist seamlessly amalgamates the attributes of all these three great artistic influences to exact this unique style. His time in Paris armed him with the knowledge to create vibrant and dynamic surface textures on his canvases, the impasto technique he consistently employs adds a great complexity to his canvases. From New York, he identified with the notions of free expression, abstraction, all-over/gestural painting and the ability to paint at monumental scales. While falling under the characterisation of Abstract Expressionism, it is undoubted that Yektai forged his own creative path, formulating an aesthetic which did not necessarily conform to the principles which seemed to guide Modernist American painters. On the contrary, there continues to be a certain simplicity in Yektai's work, free from the over-complication and rigorous abstraction that was often deemed necessary in Abstract Expressionist painting. Finally, true to his native Iranian roots, Yektai was never able to entirely negate figurative or representative forms. Feeling the power that stemmed from representation, Yektai had the fascinating ability to absorb the qualities from both of these creative cultures in order to make his visual language truly unique.

Whether it be through his portraits, which are notorious for providing an audience with a taste for the sitters' true identity through thick brushstrokes and vibrant colour, this landscape takes his artistic methodology a step further. Through multiple layers of paint, Yektai creates a scene which challenges both the viewer's sense of perspective as well as our traditional expectations for a landscape painting.

By breaking up the surface into various segments, it is as though we are seeing the same landscape through multiple artistic lenses. In the background a lush green field with green and turquoise hues compliment the warmth of the blue and yellow sky. Through swift and fluid brushstrokes, this small area of the canvas is reminiscent of a more traditional landscape setting. In contrast, the right side of the canvas becomes harsher. As though we are traversing the various seasons, the ground becomes orange, autumnal and slightly turbulent. Through the introduction of darker hues and rougher surfaces with thicker application of paint, this small segment of the canvas causes an unusual break in the serenity of the scene beside it. Finally, the foreground is dominated by dynamic strokes in numerous shades of white, ranging from the pure to the muddy. As though we are metaphorically plunged the throws of winter, the gestural technique Yektai employs enhances the polarity between the various elements of the canvas and strongly juxtaposes the warmer colours of the background with an icy blast of cool colour. Littered with black and blue abstracted trees, there are few signs which traditionally make this a landscape, yet it is undeniable that it is. His ability to achieve such diversity on a singular canvas is a true artistic feat. Its monumental scale and breadth of technical expression are evocative of the artist's skillful hand.

As both a traditional Persian poet and an innovative Modernist painter, Yektai operates in a phenomenal creative space which only few have the ability to achieve and maintain with equal finesse. Shaping both his personal being as well as his visual lexicon, Yektai's masterful artistic procedure remains unparalleled.
Two comparable paintings, also monumental in size, are held in Tehran's Museum of Contemporary Art and were acquired by the Empress Farah Pahlavi before the Revolution at the time where she focused on American Abstract Expressionism. The present work, of museum quality, is Yektai's largest landscape to ever appear at auction.

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