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Having studied at CalArts in California where he explored various mediums such as installations, video photography and painting, Farhad Moshiri came back to Tehran in 1991, at the end of the war with Iraq. Since then, his work has become iconic on the contemporary Middle Eastern art scene, as he constantly creates innovative art techniques of his own, from mimicking aged Persian ceramics to interpreting the Abjad alphabet, from making installations with acrylic 'pastries' to others entirely embroidered with beads and pearls, from incorporating Swarovksi crystals to his compositions to producing art pieces solely composed of knives. The rich variety of Moshiri's oeuvre not only lies in his creativeness as both painter and conceptual artist, but also in the eclectism of his visual vocabulary, where past and present meet. Reconciling the ancient with the modern is at the core of Farhad Moshiri's oeuvre, yet his works are always imbued with the artist's self-reflection and his observation of present life in Iran.
Christie's is delighted to offer in its tenth auction of Modern and Contemporary Middle Eastern Art in Dubai four works by Moshiri illustrating three of his characteristic subjects and techniques. When Moshiri received international recognition as an artist, he was producing works depicting monumental jars and bowls, of which lot 43 and lot 44 are examples from this series. The subject is clearly an allusion to Moshiri's native country, where ceramics have a crucial role in Iran's culture and history. Starting almost 6,000 years ago in Susa to the Sassanian vessels pre-dating Islam, and then to the technically advanced ware of 13th century Seljuk potters and 17th century Safavids, the ceramic jar has a basic shape through which Moshiri could ingenuously fuse tradition with modernity. Resembling the utilitarian stoneware jars used for preserving food, Moshiri makes his jars vessels of desire, love, life and memories, using its bulbous form as a connotation of the female figure. In these paintings, Moshiri creates an almost trompe l'oeil effect with the glazed craquelure present throughout the surface of the jar. He therefore intentionally attributes an aged and worn look to the jar, revealing his interest in archeology, the excavation process and the re-discovery of a lost identity. To achieve this lifelike texture, he rolls up, folds and crushes his canvas once the various layers of paint have just about dried, causing the pigment on the surface to flake and crackle. He then consolidates his work with a transparent water-based glue to avoid any further paint loss. At the beginning, Moshiri's Jars tended to be of an earthy ochre color, yet he soon made variations of the theme, using vibrant colors which he associates with specific words, phrases or childhood memories. Hence the translucent pink color of lot 44 possibly reflects that of one of his favorite juices, fresh pomegranate ('Ab Anar Tazeh'), whilst the bright rainbow colors in lot 43 could refer to various flavors from his childhood or perhaps to the pedagogic method of teaching the Abjad alphabet to children, where the alphabet's letters are divided into seven groups each associated to a colour of the rainbow.
The technique of crackled and flaked paint was also used in Moshiri's Numeral series in which the artist pursues his fascination with the Arabic Abjad alphabet, a symbolic language of numbers and signs which contain magical meanings and codes. Lot 46 is a stunning example from this series, due to the complexity of the layers of different pigments (particularly visible from the reverse; see image 1) and its extensive gold leaf work, a medium Moshiri would fully explore in his series of furniture and objects entirely covered with gold leaf. Abjad calligraphy frequently used to ornate and adorn manuscripts and talismanic garments in Iran and the Ottoman territories, conferring blessings and protection to the wearer. By spreading this Persian script over the canvas and having it bleed over the edges, Moshiri seems to have magnified a small fragment of these lavish objects and reproduced it onto his canvas. Although the subject and Moshiri's flaking technique contribute to the 'antique' flavor of this series, there is nonetheless a touch of Pop Art rendered by the almost 'graffiti'-like appearance of the numbers and letters, reminiscent of Western Abstract Expressionism. The use of gold leaf is recurrent through Moshiri's oeuvre, as it often represents not only today's consumer's society but also subtly alludes to the fact that for many people, one needs to be wealthy in order to be happy.
Finally, Lot 45 exemplifies one of Moshiri's most unusual techniques, that of creating installations with acrylic 'pastries' or 'cakes'. He explains how he accidentally found a frosting set in his aunt's trunk in his basement and coincidently, he was at that time seeking to use heavy thick paint yet he was frustrated by the paintbrush's limits in achieving texture. The frosting set induced him to squeeze out from it acrylic paint, meticulously displaying it onto his canvas, seeing that he could use these acrylic 'pastries' as giant pixels for his paintings. This new technique sparked off Moshiri's creative ideas for his compositions with layered acrylic 'cakes', inspired by the 'Roman faade' architecture in Iran. He claimed that "To me the white buildings decorated with layers of baroque, Roman and Iranian carving look like cakes. The idea of people living in a huge wedding cake and their ostentatious lifestyle, especially the extravagant weddings, was the starting point for a cake series that took a tongue-in-cheek look at high society and the hybridisation of cultures". Moshiri's 'cakes' therefore embody the notion of marriage, love, superficiality, lavishness and pure ornamentation. Paradoxically, whilst Moshiri arranges colourful and appetizing 'cakes' on his canvases, these are tasteless and inedible, symbolizing the empty promise of love as well as the emptiness of material. As Moshiri states, "There is happiness in pastel colored pastries, candies and colourful decorative materials" and at first glance, Moshiri's 'pastries' works, such as Choc Line (lot 45; see image 2), do emanate a sense of happiness, wedding festivities, naivety and childlessness. However, Moshiri's works always have what he calls "a sarcastic note as the punchline" burried under these superficial 'cake' ornaments. For example, in Choc Line, Moshiri's sarcasm is not only contained within the work itself but also in the title. The design of the figure consists in a single outline made out of acrylic 'pastries', hence the silhouette is faceless and bodiless, referring again to the notion of emptiness and possibly hinting to his country's common censorship of certain figures in ads and magazines. Furthermore, Moshiri plays with the words in the title "Choc Line" which phonetically sound very similar to the "chalk line" used by the police to outline a dead body on a crime scene. This gives a morbid connotation to the work yet amusing at the same time. As in most of his works, Moshiri leaves Choc Line open to complementary and contradictory readings.
Although Moshiri's works seem to be very different from one another due to his multifaceted techniques and endless imagination, they all share a common denominator. In appearance, happiness, ornamentation and naivety pre-dominate his canvases and installations, yet behind the colourful pigments, 'pastries', beads and sparkling crystals, underlies Moshiri's sarcastic eye as a witness to his country's history and contemporary society. His works are never obvious criticisms of a particular issue, but are often faintly suggested through the kitsch sphere he creates. Moshiri's Pop Art and fantasy world allow him to surpass the restraints on freedom of expression imposed by Iran's censorship and invite his viewers to choose their own interpretation for his works.