Christie’s is delighted to present two seminal works from Iranian-American artist Manoucher Yektai’s oeuvre. While one offers a fascinating insight into a lesser known stylistic period of the artist, the other delves deep into the artist’s mature aesthetic from 1960. Unlike previous works, these present paintings offer two distinct examples of turning points within the artist’s career. Undoubtedly considered one of the finest practitioners of Modernist Middle Eastern painting, Yektai’s aesthetic is deeply rooted in American Abstract Expressionism which he amalgamates with his rich Persian heritage. As an artist renowned for his thick impasto technique and unique approach to subject matter, the most fascinating element of his artistic journey remains the striking evolution of his style. Each the manifestation of a particular time in his life and the result of key aesthetic influences, the artist’s distinct point of view is imbued into his canvases with a beautiful blend of classicism and spontaneity.
Lot 24, a still life scene, exemplifies a rare visual portrayal of the artist’s early style. Painted in 1956, this canvas illuminates a time where the artist painted with a profound sense of realism - something that he would later shed from his works in favour of a more Expressionistic style. Though he clearly manipulates proportions and perspective, the easily decipherable objects and distinct features of a calm interior scene - a table, fruit bowl, flowers and Persian carpet, make it unlike any of the later works in artist’s oeuvre. Similarly, the clear use of a technique which incorporates little texture and spontaneity in favour of more defined colour planes and well thought out brush strokes makes the work unique. It is undoubted that the development of his painterly aesthetic was of primordial importance to the artist. What makes this work of art so special, is not only the fact that it is a seminal period in the artist’s painterly career, but also the fact that it descends directly from the personal collections of one of Yektai’s closest friends, esteemed American photographer Robert Monroe, who during his time has contributed to many publications such as Vogue, Town and Country and Newsweek.
This early part of the artist’s visual explorations were the result of the time he spent in Paris, studying 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 impasto.
Despite being Iranian by birth, Yektai was dramatically influenced by the dynamism and freedom of expression offered by the bourgeoning art world in America in the 1950s and from it absorbed a great deal of its aesthetic principles. The great American movement of Abstract Expressionism would hugely inform Yektai’s ‘mature’ painterly style. Having moved to New York in 1948, after leaving Tehran at age 22, it became apparent that later canvases incorporated the dynamism, freedom of expression and spontaneity that was intrinsic to these works of art. Intensely concerned with the careful manipulation of the pigment, the artist eschewed discernible imagery in favour of a more rigorous sense of abstraction. With this in mind, it becomes apparent that the artist took great care in crafting the surfaces of his canvas. Not only conscious of the subject matter which he was painting, the artist also sought to develop unique textures and dynamic strokes on his canvases, through the thick application of paint.
It was this which had considerable influence on the artist’s later style, which is apparent in Lot 23 from 1960. As a true Modernist painter, Yektai was determined to forge his own artistic ethos, of which this second work is a testimony to. While one can discern what seems to be a landscape scene, the artist favours a thicker surface texture achieved by more spontaneous brushstrokes and the layering of paint. Absorbing a great deal from the style of action painting, the artist achieves a great sense of texture, dynamism and spontaneity on the surface of his canvases. Taking great influence from his contemporaries, artists such as Willem de Kooning, Sam Francis and Jackson Pollock had visual lexicons hugely influential to the development of Yektai’s painterly style.