In the early 1960s, a group of influential Iranian artists moved away from pure Modernism that prevailed in the earlier decade in an attempt to combine traditional Persian heritage with Modernity. This neo-traditionalist approach reflected the quest of many artists and intellectuals for a national artistic identity, within the realm of a disrupted social and political environment.
Aesthetically, many artists incorporated Islamic and spiritual motifs and further symbolic forms of Iranian folk art within their contemporary abstract compositions and as such, the Saqqakhaneh movement was born when in 1962 the art critic and journalist Karim Emami discovered the works of artists such as Parviz Tanavoli, Faramarz Pilaram, Charles Hossein Zenderoudi and Mansour Qandriz at the Tehran College of Decorative Arts.
Saqqakhaneh are literally fountains installed for public drinking in the urban landscape of Iran and traditionally small locks or cloths among other objects in brass or copper were affixed to the metallic grid as votive offerings to the fountain. The young artists looked to these rituals and folkloric culture for artistic inspiration and thrived to move away from the polished canvases of traditional calligraphers. Through the use of Persian motifs, tribal forms, geometrical patterns seen on rugs and textiles and the dexterity of traditional metalwork, they unveiled an innovative style.
The Iranian artist Mansour Qandriz, who tragically died in a car accident at the age of thirty in 1965, was one of the leading figures of this neo-traditionalist movement. Through painting, he delicately brought together tradition and modernity and was actively involved in the contemporary debates revolving around Iranian art, such as the rise of a cultural identity and the revival of a common pictorial heritage. Using traditional designs, he developed a semi-abstract style with geometric patterns and symbols such as birds, swords, the sun and fish. Particularly, his rare depictions of women are amongst his most valuable works of art.
In the present work, the woman appears like a machine, her face is circular, her neck and shoulders are rectangular and the accessories that surround her face are reminiscent of mechanical chains and nails. A rare gem from the artist's career, this painting pays homage to fellow artist Jazeh Tabatabaei. Tabatabaei, an avant-garde painter, sculptor, writer, musician and playwright, is more known for his elaborate sculptures. His metallic constructions are joyful assemblages of found objects such as cylinder valves, coils, gearboxes and other scrap parts that are welded and screwed together in the shape of fragmented robot-like humans. The common fascination of both artists for ornamental keys and locks, practical and found objects from the past as well as their complicity are revealed in the present work. Qandriz conveys Tabatabaei's passion and fascination for the machine on the surface of the canvas and while his female figure appears charming and delicate, the roughness of the paint and her detailed features reference the rough quality of Tabatabaei's sculptures.
In the present work, undeniably a rare collector's piece, Qandriz depicts a portrait of his friend and pays homage to his career. His tragic death a year after the execution of this outstanding portrait left the Iranian art scene with very few works by one of the pioneers of this new artistic era, most of the works being currently held in prestigious public collections such as the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art.