'I was fed up with artists misusing calligraphy in painting. Other artists were proud of following western art. So I decided to make something of nothing... Poets, such as [the 13th-century Iranian mystic] Rumi, draw attention to 'nothing' centuries before me. There are things and 'no things', they balance each other.'
'They wanted people to think about that - don't underestimate the nothingness. As important as existence and thing are, no thing or nothing is important too.'
'It's a simple shape, it's abstract, and it's very meaningful. It has a sculptural body different than any other known sculptural figures. I think there are many reasons why it became popular'.
(The artist quoted in A. Smith, "Iran's most celebrated artist, Parviz Tanavoli, speaks to MEMO about his work", in The Middle East Monitor, 3 February 2015, accessed online).
Christie's is proud and delighted to offer one of the most important and monumental bronze works, the Heech Lovers, by the Iranian artist Parviz Tanavoli. An avid collector of ancient Persian artefacts, a scholar, a poet and above all an internationally celebrated sculptor, Tanavoli is critically acclaimed and widely acknowledged as the father of Modern Iranian sculpture. Throughout the years, Tanavoli developed a style that is not only contemporary, but also reflects his Persian heritage. His majestic bronze sculptures and extensive body of works that include ceramics, prints, paintings, but also jewelry and rugs reveal the importance and scale of his work from the 1960s to the present day.
Born in 1937, Parviz Tanavoli received his general education in Tehran and later went to study in Italy where he trained under teachers such as Marino Marini and was acquainted to European art and culture. He graduated in 1959 from the Brera Fine Arts Academy in Milan and it was upon his return to his native Iran that he became profoundly inspired by and passionate about Persian culture and its aesthetic heritage. He was particularly struck by the urban rituals linked to the public water houses, in Farsi the Saqqakhaneh, built in bazaars, onto which the passers-by would make donations by tying up a piece of cloth or hanging locks hoping for their prayers to become true and hence perceiving these fountains alike shrines.
Soon after his return, Tanavoli instigated the Saqqakhaneh school, a movement which has changed the course of Iranian art history ever since. Often referred to as a 'spiritual pop art' movement, Saqqakhaneh sought to incorporate religious symbols into art while reflecting the contemporary style and art that arose at the time in Western art. Tanavoli's complex lexicon of symbols and motifs that was established throughout the years in fact fused his traditional heritage with an utterly contemporary sensibility. At the same time, his artistic practice is tied to philosophy and spirituality and his works continuously reveal his favoured and long-standing thematics of the Poet, the Prophet, the Lovers, the Walls, the Locks and last but definitely not least the Heech.
When in 1961, the late American philanthropist and collector Abby Weed Grey visited Iran, she discovered Tanavoli's studio and was instantly struck by his works and techniques and invited him to an artistic residence at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, where he soon acted as a lecturer and Professor. In 1964, Tanavoli returned to Tehran to teach at Tehran University's Fine Arts Faculty and became one of the closest advisors to Empress Farah Pahlavi as she was gathering one of the most important collections of art. It was during those days, precisely in February 1965, that Parviz Tanavoli initiated the concept of Heech as a protest against the overuse of calligraphy throughout the works of his peers affiliated to the Saqqakhaneh school.
Composed of three letters in Persian language, the single word heech means 'nothing'. It reflects the feelings of unworthiness, frustration and ineffectiveness, which haunt modern man and permeate so much of the writing of contemporary literature. It also renders in a single word the mystical belief that recognises that God is permanent, while everything else has no true substance, bound to vanish. Long before Tanavoli, the notion of Heech was explored and studied by poets including the father of Sufism, Rumi, but also Khayyam and Hafez. A philosophical concept that went beyond borders, the core of Heech also profoundly inspired Western poets and writers including Jean-Paul Sartre who in 1943 published his famous essay entitled Being and Nothingness, reflecting upon the phenomenological consciousness. While Heech can refer to despair and absence of being, the Heech in Tanavoli's works is more nearly synonymous with creativity itself: it is the void filled by the artist's imagination, the nothing that through his carving and shaping becomes something and everything.
Tanavoli's signature Heech carries different meanings and is materialised in different forms and narratives. He has produced works that explore this notion in various sizes and materials, from bronze to fibreglass and also more recently in neon lights and delicate jewelry. Heech can stand alone as a majestic figure resembling the contours of a human body; it can be doubled like two figures embracing each other with love and passion, as is the case of the monumental Heech Lovers that is presently offered in this auction. It can also emerge from a cage, sit on a chair, lie beneath a table and in all these instances, it essentially revives simultaneously the core concepts of existence and nothingness while reflecting on the realities of the contemporary society. Heech is abstract, philosophical, spiritual and at the same time sensuous.
The present work entitled the Heech Lovers, undeniably a piece of museum quality, is one of his most captivating sculptures ever made. The craftsmanship and dexterity that are reflected through the work reveal the unequalled talent of Tanavoli, confirming his leading and pioneering role in sculpture and philosophy. Made of polished bronze, the Heech Lovers stand as a couple delicately embracing, as if to protect each other from the vanities and excesses of the outside world. As it combines both the shape of Heech and the idea of Lovers, the simple abstracted shape of the present sculpture is filled with spirituality and epitomises 'the poetry in bronze' for which Tanavoli is internationally acclaimed. As it stood at the heart of the Heech garden created on the occasion of the celebrated retrospective of the artist at the Davies Museum in 2015, Heech Lovers is perhaps one of Tanavoli's most complete and delicate interpretations of the philosophical concept of Heech, around which most of his production was made.
Currently based between Vancouver and Tehran, Parviz Tanavoli is a leading influence to a generation of artists who seek to combine their traditional culture with a sense of modernity. He is the most important and most sought-after living Iranian artist today whose practice spans over six decades while he is still adding to his unique body of works, actively creating in his respective Canadian and Iranian studios. Tanavoli's career and artistic production have been recently celebrated internationally through major exhibitions including his first US retrospective at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College, The World Goes Pop at the Tate in London and the ongoing exhibition Global/Local 1960-2015: Six Artists from Iran which opened at the Grey Art Gallery at NYU in January 2016.
His works are held in prestigious private and public collections including the British Museum and Tate Modern in London, the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi, the National Museum of Qatar, the Museum of Modern Art in Vienna and the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art.