“Inspiration comes from Iran’s society and also from the women around me,” says Afshin Pirhashemi, which seems a perfect and succinct way to describe the subject matter in his array of dramatic black and white paintings. In reality however, there is so much more to them than that, as his recent exhibition, Seduction, at the Ayyam Gallery in London proved.
Delving into the personalities of his subjects he has an acute ability to portray the complexities of an individual’s thoughts and character using a monochrome palette which, either by design or default (I suspect it’s design), enhances the depiction of something beyond the aesthetic.
Born in 1974 and living and working in Tehran, it is unsurprising that his inspiration does, in large part, come from there. However, looking at the images and listening to him speak, The overriding influence seems to come from an innate interest in, and reverence for, women: “The women in my paintings are so clever and powerful!” he says with unbridled enthusiasm and pride, “the expression is important; emotions, fears, anxiety, strength … [the paintings] reflect the women of Iran – how I view them but also how they feel inside and what’s written on there faces.”
This intuitive way of viewing the world is reflected in the way that Pirhashemi works as well as what he produces, explaining that “I hold a paint brush and images flow onto the canvas … I don’t think, only paint.” It is a point he elaborates on, highlighting the emotion that leads his work rather than routines, deadlines, and briefs: “Sometimes I paint for 10 hours a day, but sometimes I am not in the mood for months. I read, I see photos, and even going to parties can give me an idea.”
He says repeatedly that the images are often “dark”, but in reality what seems to come across is that almost tangible strength, and perhaps the darkness that he is talking about is simply a very deep understanding of the imperfection of being human. His women are not perfect, they are beautiful but they are real, and that in itself is a potent force before you consider the details such as their backgrounds, their collective history, or Pirhashemi’s own assertion that on an artistic level at least he has taken some inspiration from films such as Devil’s Advocate or The Last Temptation of Christ.
You almost get the sense at times that Pirhashemi is trying to find things to explain his work. Finding cultural or academic sources that explain the darkness, the drama, and the method behind the proverbial madness. In reality however, I don’t think he needs to find reasons because what seems to be abundantly clear is that his work is about a strong sense of life that bounces off the canvas in full technicolour. No doubt it says much about the women in his own life that they are so pivotal in the paintings, a driving force behind his telling revelation that in fact “I think the whole of life is the drive itself!”
by Bonnie Friend