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Cy Twombly and the line Calligraphic

November 2015

When the late great American artist Cy Twombly first heard that the word for ‘calligraphy’ and ‘line’ in Farsi is one and the same, he was tickled pink, exclaiming ‘That’s what I do!” It is in this spirit that Iranian artist Fereydoun Ave – who worked and travelled with Twombly for three decades, remaining close friends until Twombly’s passing in 2011 – has curated Cy Twombly and the Line Calligraphic.


Twombly, a contemporary of Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, became known for his use of calligraphy-like forms and a graffiti style of painting; the lines of his delicate and abstract gestures often intersecting with the dripping lines of the paint itself as it made its way down the canvas. Bringing together works from his private collection, Ave has carefully selected pieces by regional artists whose practices resonate with Twombly in this spirit.


The paintings and sculptures in Cy Twombly and the Line Calligraphic encompass both figurative and abstract works. Though different in style and medium, and created by artists drawing on vastly different social, political and stylistic influences, what binds them together is an exploration of line, whether through more traditional calligraphy, or in a keen draughtsmanship. They have been carefully selected by Ave for their resonance with Twombly, either in an artist’s practice as a whole, or in certain unique pieces.


Rokni Haerizadeh, for example, while celebrated for his striking, semi-surreal practice, studied under Ahmad Amin Nazar – here, both master and student have works on display, the deft calligraphic strokes of Amin Nazar’s work complimenting Haerizadeh’s signature curved and curling figures and shapes. Indeed, the use of the line goes deep into Middle Eastern art history, as far back as the art of Miniature painting, which reached its peak during the Saffavid era. For Miniaturists, it is a painstaking technique known as pardakht, in which a small, tiny brush creates almost imperceptible brushstrokes, that the texture and framing of a work reaches completion, elevating the two-dimensional plane.


Later on, the influence of calligraphy and line in Contemporary painting can be seen in the work of maters such as Koorosh Shishegaran. Within the canon of Iranian art, calligraphy came to influence some of the country’s greatest artistic talents. These were divided into two groups – those with a traditional calligraphic background, and those, like Shishegaran, who saw calligraphy and line as a symbol, abstracting it to create motifs throughout their work, rather than treating it for its pure alphabetic properties.


The use of line is not limited to the two-dimensional plane either, as seen in the sculptural works of Shaqayeq Arabi, Habib Farajabadi and Faisal Samra. Here, the line takes on new form as a three-dimensional being, curving and looping as it speaks with the space around it. From the human figures and abstract forms that emerge from Farshid Maleki’s tangled thickets of lines to the philosophical investigations of Ali Talpoor, Cy Twombly And The Line Caligraphic brings all these artists together in dialogue with not just Twombly, but with each other. Each artist’s rich art historical influences and geographies stretch across Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the US and beyond, coming together and melding in a unique meeting of minds.


The full list of artists whose works are represented in the exhibition comprises Ahmad Amin Nazar, Shaqayeq Arabi, Habib Farajabadi, Raana Farnoud, Rokni Haerizadeh, Shahla Hosseini, Farshid Maleki, Yashar Samimi Mofakham, Ardeshir Mohassess, Mehrdad Pournazarali, Faisal Samra, Koorosh Shishegaran, Ali Talpoor and Cy Twombly.

Press coverage of the exhibition on Artnet

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