Painter, musician and performance artist Reza Derakshani was born in 1952, in Sangsar, a small village in the northeast of Iran. He grew up in a great black tent on the top of a mountain, among horses and fields of blue and yellow wild flowers. Reza moved from the study of constellations of light made by moonlight shining through tiny holes in the tent to the study of mathematics in high school, and visual arts in Tehran and the U.S. His nomadic childhood had an enormous impact on his appreciation for his surroundings and its natural beauty, which is so often evident in his works.
A child prodigy receiving his first commission at nine, he held his first solo exhibition at the renowned Ghandriz Gallery, Tehran at the age of nineteen. Graduating in 1976 from the faculty of Fine Art at the University of Tehran, he continued his studies at the Pasadena School of Art, California, USA. Returning to Iran, he taught Art and Graphic Design at the University of Tehran and the school of Decorative Arts. His teaching career was curtailed in 1983 following the Islamic Revolution, when he left Tehran to settle in New York for the next sixteen years. He later moved to Italy, eventually returning to Tehran for seven years before leaving his troubled homeland once again in 2010. Currently, Derakshani divides his time between studios in Dubai and Austin, Texas.
Derakshani’s passion for beauty and his nuanced perception of the light and dark of the world has found expression in many different forms, from music, graphic design, book illustration, film animation and calligraphy to studies in traditional and western classical visual arts. Yet it is within contemporary painting that he has experienced true liberation and fulfillment as an artist. The challenging techniques, innovation and mental stimulation inherent to contemporary art have led him to create a meditative solitude that results in pure freedom of self-expression. Reza’s work, known for its diversity and originality, has gained recognition for its fearless exploration of form and style, and the skill and vision necessary to merge an unbending tradition with a wild contemporary spirit.
Formally, Derakshani negotiates his practice between the figurative and the purely abstract. His visual vocabulary is indebted to Iranian styles of miniature painting and their colorful scenes of royalty at leisure, of hunting and polo tournaments, of pleasure gardens and secret lovers and of courtiers serenaded by scores of musicians. The canvases exhibited under the umbrella of Derakshani’s Miniature Series are anything but, consisting invariably of expansive and seemingly limitless surfaces, rich textural tapestries of shapes and colors. Figures seem temporally and spatially dislocated, extra-narrative, and at times so truncated they morph into pure form. The whole must be imagined from the part, from a kohl-rimmed eye, the shadow of a crown, the outline of a beast, like archaeological fragments fixed to a museum wall. Iconographic analysis, the intellectual comprehension of Derakshani’s personal myths and poetic allusions, are thus dependent on cultural understanding.
The artist clearly delights in the physicality of his media and indeed the very activity of art-making. He rapidly builds up layers of textures, often with unconventional materials like metal paints, tar or wax and pigments, supplemented with oils. All this, only to be interfered with, pulled with a pallet knife, corroded to reveal a glimpse of what lies beneath, fated to be concealed once more.
Though recent years have seen a veritable explosion of Iranian contemporary art production, only a handful of artists have truly been embraced by the international art world. Reza Derakshani is one of them. By investigating the essential nature of his cultural identity in a singularly original manner he has connected to the spirit of the most exciting art made internationally today.