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Nostalgia: An Exhibition by Mani Gholami

Source: Gallery Mamak, Tahran

Q: Let's start our discussion with your background and the development of your work.

A: I started sketching in 1989. Two years after that I went to Mr. Vakili's workshops where we learned to draw from live models and to depict the mannerism and behavior of the figures. I then entered university where we again worked with models but this time our techniques were more Real. It was at university that I learned to work with oil paint. At that time I lost a friend. This loss led me to drawing from memory because I wanted to record all my memories of him. I had never worked without live models until then.

Since I was still drawing from what was familiar to me I couldn't draw people and objects the way I wanted to so I started to draw from photographs I had in my archives. Although many of the pictures had very poor quality they still offered an abundance of information. I continued to work in this way for a while. In 1998 I entered my senior year in college and I became interested in drawing from pictures of groups of people. Whenever I was invited to a party I would go with my camera in hand and I would take as many pictures as I could. Of course, I was an amateur photographer.  However, I was also drawing from live models at that time, sketching mostly and most of my sketches were in pencil. I would deliberately distort my models and often their hands and faces would be elongated. In my live models, however,  I would exaggerate the size of the head.


Q: Why did you do this?

A: It might  have been because of the atmosphere of the classes at the university. Even today we still have teachers who prefer to concentrate on the method of distortion ,for example in Schiller's work, than in introducing the work itself. I was probably unconsciously affected by this. In my final year I wanted to present exemplary work. The instructors would define trends and I didn't want to work with anybody else's trend: I wanted to make my own. The result was that I often got the lowest grade in the class.  When I worked with live models I concentrated mostly on their behavior. At times I would even give the model a particular pose, ones that I liked.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about what kind of poses you liked?

A: I was really interested in the way they sat, for example. In my final thesis I was seriously involved in illustration and I wanted to present my own special work. That was when I started to draw total strangers. I would use book illustrations or people on the streets to draw. I experienced various techniques and tones but I didn't succeed and I went back to pencil drawings. I really liked black and white photographs because I felt that the model's personality was better expressed in them.  This was when I learned how important it was to be able to depict the subject's personality. I started to take photographs and I also learned that the camera doesn't joke around with you: it shows literally everything.  One reason I chose colored pencils was that they allowed me to depict details that other means did not allow.

Q: Ok, but surely at a certain stage these figures you were drawing must have become personalities for you. They developed their own identity and surely at that stage you must have started to wonder about them.

A: Absolutely, and it was precisely from that time onward that people became important to me and  I became sensitive to my models. This is particularly true during the time I was drawing my portraits of the various ethnic groups of Iran.


Q: I want to take this a bit further and say that the people in your works are in fact the people within this society. Some of them are your friends and some others are the ordinary people of the streets of Iran. Of course, in drawing the second group you've particularly concentrated and well depicted their commonness. It's almost as if you set out purposely to choose the most ordinary of the ordinary. These people are lacking in character but they're the people who surround us in our daily lives. However,  there is a certain humor in the drawings of the paintings you've drawn of your friends. They are always in parties and they belong to a particular class of our society. What I find interesting in your work is the photographic quality in it. In all your paintings the models are looking right at the photographer or the painter, the so called 'photographer painter'. There is a certain superficiality in this pose. I mean everyone is sitting and waiting to be recorded. What attraction does this have for you?

A: Actually I don't like it when they don't look at the camera.  Of course, they all know that I'm going to paint them from these pictures. There were even times when I had nothing to draw so I called up a friend to tell him I was coming over to take some pictures to draw. There were even times when I told my students to stand in a particular place because I wanted to photograph them. As far as I'm concerned I like that documentary form  of illustration. This is why I like photographers who take people away from their work and drag them somewhere to photograph them . I prefer this to a set installation that I would want to draw later. So, my question is 'what is wrong in me putting my models in a set location or pose to paint them?'

Q:  In such a situation I would think the painter has not as yet developed his own world view. The point is not that you should define specific motifs or techniques but that you should have a clear world view.

A: And what happens if my world view unconsciously changes as I work? I'm not sure I understand. Does this then become a fault of some sorts? These boys and girls I draw know each other, they're friends. They joke with each other and they laugh with each other. They're all young. Their  style, the way they stand...  is all interesting for me so I decided to draw them. I work on various subject matters and that is how I find my interests.

Q: The lack of a set source of light is one of the specific characteristics of your work. There is no window to pour in light, the source is the flashbulb.

A:  I'm not really concerned with this. How can any of all this concern me? I am working on the personalities of people. It's enough for me to show their size and their personality. Recently I make sure I do use a flash in order to record all the details around my models. If the details are not clearly recorded then I run into trouble when I'm drawing. Even more recently the texture of the objects surrounding the models have started to become important for me too.

Q: You not only delete the light source but you also delete the color perspective. When we look at the colors of the work we face a variety of color that is placed within a very large white space but the colors have no depth to them.

Also, in your work the faces are clearly important but we see that you deal with lips in the exact same way that you deal with eyes.

A: I have always tried to draw that which is in front of me. I have never attempted to change anything.

Q: You concentrate first on the faces, then on the hands and finally on the rest of the body. You are a painter who draws what he sees and yet sometimes we feel as if certain objects have entered the work that you've drawn from memory. Those objects stand out and are easily seen which is why they create a distance between the viewer and the work.

A:  That's right. There have been times when the picture has not been very clear. At these times I've purposely placed the object in the painting myself but this is not something I am very fond of doing because it creates a certain duality in the work. Basically I feel that it's important to create a relationship with the work in which such details won't actually matter. I work on my pieces until the point when I actually feel it's time to stop. I have learnt that all people do what they do for their own sakes. This holds true for me too. I need to have my own experiences both in my life and in my work and it's important to me that my work should reflect the condition of my life at that point in time.

Q: Let's change the subject a bit. There is always a certain humor in your work. This is partly because you draw from photographs. When people are being photographed they automatically pose and smile: they want to 'appear' to be happy.

A:  True. They do this because they want happy records of them left behind. Right now we're all sitting here in our natural poses but the minute someone walks in with a camera we will all change. We take pictures when we go to parties and we won't calm down till that bulb flashes. In the provinces things become even more interesting. People would keep on asking me when and where their pictures will be printed.

Q: That is precisely the point, it is 'to be recorded'.

A: My master's thesis was about the influences of photography and painting on each other. I found it interesting that both Degas and Picasso worked from photographs and yet there is such a difference in their interpretations of photography.

Q: What I find interesting in your work is that it's almost like the painter is 'pretending' to be a photographer.

I believe that today photography is very much like the paintbrush: both are tools in the artist's hand. The importance is where those tools take us and the satisfaction they create for the artist.

A: To me it's the pictorial information of the photograph that is important . I want to draw someone. Where am I to find him? Is he willing to give me some four hours of his time to pose for me? I don't mind working with live models but the picture records a certain gesture, a movement for me. This gesture or movement allows me to draw in my workshop at my own leisure.

Q: The humor in your work is a reflection of a mass of various factors brought together like the smiles of the figures, the colors, the distortions... and yet the humor has never actually turned into caricatures. You don't poke fun at your models.

A: The purpose of caricature is to exaggerate something in your features to such a point as to make it appear funny. In this way the most beautiful person on earth can become ridiculous but that is not what I'm aiming for.

Q: Another element I wanted to talk of in your work is those subjects or objects that are censured in our painting culture: for example, jean  wearers. This type of person is never officially acknowledged because people feel paintings with such people in them are mundane. Yet, this is a very important element in your work.

When we look at the works of Qajar painters, we see that the clothes of the people in the pictures are officially acknowledged and recorded. Your work depicts a particular class of society in its regular surroundings and friendly gatherings. They are recorded in their natural state and thus acknowledged.

A: One of the most important lessons I've learned in my work is the importance of the union of technique and subject matter. Nowadays, sadly, people see a technique they like and just simply use it without even attempting to wed it to their style subject. This is something I really dislike.

Q: Yet it is precisely these modern ways that draw in the viewers. In other words, to work with your own style and technique needs a lot of self confidence. You might never be recognized the way you should be.

A: Again true. They see your work and they try to compare it to that of some big name and if it's not then they simply don't understand it but that's ok by me. I will do what I have to do.

Q: I want to wrap up our discussion. I think it would be fair to say that in your work there are various factors that have to be chosen very conscientiously. It's extremely important which picture is chosen, what age the people in the picture have, what postures and gestures they have, their personalities, the class of society they come from, the technique and means the painting is drawn with, the time period it's drawn in... these are all factors  that you take into account before you start your work. The more you clarify these factors the clearer your world view becomes to your viewers.

A: This is all very true but I'm not worried about any of it. The worst comes to the worst, I work on a painting and it doesn't work out so I destroy it. The work is destroyed but I have learnt a lot: this is the price I pay to learn. I have paid a lot of prices in life to gain experience. I am not aiming for any particular exhibition deadline so there is no need for me to rush through my work. For the time being I'm doing what I need to do.

"Our Window." Herfe va Fan: vol. 14

... Payvand News - 04/20/09 ... --

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