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Biography: Iranian Artist Charles Hossein Zenderoudi

02/28/11 Source: Tavoos Art Magazine

Charles Hossein Zenderoudi: Born 1937, Tehran, Iran

Selected individual Exhibitions since 1970:

1970, 71, 73, 75, 77, 79, 80: Stadler Gallery, Paris, France / 1972: Mus'ee des Beaux Arts, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland / 1975: Carini Gallery, Milan, Italy / Zarvan Gallery, Tehran, Iran / 1976, 78: Zand Gallery, Tehran, Iran / 1977: Haden-Zand Gallery, Washington DC, USA

L'Atelier Gallery, Rabat, Morocco / Centre Culturel, Casablanca, Morocco / 1978: Th'erese Roussel Gallery, Perpignan, France / 1979: Numaga Gallery, Auvernier, Switzerland / 1983, 84, 85: Taghinia-Milani Gallery, New York, USA / 1986: Patricia Carrega Gallery, Washington DC, USA / 1987: Museum of Valetta, Malta / 1988: Bossuet Museum,Meaux, France / 1989: I.N.S.E.A.D., Fontainebleau, France / Centre Culturel La Voute, Royan, France / 1992: Noor Foundation, New York, USA / 1993: Leighton House Museum, London, UK / 1994: Bernay Museum, Bernay, France / 1995: Abbatiale Be'ne'dictine, Bernay, France / 1996: Equinoxe, La Me\diatheque, Chateauroux, France / 1997: Scryption Museum, Tilburg, Pays Bas / 1998: Montclair, New Jersey, USA / 2000: Sharjah Museum, Emirates / 2001: The Point Gallery, New York, USA / 2002: Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, Tehran

1999- The City under My Feet. Acrylic on canvas-120x90cm

Works in Museums:

Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France / Contemporary Art National Center (CNAC), Paris, France / Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, USA / Voor Volkenkunde Museum, Rotterdam, Netherlands / Tehran Museum of Contemporary Arts, Iran

Aesthetic Research Center, Turin, Italy / Fine Arts Museum, La Chaux-de- Fond, Switzerland Statens Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark / Museum of Modern Art, Alborg, Denmark / Modern Art Museum, Amman, Jordan / Malmo Cultural Center, Sweden / British Museum, London, UK


1959: Iran-America Society, Tehran, Iran / 1960: First prize of the Second Tehran Biennial, Iran / 1961: Laureate of the Paris Biennial, France / 1962: Laureate of the Venice Biennial, Italy / 1963: Honor homage of the Sao Paulo Biennial, Brazil / 1964: Prize of the Cagnes-sur-Mer exhibition, France / 1970: Crown of honor from the International Aesthetic Research Center, Turin, Italy / 1971: Mentioned as "one of the ten important living artists" by the Selection des Critiques, published by the French revue Connaissance des Arts, France

1980- Footsteps of Truth. Acrylic on paper.56x38cm

Charles Hossein Zenderoudi
Translator: By Roya Monajem, Tehran

It is now nearly half a century that Hossein Zenderoudi, the Iranian artist residing in France, considered as one of the ten living important contemporary artists by editorial board of the French journal Connaissance des Art (1971) and one of the most esteemed founders of Saqakhaneh School, represents Iran's visual arts on an international scale. His periodic exhibitions around the world, his continuous presence at the international art auctions and his influence on contemporary Iranian art, stresses his significance and esteem more than ever. His illustrations for the text of Qoran and Hafez's poetry, his paintings preserved in various museums throughout the world, his murals in Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Paris all point to his fame and esteem.

He is one of the few successful Iranian artists abroad who has accomplished his personal unique style; a superb style arising from juxtaposition and simultaneous use of freedom of Western modern art and the power of decorative and visual elements of the Oriental and Iranian traditions.

1979- Kharjee Spirit- mixed media and metallic pigments on canvas- 195x132 cm

Zenderoudi was born in 1937 in Tehran. After his preliminary studies in mid 1950s, he entered the Fine Art College of Tehran University to study painting. In the course of his familiarization with native traditional cultural motifs and elements, the idea crossed his mind to begin an art movement inspired by Iranian philosophy and wisdom, traditional and folk arts in combination with abstract art - going through its peak in Europe then - with the help of his friends and a few other artists. His intention was to reach a new artistic language and expression which despite its novelty would embrace national, native and traditional identity of his birth-place. His high aspiration was the result of his interest in his native traditions. He traveled all over Iran, paying great attention to buildings, architecture, the structure of domes and caravansaries, bazaars and Saqakhaneh-s (water serving places), visiting local geomancers, fortune-tellers and those who write amulets and prayers. He learnt abjad numerals. He paid attention to Iranian-Islamic believes and customs and got familiar with religious stories, ethnic believes, the structure of icons, inlaid on copper, wedding ceremonies, astrolabe, raml (an instrument of geomancy), Mithraism... He read ancient texts, studied Islamic mysticism, religious poems, mourning tablets, sympathizing with visual artistic traditions of Ashura.

In short his interest in Iranian-Islamic traditions, his acquaintance with calligraphy and his affiliation and sympathy for traditions were what helped him to reach his own personal unique style. In a talk with Rouin Pakbaz (1), he says: It was around 1955 or 1956 while I was still studying at the Fine Art College, when I came across a shirt in the National Museum, covered with prayers and numbers... I was shocked in a strange way. I realized I can use these religious elements... The other thing which attracted my interest was astrolabe and raml. I liked raml, also the writings on amulets and religious icons.

1972-Tchchme+Noun-89x130 cm

One of his works won the best award in Tehran's second biennial (1960) and brought him a scholarship. He left Iran for Paris in 1961 and chose painting as his career. He has been living in Paris and New York from that time on.

In 1961, some of his works were sent to an exhibition held in Paris. They were carried out on thin papers, painted in natural colors using revolving images of Iranian domes of mosques, Farsi and Arabic letters and other motifs found in native folk visual traditions which attracted attention abroad. The early years of 1960s also coincides with the emergence and increasing popularity of Saqakhaneh painting movement in Iran with Zenderoudi's juxtaposed style playing a significant role - as mentioned above - in this movement, bringing him fame and recognition. In this relation he has said: In Paris Beaux Art I followed classicisms too, while in international biennials I participated with scrolls filled with numbers and encoded letters. I used natural colors and worked with fountain pen. This was a kind of innovation. All my efforts throughout these years were directed to use Iranian folk art not known in Europe to create works capable of competing with the art of foreign artists. I don't like to consider these works in the genre of Saqakhaneh. The distinctive feature of my works is their depth and their spiritual dimension. They are devoid of any negating spirit. They talk about spirituality. In fact Saqakhaneh style appears only in a small number of my paintings. I use other styles too. A kind of philosophy lies behind my works. It is not mere aesthetics using visual elements and motifs... In my early works, I took traditions and turned them into a kind of absolute art. Tradition in itself and as mere tradition has never interested me... My intention was not to take a part of an old handwriting and work on it, or renew it... or do calligraphy or write... Sentences or numbers were for me colors to play with. I did not intend to produce beautiful calligraphies. Old calligraphers were great artists, nevertheless what I sought was to bring about a revolution. I did not simply imitate tradition, but enlarged traditional images, granting them volume or making them more prominent so to speak."(2)

In fact Zenderoudi's approach to traditions and traditional images was not a superficial one. He wished to approach the depth of tradition, give birth to something new from its heart and reach an international language.

The idea of combining folk native traditional Iranian arts on the basis and in the framework of Western school of painting was a conscious effort for him right from the beginning.

Juxtaposition and the emergence of this new approach could not take place unconsciously or by mere improvisation. During his academic studies, he necessarily was acquainted with contemporary movements in the world, not only in arts, but also other areas. For example, it was his acquaintance with Picasso's works, the way they were inspired by African masks and images and the nature of their transformation in Picasso's hand which impressed his mind. He too wanted to explore the exquisiteness, fluidity and the undiscovered world of the beauty hidden in his native traditional arts, their mutual relationships and to express them in his compositions.

1972-Crowns of love-Oil on canvas- 41 3.4 x 56 3.4 in

The fact that Saqakhaneh school, at least in Zendehroudi's works is the accomplishment of a kind of Iranian Pop Art which coincided with the appearance of Pop Art Movement among American artists, may lead one to the conclusion that he was under the influence of this movement, but in a talk with Omid Rohani he says: (3) "...My early works appeared long before the Pop Art movement. When I went to Paris in 1961, Paris School was fashionable, i.e. it was the dominant art movement in Europe at that time. Pop Art emerged later." And he adds later in this talk: "What was important for me in using prayers, amulets, texts and calligraphy was both their visual impression and their meanings. Usually, in those writings or the text of calligraphies, there is either a mystical, divine spirit or they express some meaning. It was this sense and meaning which was important for me... That's why I do not use any text, but largely mystical texts. In general the composition of these paintings follows the sense and meaning of the sentences."

The period of Zenderoudi's attempt to combine Western art and his Eastern traditions can be divided into 7-8 phases. In a phase of his works, where numbers, letters and talismans appear in a composition of graphical geometrical designs, circles and triangles, or in the form of a religious tablet, what is important is the juxtaposition and composition of these religious motifs and symbols attracting the attention to a concentrated center, like the round structure of domes, or a sacred or spiritual focus. Then there arrives another period when he works with stamps or finger prints. He put finger prints on the surface of the work and in the place of composition. Then he appealed to the structure of stamps and their designs filling the surface of the work with their prints now. The next phase was when he worked with calligraphies and horizontal, vertical or diagonal configurations of repeated letters creating balanced rhythms like what is seen in Iranian brick architecture filled the compositions. There was also a phase when only a part of the surface of the work was filled with stamp prints and texts while the rest was filled more freely with various dispersed designs or vivid warm colors.

Zenderoudi's attention to a kind of sacred art as well as the decorative, mystical spiritual aspect of his work led Phillipe Lebaud, the editor of Club de Livre to invite him to illustrate Koran in a serigraphic way. The book was published in 1972 and won UNESCO's annual award for the most beautiful book published in the world. His illustrations for Hafez's poetry published under the name The Dance of Life was published in 1988. In his talk with Rouin Pakbaz he said: I wanted to create a religious atmosphere in harmony with Qoranic verses." And in relation to his illustrations for Hafez's poetry he pointed: There too I tried to produce an image expressing the spirit of the poem or in other words to reflect its lyrical spirituality. I tried the air to resemble Hafez's poems, a kind of plastic art, expressing the same plasticity as Hafez's lyrical compositions."

In his talk with Omid Rohani, in relation to the same topic he said: "In illustrating Qoran I could not rely on any past bankrolls or experiences. There were no sources to refer to. We had only the art of writing the Qoran in the form of handwritten books preserved in museums and private collections which represented the development and transformation of calligraphy... Nevertheless, I had already created a kind of religious air in my works and there I had to depend solely on this personal bankroll... The religious, mystical and sacred air of my works could serve in the illustration of the Qoranic air. But this was not enough. So I appealed to original sources of book writing and various fields of Islamic arts and to combine them. I began to do a research and studied pre- and post-Islamic arts. I had to reconstruct everything... I had to create an atmosphere which could manifest the spirit of Qoran. I knew illustration of Qoran was not allowed. The air had to be mystical, religious, divine and sacred. I strengthened my personal faith and beliefs. I studied Mysticism.

I had to discover what the source and root of Qoran was. I had to read Qoran. I had to discover the sense and meaning, the scared spirit hidden in the depth of Qoran.

1967- Sholeh Sholeh Shabb- Oil and mixed media on canvas- 89x133 cm

In a period of his artistic career, Zenderoudi was drawn to performing arts and using color, powder, glue, clay and egg, performed a Happening accompanied with music in a museum in Paris which accidentally was not confined to it, but went beyond the walls of the museum and filmed. It was a perfect installation.

His interest in figurative art led him to paint a number of portraits and also Iran's landscapes. One of his fields of study is a visual search in Iran's landscapes which is rather a search to find or create a metaphysical air. His intention was to create strange scenes with a kind of science fiction air and a fanciful mentality in the viewer. Here he worked with warm gravure, a technique which he himself has invented.

The period of his experimentation with colors can be divided into a few phases too. In the early phase: "Only black and white were important. I preferred to work in these two colors only, but in folk arts, color is the determining factor. We know how well this aspect of color was used in tazieh-s - passion plays. Red has a negative effect and is used for garments and identification of felons. White and green have a positive effect and are used for the cloak of saints. In Spanish bull fighting stadiums bulls get aggressive and attack when facing a red fabric. Green has a pacifying effect... I first studied the science of colors and then reached a method of how to make use of them in my works. The use of color in my paintings had and has a philosophical origin."(4)

In an analytical article on Zenderoudi's works, Leili Chenderoff writes: A glance at Iranian Mysticism offers a key to reach a better understanding of Zenderoudi's works. Although unity and multiplicity seem opposite, in fact they are realities complementing each other in a paradoxical way, the same realities inspiring Iranian Mysticism in the past few centuries. For a mystic, the material world is the world of multiplicity where the soul should use for its elevation, attaining unity of being with God. Beyond Zenderoudi's various styles, beyond the vast scope of his techniques and his brilliant artistry, beyond his precise repetitions and his remarkable inventions, one can feel Molana Rumi's soul and mentality: "There is a unified world which is a domain where all opposites reconcile to elevate the soul." Attempt to find the meaning of life, the nature of life, to attain self-knowledge, to see the beauty of the universe makes the essence of any spiritual search and Zenderoudi tries to bring such a search on the canvas, visualize it and make contact with his inner insights. For him, abstraction is the tool for visualization of the invisible. Following Islamic tradition, he looks at the expressive abstract forms as a living heart of some sacred expression." (5)

1960- Hazrat -e-'Abbas. Vegetal pigment on paper.200x100cm

Zenderoudi's works have become more stylized and minimalist since 1990. A crowded representation of religious, native, folk motifs, elements and images filling the whole surface of his works gradually gave their place to simpler, less crowded and more mature compositions and juxtapositions. His attention is now more focused on reaching the essence of abstraction, uses less decorative motifs and images and thus there is less emphasis on the decorative aspect.

Now going through his eighth decade of his life, Hossein Zenderoudi is still as active, searching, experiencing and fresh as before. He is still painting energetically and his dynamic mind is accompanying him in the path of elevation of his art. His recent paintings possess a simpler air, the compositions are more mature, he uses less decorative elements and broken lines, his colors are more expressive, and he pays more attention to simple geometric compositions somehow representing his mental maturity, inner peace and tranquility, mastery in technique. He loves his birthplace as ever and visits it every now and then, sharing his experiences and knowledge with art-lovers.


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