Aghdashloo’s most recent series of paintings are adaptations of Renaissance portraits incorporating in a distinctive manner what seems to be crumpled etudes of well-known Iranian miniatures. Most of these portraits are of busts of luxuriously dressed men and women with a sack, or other such covering, on their heads, rendering them unrecognizable and anonymous. More important than their lack of identity is the strong feeling of choking, of being unable to breathe, that shocks the viewer and exudes an expressionistic feel. This mysterious work, aptly entitled Enigma # 25, is representative of the series. As we can see in this painting, the subtle brushwork of the artist is dexterous and skillful. We stare into the infinite details so as to leave nothing of the exquisite skillful classical technique unappreciated.
Aydin Aghdashloo arrives at ‘destruction’ through ‘creation,’ and produces a faithful recreation where the joy of the classical world is immaculately reborn transmitting ancient values to our era of catastrophes. Yet this process of recreation takes form only through the goal of its destruction, perhaps as a forewarning of natural disasters or even of rebellious behavior intended as protest. This aspect of Aghdashloo’s art counters the hastily formed opinions of the critics who only value his works at the surface level of the images. Intervening in the historical acceptance of a well-known artwork and reproducing it with the aim of challenging the existing traditions of art goes back about a century to the avant-garde artists of the early 20th century. The most famous example is L.H.O.O.Q., Marcel Duchamp’s critical portrayal of da Vinci’s masterpiece the Mona Lisa, in which Duchamp explored a feministic approach applied to classical aesthetic values.
Aghdashloo’s recreation of the work of the old Masters is in no way an attempt to change their message or to force a new judgment on them. The only aim of his nostalgic view of the past and his solidly rooted values is to allow for a critique of our times to be heard. He therefore acts out of respect for conceptual motives in order to resist the deconstructive radicalism of the West that aims to render painting extinct.
Even though Aghdashloo has a pessimistic view of the world today, he always emphasizes his optimism regarding art. Despite the bitter and rebellious undertones in his work, the joy of painting and its sanctified innocence have always been the hidden whispers within his works. Through this very enthusiasm, he mirrors the old Masters, but the mirror is broken, revealing an irregular and altered image. His art, as in this piece, revisits classical values and pays tribute to their legacy which has slipped away. Aghdashloo’s expresses his regret in a tone of protest through the use of a form of Dadaism.
Aghdashloo, with his romantic view of this ancient legacy, his four decades of experience in the arts, and his dedication to maintaining his unified and steady composition and technique, has created an unparalleled artistic style that is unique among the artists of his time.
In his own words, this critical approach is a recollection of the past, “During skeptical times any angel can wither away and disappear into ashes in the blink of an eye.”* Aghdashloo is so fascinated with the golden years that he feels it is his incumbent upon him to offer them his complete respect and unquestionable praise rather than to interpret or revisit them critically. His narrative of the classical era is neither symbolic nor formalistic, but rather a reflection of his enthrallment which comes across as a kind of post-modern nostalgic fascination. Instead of wonder and amazement at the future, his paintings obliterate the mystery of the past. He confesses that he is not pleased with his technical skills, believing that “[i[f one writes enough a masterpiece will ensue.”* If this is true, only purification and meditation make themselves apparent to the viewer passing by this painting, a phenomenon which of course speaks to Aghdashloo’s militant motivations resulting from his dissatisfaction with the times.
This painting is recognized as an outstanding example of the “Enigma” collection, even with regard to its theme which is based on a literal translation of ancient fiction. Nevertheless its actual content points to something honorable and factual that has been crushed in its present form.
From another viewpoint, the destructive actions of the artist can be read as a form of self-hatred or even self-mutilation. Through this type of behavior, the artist, rather than grieving for the death of beauty, gives us his interpretation of an elegy for self-flagellation. If it were not so, the reproduction of a classical work, instead of being a tedious job of which he is clearly capable, could have been easily accomplished through a variety of mechanical reproduction techniques, and afterwards obliterated with a Dadaistic flair to express the significance of its destruction.
This diptych also offers evidence in favor of the claim that Aghdashloo believes his withstanding the difficulties of the complete creative process (and even perhaps the accompanying pleasure) to be a type of a personal purification process; a behavior that with the destruction of the artwork manifests as a type of catharsis. In this way the artist, by officially transmuting his creation, turns its destruction into an exhibition of his protest of the demise of values and the bottoming out of ideals. In such a way the main goal of the artist’s contestatory actions is not the artwork, but in fact the expression of his own anger.
*Aghdashloo, an Autobiography from www.aghdashloo.com