“Allah” and “La ilaha illa’llah” are repeated over and over in one of Mohamad Ehsai’s most important series ‘The Eternal Alphabet.’ This is a collection of phrases that induce the image of the creator (Allah). Other than the remarkable financial success this series has received in the international art market, it is an outstanding example of the various levels of Iranian calligraphy painting and at the same time is worthy of reflection for its direct connection with traditional Iranian Islamic art. At about the same time as the appearance of the ‘Saghakhane’ style (tea-house murals) and from around the beginning of the 1950s as well, Iranian calligraphy broke free from the watchful eye of classical restraint and experiments on canvas were begun. However we must remember that prior to this, examples of unconventional and free-style calligraphy in the form of decorative handwriting, such as double-pen and reverse writing and monograms had appeared in the works of a few masters such as Esmail Jalayer and Molk-Mohamad Ghazvini. After modern art was firmly established, a few of the masters of this style finally broke with tradition and steered calligraphy away from legibility and contextual references. At the same time another group of artists, including Reza Mafi and later Mohamad Ehsai, went even further to trans-mutate and deform lettering, thereby bringing the ‘word’ to the brink of collapse. In this same manner, throughout the works of Ehsai, there is a companionship of calligraphy and narrative (word) that embellishes the undecipherable meaning.
The use of the name of ‘Allah’ in the works of Mohamad Ehsai began around 1975 and has continued until today. His purely spiritual and idealistic imagery is the consistent theme of this series. The prevalent meditative flourish in this series are the quick action brushstrokes which give the work the abstract-expressionistic character of the paintings of Mark Tobey, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline and their peers, and at the same time keeping with the Iranian tradition of filling calligraphy practice sheets.
In this well-known work on display, which maintains balance by playing with form and composition in the background, the echo of the artist’s spiritualistic vision resonates. It can be said that among the various modernistic styles of painting in Iran, Mohamad Ehsai’s calligraphy-painting style represents the closest to traditional imagery which, although it beckons modernist properties, also approaches the multi-referential aesthetics of contemporary art. In fact, Ehsai increases the depth of this somber subject matter by depicting a vibrating heart within the lettering of the painting. The dancing, flowing and curving lettering from the forceful twisted brushwork appear like celestial objects confronting a dark infinite galaxy and thus the total effect of the painting is the portrayal of the interactive spirituality of the elements through color and lettering.