The highly minimalist landscapes of Nasser Assar show backgrounds in distinct colors; ochre, green, vermillion, and dark grey. Treatment of diluted oil coupled with rapid spontaneous brushstrokes reveal varied capacities of this medium. It is a technique basically invented to produce time-consuming works.
Nasser Assar is a prominent figure of Iranian modern art. His father taught philosophy, thus introducing him to Persian classical literature when he was a young boy. He remained fascinated by the Ruzbihan doctrine to the end of his life. He was a close friend of Sohrab Sepehri’s when he was young, and very much inspired by his tendency toward Modernism and Oriental culture. Assar learned painting from Ali Mohammad Heydarian who himself was a Kamal-ol-Molk’s pupil. However, Assar was no sooner admitted to the Faculty of Fine Arts and initiated to modernist concepts than he abandoned all those traditional teachings. Soon he left Iran for France and settled in Paris which was considered a hub for developments in art back then.
Living in Paris, Assar was on the right track to a productive career in art. He never returned to Iran, but he adopted a unique style inspired by Oriental painting. In an introduction to the catalog of Assar’s first solo exhibition in Paris, French critic, Julien Alvar, termed his work “cloudlike” and called it a “rebellion against form”. These terms pointed to the transparent, immediate and ambiguous quality of his work that was a reaction to the rigid surrealist forms of the time. Where he displays a contemplative subjectivism, Assar’s work can be studied against the French aggressive and exuberant Tachisme and Art Informel characterized by aggressive brushstrokes.
During the 1950s, he was so inspired by an exhibition of Chinese paintings in Paris that he began using nonfigurative elements in his paintings, suspending his work between abstract and figurative art. The underpinning theme of his work was thereafter a representation of ambiguities, mysteries and daunting splendor of Chinese landscapes that he produced with the use of oil in a modern style.
In traditional ink painting that has its roots in China but matured in Japan, a landscape painter hesitates for a moment to let the painting form in his mind. Then he dips the brush into ink and applies quick, sweeping, consecutive brushstrokes, even splashing or dripping ink on paper at times. Thus an artwork is often suspended between lucidity and pure abstraction. Not only did Assar’s unique interpretation of the method and his dexterous application of oil lead to distinctive forms and textures but also he applied it so skillfully that the painting retained the solidity of early paintings. Each line is a result of a direct, individual, angled brushstroke, as in Chinese writing, connecting meaningfully to other lines. The painting in its entirety is a spectacle that demonstrates skillful control of the artist over his brush as well as his command of the picture. Sometimes the artist’s brush is replaced by his finger or fingernail. Such a drawing is unfettered and vital, invoking us, as individuals, to interpret its emotional states, and the challenge that obscurity of these states poses is the central appeal of the work.
Playing with color nuances and grades, Assar is a master of inducing depth. He taps into his skills in creating depth and appealing realistic landscapes with a minimum number of elements.
Artistic rigor of these paintings is achieved by striking a balance between spontaneity and a thorough understanding of the medium and its unique qualities. This expatriate artist exhibited a different pattern of personal life and career; a pattern akin to professional isolation that left him partially unknown to an Iranian audience.