The present composition, Untitled (1973), is an outstanding instance from the early phase of Persian modern calligraphy-painting, and one of Reza Mafi’s brilliant experiments in Thuluth script. The artist’s commitment to an idea of ultimate integrity is best manifested in the curved and oblique lines of this dynamic and elegant script. The bright coloring shows a diversion from classical calligraphy tradition. Blazing red tones along with a rich variety of brown shades, however, proves to be a surprising match to the monumental character of Thuluth scripture.
An undisputed leading figure in contemporary Iranian calligraphy, Reza Mafi devotedly studied and dearly valued the Iranian calligraphy tradition, upon which he relied as his major point of departure. He was the first artist in Iran to hold a solo calligraphy exhibition; and along with Mohammad Ehsaei, granted calligraphy a new modern artistic status. Between 1968 and 1981 Mafi held about 20 solo shows in Iran, Europe and the United States. His flourishing artistic life was sadly curtailed by a tragic accident. His artistic achievements in this short period, however, encapsulate many of fundamental standards of calligraphy painting, in strongest and most articulated manner. The present piece is an exemplar of such classic accomplishment.
Mafi was master in Nasta’liq, the genius of Persian calligraphy, and Shekasteh-Nasta’liq, its modern offshoot. His committed focus on Qajar calligraphy brought him such mastery that connoisseurs and collectors face difficulty telling his works apart from the old masters including Mirza Gholamreza. His paramount proficiency is manifested in his Nasta’liq ‘Siah Masgh’s (sketch-works), which employ repetition to create abstract visual effects. He later used more direct methods to realize further spontaneity.
The main protagonists in Mafi’s visual imagery are words and letters. There are no traces of various traditional decorative elements. The scripture appears in utmost autonomy. In Mafi’s design canon, the freedom and expressiveness of the scripture does not stand any ornamental addition. None of his vigorous letter compositions can be altered without the risk of a serious loss of their integrity.
The present piece best illustrates Mafi’s aesthetic ideals: his innovative approach based on traditional calligraphic canon, his ceaseless emphasize on originality and identity, and the quest for a pure Iranian aesthetics. This is an exceptional piece in Reza Mafi’s career as well as in Iranian calligraphy-painting practice.