Sohrab Sepehri (1928-1980)
Signature: “Sohrab Sepehri” in Farsi (lower right)
oil on canvas
Executed in 1970s
- About Art Work
Sohrab Sepehri’s thoughtful and sensitive choice of words and imagery in his poetry is also reflected in his painting through his framing, composition, color coordination, and minimalistic approach. In order to attain his unique style that would reflect the depth of his thought, he experimented with a variety of materials and techniques, such as water-color, gouache and oil painting. Sepehri’s discovery of the visual value of empty spaces with an emphasis on the very essence of the void, alongside his naturalistic perspective that strives to induce an abstract definition, these are the recognizable features in his works, both large and small.
The work on display here is a fine example from his series of tree trunkswhich he produced after his return to Iran in 1961. This single work incorporates all of his unique characteristics. The use of diagonal lines to create the trunks of the trees gives us a sense of movement and establishes a relationship between both the positive and negative spaces of the canvas. The manner in which he employs brushstrokes allows the trees to fade into the margins of the neighboring trees, enticing the viewer’s gaze to travel around the compositions which end on the velvet background of the canvas; the result is an escape from chaos to singularity. In order to reflect a glimpse of reality to the viewer, Sepehri places a mass of trees to one side. In this way the search for meaning begins to take form in the viewer’s mind. The mental challenge is that, although the canvas presents a natural unfinished space in the artist’s sphere of existencewhich he has understood to be his general approach,it is just a portion of the truth.
During the period that Sepehri painted, the issue of the times was the search for new meanings and for ways to connect with past traditions. Following his impulsive urge to reach new horizons, he first went to Japan and was affected by its traditional art in such a way that the improvised ink brushstrokes stayed with him throughout his career. He then went to Europe and saw the modern masterpieces firsthand. His friendship with Yektai took him next to New York where it is said that the first sketches for this painting were done right in Yektai’s studio. After becoming acquainted with the New York art scene, Sepehri became completely absorbed and influenced by it. The result of this in-depth connection left its mark on his painting,yet his abstract style remained unchanged.
Sohrab Sepehri’s style of painting from a pre-existing general perspective is recognizable through his paintings of trees and semi-abstract landscapes. The effect of his humanitarian poetic soul was a deeper portrayal of these landscapes through the innuendos of human emotions. Sepehri was a master at presenting natural phenomena, such as the horizon, the desert or tree trunks, with a few simple improvised brushstrokes. He would often paint during the night so that he could ignore the majority of the details and attend to the main aspects of his subject matter. The work on display here is one such example of this approach. Not only did Sepehri prefer simplicity and purity, he knew leaving a void to be a necessary element of art. He once said, “It is wrong to think that a composition of a work of art cannot be changed. A work by Mondrian can easily be extended in any direction. Even the darkest blotches in Sayuri’s bamboo brushwork can be blackened. We can even change the color of Mona Lisa’s dress without upsetting da Vinci. No work of art is too complete to be added to… A highlight does not make a work complete. A work of art is just a pulsing vein. Blood flows throughout it. If we take away from this blood, or add to it, the vein will continue to flow… A work of art is infinite with neither a beginning nor end.”1
Sohrab Sepehri’s paintings are pure and poetic examples of the art of our times. His unbridled passion and his never-ending search for heights, combined with his aspiration to be one with nature through the portrayal of emotions, convey upon his work a sense of depth and purity. Most of his inspirations for his landscapes came from his long walks around his hometown of Kashan. What he reproduces on canvas, however, does not necessarily correlate to the reality of that environment; the main source of the aesthetics lies within the artist’s mind. His art is informed by romanticism. In his heart, nature is nothing but a romantic temple for artists. It is “the protector of the poet’s heart and soul,” a temple that also holds his fears and humility. Nevertheless, reproducing nature is not the ends to his means: he favors his passion and poetic soul instead of portraying the reality of his landscapes, which are at times more fearless than timid. In his best paintings a strong natural presence is felt, as is the case in this work on display.
1 From Sohrab Sepehri’s unpublished notes.