The most significant achievement of Mohammad Ehsai in the development of Iranian calligraphy-painting is, without doubt, his exploration of the Persian alphabet, that in many of his works, including the one on display, has led to iconoclastic innovations in the formation of words. He exquisitely dissects the texture of words to their constituent letters, thus linking the aesthetics of Persian calligraphy to the principles of modern paintings. The result of this painterly interpretation of inscriptions is stunning works with breathtaking graphic quality in which textual elements are more or less meaningless, merely presenting themselves as part of an abstract composition. He often limits himself to calligraphic forms, avoiding pictorial elements or identifiable figures. Examples of his classic compositions include interwoven calligraphic forms in one of the primary colors of red, blue or green that emerge beyond a black background. His works are considered abstract calligraphy, comprising letters, words, and lines of inscriptions that are often illegible.
Ehsai’s large canvas titled The Blue Dance is a remarkable example of what brought him international fame; a detachment of letters and disintegration of words to create a mass of intertwining calligraphic elements that, in turn, give life to a vibrant visual texture often seen in abstract expressionist paintings. These calligraphic elements, however, have their roots in Persian calligraphy and follow its fine curvatures and twists. As in to his previous works, Mohammad Ehsai has not abandoned his position as a master calligrapher in this work, as if using his brush to freely inscribe on the canvas.
His iconoclastic venture into the realm of Persian calligraphy is to achieve an application of calligraphy that is based on visual symbols rather than meaningful words. Letters and calligraphic elements in Ehsai’s work clearly serve the form, leading to a composition that is more painterly rather than grammatically correct writing. The very title of the painting indicates that its concept is perceived through the apparent form and color rather than denotations of words. The formal effect of calligraphic elements is more evident than their meaning. At the same time, letters that constitute the words break apart and, naturally, no meaning is detected. These incomplete letters create an illusion of dancing blue calligraphic forms on a dark background. In fact, calligraphic forms and letters no longer possess the conventional lingual significance; they express the sentiments and individuality of the artist.
The most common technique that Ehsai utilizes to deconstruct words and turn them into a formal game is to exaggerate them through the application of shades and change them from flat forms to projected blocks. Unlike writings in which letters follow rules to join together, the letters in Ehsai’s paintings infiltrate into each other to create knots. Thus he turns a two-dimensional calligraphic form into a three-dimensional painting. He makes maximum use of fluidity and kinesthetic force in the curve of some Persian alphabetic letters to combine them in a network of volatile divided elements that belong to a dynamic system. Even though letters have lost their conventional forms in this system, they can be identified.
The letters used in this work are the ones with a longer curve, including “Ye”, “Jim”, “Lam” and “Noon” that seem to be intermingled. Naturally, due to the absence of any such form, Ehsai tends to avoid letters such as “He”, which are of interest to his peers. These letters resemble fluid twisting sculptures, free from writing rules and participating in an anarchistic chaotic feast. These projecting fluid pseudo-letters of the artist are only bound by the rectangular form of the canvas. The Blue Dance with monumental dimensions and a regular symmetric graphic form is a remarkable example of the systematic treatment of the canvas by Ehsai.
The entire work resembles two rectangles, one systematically embraced by the other. The smaller rectangle, encased by the larger one, contains solid knots produced by brushstrokes similar to dots and letters. In the gap between the two rectangles, circular curves inspired by letters such as “Noon” and “Ye” are seen in a more or less symmetric composition. Unlike the peripheral curves, the knots in the smaller rectangle are irregular and somewhat enigmatic. Regular dots and long vertical lines that remind us of “Aa” are painted among them in an irregular way. This composition seems to be inspired by the geometry of tile work, carpet weaving, and Iranian bookbinding that often utilize a main rectangle and a larger rectangle to display a margin. The symmetry of the peripheral curves implies the archetype of text and margin rectangles in the above art forms as the main source of inspiration for the artist.
Ehsai’s Painterly brushstrokes in the smaller rectangle are absolutely dense and somewhat disorganized, quickly merging into one another. They appear to be free and fluid outside this rectangle, creating a decorative margin for the writing in the smaller rectangle through regular recurrences. Letters that in both spaces are the products of Ehsai’s brushstrokes are similar to the form of cursive calligraphy. In his earlier work, Ehsai tended to exploit Thuluth calligraphy. As the dominant curved calligraphic forms enable the artist to produce interwoven lines, except for a few solid vertical lines on the left that create a divide in the painting, no straight lines that suggest “Aa” have been used. These lines that have obviously destroyed the symmetry of the composition and disrupted its curved rhythm, evoke the artist’s “Alef” series which makes a philosophic allusion to the figure of the beloved.
The other important point to make about this painting is the mysteriously enriched blue color of the lines on the black background to induce a numb sense of night and its secrets. It seems that the blue inscriptions on the dark background depict a philosophic worship in the middle of the night and in the boundless depth of the picture. Thus The Blue Dance is endeavoring to draw the attention of spectators to the “whirling dance of a dervish”. This particular interpretation of the work is a result of Ehsai’s intrinsic dynamism of letters and brushstrokes, especially in the smaller rectangle, in a restless interminable vacillation that can be compared to the “whirling dance” in the dead of night. Mohammad Ehsai has created similar works in green and red on a dark background. The green painting was sold for $1.2m at the Christie’s Auction in April 2008.