Saturday, 10 November 2007

The Thirdline Gallery and B21

I may have said this before but Al Quoz Industrial Zone 3 does not sound like a particularly attractive place. However, sitting alongside commercial laundries, warehouses and car repair workshops are two of the best galleries in Dubai - B21 and the Thirdline.

New exhibitions have just opened and both feature work by well-known Iranian artists - Fereydoun Ave and Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian. Fereydoun Ave was born in 1945 in Teheran but spent some of his childhood in the UK. He then studied fine art in the US before returning to Teheran in 1970. Recently inspired by seeing new work by Cy Twombly, a key influence and mentor, Ave began new work. The B21 exhibition is entitled Lal Dahlias and is a series of mixed media work with an intense focus on those flowers, which were brought into his house to commemorate his mother (Lal).

Most of the dahlias are red although yellow makes a few appearances and there is one solitary blue. The impression as you enter the gallery is that of being surrounded by continuous little red explosions that you can almost hear. As you move closer they become more muted because many are covered by tracing paper applied while the paint is still very wet. The paper can obscure but not absorb the original image and is unable to hide the streaks of red racing like blood down the page. Several individual images like this are arranged into larger works making the layers and types of paper another key element. Sometimes one piece of the montage will just depict an outline sketch making a stark contrast to the urgent red splashes.

The Thirdline gallery also has a good website so you can get a glimpse of the beautiful reverse painted glass and mirror geometries of Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian. She was born in 1924 in Qazvin, in north-western Iran. After two years at Teheran University, she went to New York in 1945 and studied at the Parsons School of Design. She worked as a layout artist at Bonwit Teller alongside Andy Warhol and stayed in New York until 1957, immersed in the richness of emergent abstract expressionism and minimalism. Apparently, she also hung out with Jackson Pollack…. it’s hard not to be jealous.

She travelled throughout Iran on her return, exploring the historical richness of Iranian folk art and architecture. Her use of mirrors to create large geometric images reflects a form of architectural decoration in the 18th century when mirrors imported from Europe often arrived in Iran broken. The mirrors were salvaged and the pieces cut and reshaped to form geometric mirror mosaics. Another folk art technique was reverse glass painting also used to decorate houses and tents, often in more remote or tribal areas of Iran. These two elements are very visible in this exhibition.

The mix of mirrors with reverse painted glass creates a sublime beauty of reflection and intense almost metallic colour. I would love to know exactly what kind of paint this is but it was not specified. In some pieces very minimal use of this intense colour is highly effective, suggesting the difficulty of locating beauty among multiple reflections of a harsher reality. At the same time, Farmanfarmaian’s strict adherence to the underlying rules of geometry - balance (mizan) and unity (tawid) – gives each piece a reassuring strength and solidity.

This exhibition also features other work including hand drawn geometric designs and three memory boxes from a series she called ‘Heartaches’. The boxes use a rich mix of evocative materials and mementoes and seem very much like Farmanfarmaian’s very own personal folk art.

Iranian Art Links
Elahe Gallery – With extensive links to artists and other galleries in Iran
Teheran Museum of Contemporary Art – Contemporary work by Iranian artists and fascinating listing of the rarely seen western archive.

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