Light on the Plateau
Iran Darroudi’s paintings have remained faithful to the bright light of Iran: a light rooted at once in geography, owing to the sharp angle at which sunlight shines on this land, in culture, reflecting the lofty thoughts of our great mystic scholars, and in history, mirroring the inner light of the collective life of the peoples living on this plateau. In the light of this radiant sun, one may better appreciate and enjoy the works Iran Darroudi has produced in her latest period.
The sunlight bathing this land is such that its landscapes keep changing colors and this perpetual change of hues and masses within the same landscape has led the Iranians to view light as a most powerful element of the creation. Since mythological times, light has ever been the driving force of Iranian thought appearing now at the heart of Mithraism, then as a symbol of fire in the Zoroastrian cult, and yet again in historic times as the mystical Light of Lights. In fact, the harsh desert sunlight of this land has gradually given birth to an inner light that rules our nerves and awareness. As both Manichean and Sufi histories record all through the devil’s long and dark reign over this divine land, this inner light has kept open-minded individuals upright and hopeful that light would eventually prevail.
Light is rarely the dominant element in Iran Darroudi’s early works. More often as in The Mirror of Fortune, Flower of Love in the Desert and The Lost Dawn, dark gloomy colors cover the entire painting, while light appears as a force seeking to break free from the dim composition, evoking the Manichean notion of light being captive in the painful world of dark earth. Nevertheless, in the same period, we also witness experiences such as The Kingdom of Being and Mute Speech in which the artist assigns a dominant role to light in her compositions and forms, even if this approach is neither generalized nor emphasized. In fact, she divides light into the ambient light of the painting, the light reflected by crystal vases, teardrop pendants and the like, and the light filtering through glass-like objects. The light center of the painting and everything that is transparent to light or captures it are shown in contrast to forms and masses that have dark origins but which are not intrinsically dark. “Here,” in Sohrevardi’s words, “darkness results from the absence of light, and obscurity bears no originality.”
In her first artistic period, Iran Darroudi acquires experience of methods and devices used by the masters of this profession. She eagerly delves into the plastic heritage of the world, amassing theoretical knowledge traveling, seeing and thinking. Her urban scenes, flowers and landscapes date back to this period during which she masters the creation of space and depth by concentrating on the works of such great masters as Caravaggio and Turner.
In her second period, the artist adorns her spaces, which she now creates easily and diversely, with particular motifs which later become her personal touches. Meanwhile, her attraction to the works of such artists as Dali and Magritte alters her view of reality and a Surrealistic atmosphere becomes dominant in her paintings. This particularity takes shape together with her instinctive alterations of ordinary reality and familiar naturalism, using incongruous anachronistic objects, astutely inverting horizon and gravity laws, depicting the infinite flow of time, imagining boundless places immersed in fog and dust, altering the functions of objects, and geometrically enlarging or reducing them, with the purpose of showing a slumbering world ruled by a dream-like order.
This manner, which seems to indicate that the artist has distanced herself from the surrounding reality and reached one of a superior level, does not prevent her from paying attention to the ghastly events occurring daily across the world. Throughout the 1970s, Iran Darroudi’s paintings are filled with signs and symbols which illustrate man’s condition in the context of the cultural and social pathology of her time; the dissolution of human values, the decadence of ancient civilizations, the bleeding of nations, the swollen heart of the fatherland, the spread of blood across the horizon, the unending rows of crosses and gallows, all appear on her canvases, without her concluding, or attempting to tell the viewer, that the world has come to an irredeemable end. Alongside all this violence, flowers, lights, crystals and roots meandering across the sky and the earth still symbolize the persistence of man’s creative soul.
In her third period in the next decade, facing personal tragedy (the loss of her father and husband and the hardship of loneliness in an alien land) and witnessing such general calamities as massive death during air raids on cities, the artist changes her style and her surrealistic dream ends in a dreadful expressionistic awakening in which all things acquire exaggerated sensorial and emotional dimensions. In this period, the sky, the earth and everything in between appears frozen, empty of light.
In her fourth period morbidity eventually succumbs to the strong attractions of life and the desire to praise it. Light returns and fills the scene, giving a translucent crystal-like appearance to all things. In this last period, the artist reaches the very fundamentals of Iranian culture – the praise of light and its resplendent love and creative essence – finally landing on the serene shores of mysticism. Today Darroudi’s work is best related to her own self than ever.
The painter’s early experiences originate from natural landscapes and rooftop vistas. In these urban tableaus, warm, predominantly reddish tones occasionally cover the background and a close-up view sometimes puts this horizontal urban architecture in relief. The painter’s emphasis on patches of red and its derivatives is so striking that this color now and then constitutes the foremost element and often the center of gravity of her horizontal compositions.
The main theme of her paintings, which embody an apparent or hidden duality, gradually reveals itself: sometimes this duality concerns the context, as in the opposition of the hardness of stone to the delicacy of the flower in her Stone, Leaf, Earth, where, amid fire and smoke, light clashes with darkness and the black storm blows on the immobile surroundings, displaying an apparent duality, and at others it is either conceptual and hidden or at the service of the composition. The artist creates a conflict between the constituent elements of her paintings that allows her to generate a dramatic duo, a unity broken in two. At the same time, her attitude towards forms and space is such that the tableau does not lose structural unity.
After the artist’s visit to Persepolis and the oil-rich regions of Iran, ancient times symbolized by human-shaped columns neighboring arcades fallen into ruin take on the appearance of a venerable nostalgic historic heritage in her works while the present witnesses the loss of the earth’s blood, as metaphorically exemplified in her Oil or Our Veins, the Earth’s Veins. The blood of the earth evokes slashed veins that never stop gushing out across the planet, in a rush for power over a tomorrow hidden in an unfathomable fog. Her paintings show us the artist’s domain par excellence; with such motifs as anthropomorphic columns or petrified men, collapsed gates, power transmission pylons, oil drilling derricks, flowers, stones, crystals, bubbles, fire, smoke, mythological horses and birds, ornaments, near and far ruins, and, mostly, the desert. These symbols and motifs, which appear alone or in combination, cover the surface of the painting. In some works, these figurative elements – static and mobile masses born in the painter’s subconscious – invade the entire work as in a nightmare.
Besides paintings in which she depicts boundless spaces and horizons, the artist also creates works in which the main theme is the devouring earth, the heritage-laden earth, the earth lit by the sun and man’s soul, the hot desert parched expanses…
Her paintings depict the desert and its villages and the earth becomes a pretext for her to show her stupendous virtuosity at coloring and volume composition. The memories of all the departed ones light the earth in a reflection of the bright sun scorching the earth. Her Mehrabananad, this “mother earth,” which bears in its bosom the tangible experiences of life, provides a rare opportunity for plays of color, light and motion. Her Beyond depicts a return from the skies and clouds to the earth. The painter’s vision is drawn from the realm of imagination to an involved reality and the fate of earthly beings in the course of time becomes the main preoccupation of Darroudi’s mind and hand. Down to her very last paintings, the earth, as the main theme of her work, is depicted in an ever more tangible purity, while acquiring an abstract generality Truthfulness of the Moment .
The earth has been one of her favorite subjects from her mid-career onward, even though some of her earlier works in this domain lack their final maturity. Her latest paintings of the earth are posed both in terms of their subject and as a plastic experiment in which the use of color and light can be put to the test in an abstract environment, where figurative depiction is naturally unnecessary It’s a Way, the Way of Love .
In Darroudi’s paintings, the earth appears either in an urban or rural scene or as a vast desert shrouded by ambiguity and chiaroscuros. In her latest works, it becomes an arena for her to give free rein to her inquisitive brush, skillfully summarizing her thoughts in a plastic experience Brimming with Life wherein narration remains inconspicuous behind the mask of color and light, making superfluous any explanation besides what can be said with the alphabet of painting.
Cities of memory
In her urban scenes, familiar archetypes lead the viewer towards the artist’s emotional objectives and these archetypes of desolation and prosperity are located in a nostalgic past. The ruins of Persepolis, shown as collapsed columns and archways, at times indicate an irremediably bygone majesty and at others interpret the present decadence through an ancient symbolism. And present day prosperity, depicted in the form of her native city’s domes and minarets, is bathed in either uniform darkness or uniform light and essentially recalls past memories rather than palpable realities.
Her desert landscapes, which consist of earth, vegetation and antique signs, conquer the entire surface of her canvases. The desert soil, which seems to have accumulated the essence of life and radiance in the course of centuries, restitutes it in an extraordinary manner to the viewer’s eye. Her desert landscapes are by and large accompanied by decorative motifs Court . Pearls, bubbles, flowers, gaping gates and wide-open doors give the desert a meaning beyond that of a natural landscape. One gets the impression that the painter’s aim is not mere naturalism and that nature is rather a frame for her to display the objects of her imagination. By appearing repeatedly in her paintings, these elements, which seem unconnected at first glance, come to evoke special meanings that speak of a surreal world and deep repressed dreams. It is obvious that the painter has no ready-made models for these motifs and that it is the motion of the brush and the flow of color on the canvas that create the need for a scaffolding of objects and elements on which the flow of light and color and the perception of time can sturdily rest. Beginning at the top, the painting makes all it needs for its conclusion to flow from the artist’s subconscious to her brush. There are not many such elements. They are personalized symbols, which follow apparent and hidden symmetries and obey the laws of duality and contrast in terms of their meanings.
The composition of her spatial scenes, in which clouds are driven into a hasty motion by impetuous winds, pivots around the contrasts of her lines and color patches; of two different behaviors which show the rebellious motion of the brush in contrast to the still background. These alternating motions of the brush which now carry black color and later a whitish yellow hue, depict a violent hurricane or a vortex of light. Her brush often follows an upward motion, drawing the eye towards an elevated point of view Space, Light, Motion . Her spatial scenes are sometimes made of cloudy masses with chiaroscuros spreading over the entire horizon. Elsewhere the landscape is limited to the horizon line and a strong wind blows across it that seems to bend, distort and shift all objects. The closer we come to her recent periods, the more the architecture of her spatial scenes, which are executed with greater chromatic purity and structural simplicity, tends to move from borrowed motifs and decorative signs to coloring and lighting abstraction Broken Sun.
In the polar night
Besides the issue of light and shadow, which, owing to her country’s cultural past, the artist has instinctively transformed into an inner experience before touching upon artistic creation, another notable point in Darroudi’s work is the radical change her paintings undergo after the publication of her first collection and her passage through the events of the 1960s. Her warm, vivid tones, particularly her bright reds, which originated in her youth, audacity and love, turn into the cold tones of her period of crystals and ice. The blues she uses in this period are the oppressive tones of freezing colds and her dull and dense palette bespeaks the oppressive ordeal she is undergoing from within and without. The omnipresence of ice masses, rather than clouds, in her skies and the frozen architecture of her landscapes and urban scenes, which take shape in her Night Sun and reach their peak in her Apocalypse, Four Horsemen of Death or Everlasting Matrimony, bespeak an inner cold reminiscent of frozen polar nights. Her urban architecture and the stylized elements of her landscapes are now engulfed in ice and dim, cold colors, although hazy light still crosses her horizons.
The light of the desert
Although already perceptible in her Everlasting Matrimony, light truly reappears on the horizon in her Divine Light I See in the Magi’s Tavern. Thereafter comes the final period of Iran Darroudi’s work, in which her paintings gradually forgo their dim, wintry atmosphere and decorative motifs. In this period, her scenes gradually become more concise and are bathed in light, which makes the faint architectural vestiges they evoke appear as memories bathed in luminous auras. The main event in this period is her shifting from figurative to abstract representation, with the aim of abolishing all decorative elements and driving towards the inherent capacities of the painting medium, so that her expression of the motion of light, color and time may elicit a sense of creativity in her viewers’ minds.
After a transitory period of crystals and ice, her surrealist experiences take on expressionist tones, while conventional figures and signs remain predominant in her compositions. We gradually approach the final stage, in which the artist devotes her creative efforts to conveying her feelings and the fruits of her imagination by means of plays of light and color, to the exclusion of any motif or symbol. Opting for a necessary simplification, she reduces the mass of her figurative elements. This reduction is formally justified Brimming with life , her compositions being paradoxically as elaborate as they appear simple, with color, light and motion merging by her instinctive talent, and their organic structure reflecting the artist’s mental universe, whose depiction has no need for conventional expressive signs and decorative elements. Likewise in conceptual terms, she feels no need for a structure of objects to figuratively express meanings of their own or narrate the artist’s thoughts. The combinations and confrontations of colors, the plays of lights and shadows, give birth to masses that convey an abstraction of socio-cultural relationships directly from the artist’s mind to that of her interlocutors, without the intermediary of familiar figurative elements.
Thus, in her latest paintings, created in the figurative abstract manner, the figurative element gradually decreases eventually leaving the task of building a coherent world to colors, lights and motions, which, notwithstanding their purity and abstraction, can readily establish a contact with anyone familiar with the language of painting Rain of Light . Her doing away with literary and historic connotations while retaining expressiveness through particular motions and combinations of color and light denotes the confident power of an artist who, at the pinnacle of her career, keeps delving into the enchanting possibilities of plastic art in order to communicate her tempestuous feelings to her viewers through simple, succinct images, without the intermediary of conventional images. Naturally, this simplicity of expression is the outcome of great experience and a lifetime devoted to research.
Akin to crystals glittering in the sunlight, Iran Darroudi’s latest paintings are filled with the flamboyant light of the desert. Bathing in a mystical light, their constituent elements are combined into resplendent compositions. In her general layouts, despite the presence of gaps and patches of light and dark blue, the dominant element is a rain of white, yellow and orange. The artist’s intuitive awareness of her fatherland’s culture has indeed led her towards mysticism prompting her to declare the eventual victory of light across her oriental fatherland.
Javad Mojabi, Tehran, July 2001