The Beauty of Fragments - Ali Banisadr in an Interview
Iranian painter Ali Banisadr was given a remarkable gift – the artist hears music while he paints. This unusual condition is something that the scientists call synesthesia, and it was just one of the topics of our interview, but it is a reference that makes us view all of his works through a unique lens, and also the one that clarifies his style. Banisadr’s ability to experience synesthesia helps the artist translate that same feeling onto his audience through his artworks, even if involuntarily. His paintings have a potential to tell stories in a pretty much same way as music does. The narrative is only suggested by the title, and hence, we do not know what really happens in the painting. However, we can recognize the feeling behind it, we can focus on the details, and ultimately perceive the work of art as a whole, feeling the aggression, the pain, nostalgia or euphoria, all of which reappear, each step of the way. What we are left with is a symphony, sometimes harmonic and sometimes even violent, but always adorned by beauty, even when beauty presents itself as an intrinsic element of destruction. Enjoy our conversation with the amazing artist represented by Blain Southern, and learn about his technique, his personal history and how it influenced his metaphysical approach to painting, one which is often defined as a fusion between Eastern tradition and Western cultural inputs, but interpreted differently by Banisadr himself.
How Synesthesia Shapes the Art of Ali Banisadr
Widewalls: Your work is often compared to that of Hieronymus Bosch, clearly because the paintings, both yours and his, have a unique quality of being “readable”, rather than merely observable. Do you feel that this is a good way to describe you work, and if so, does each detail tell its own story, or are the details simply contributing to the painting without aiming to represent chapters of a book (figuratively speaking)?
Ali Banisadr: Within my work there are always worlds within worlds and one can experience the work from a micro or macro perspective. I think this is the same with Bosch’s work. From a macro perspective you see the overall view of this world and then from a micro perspective there are many details that have their own worlds. But they are all breathing the same air in the atmosphere that I have created and are reacting to the energy of the same world.
Widewalls: You say that you can hear sounds within your own work, which is a form of synesthesia. What comes first? The sound or the visuals? Or do they occur simultaneously?
Ali Banisadr: When I begin painting the sound begins and it helps me compose the work, this sound comes from the painting itself and it functions as a guidance throughout the painting process.
Widewalls: Unlike books (or music), paintings leave too many options for the viewer who contemplates them, and it is therefore hard to decide where to start. How do you expect the spectator to approach your paintings? Do you think it is possible to read the image as a whole, with so many details in it?
Ali Banisadr: Paintings are experienced differently from other mediums, we live in a world that is overloaded with constant flow of images and information, they come and go and are experienced collectively and are the same for everyone. But what I try to do with my painting is to slow time down, the paintings require time to unveil themselves and do not give themselves up immediately. They appeal to the imagination which is strictly individual faculty as is our visual perception.
Widewalls: On the other hand, most of the elements in your paintings are made in a less figurative manner than in Bosch’s. Still, you somehow manage to leave the impression of a narrative; and even though we never really see people, birds or anything clearly, we somehow sense their presence. This may be a dull thing to ask, but how do you do that? Do you have real characters and objects in mind, or do you paint in an expressive manner?
Ali Banisadr: I always try to find a middle point between being very visceral and spontaneous when I am creating the overall composition versus working on the details. There are a lot of figures in my work and as you say their presence can always be felt because even if some parts are not fully developed on purpose there are fragments of some kind of a biomorphic figures there. Things are always in motion and sometimes in the middle of transformation from one element to another.
Second Nature (From Iran to the USA)
Widewalls: Are all of your works born of your traumas related to the Iran-Iraq war, and war and violence in general? I’m asking this because most of your works suggest imagery which can be perceived as both terrible and beautiful, so it would be interesting to know where all the beauty comes from?
Ali Banisadr: I guess one can see beauty in everything even if it is in destruction, I remember seeing a building that was bombed near my house completely cut in half and destroyed but you could still see fragments of what was once there, art works on the walls, kids toys, wallpaper, plants and fragments of the garden. I used to make drawings when I was a child to try to make sense out of all of this, so making art and dealing with things visually became second nature to me.
Widewalls: How much of your work, and your technique, is influenced by the East, and how much by the West? Do you deliberately incorporate elements reminiscent of Persian tradition, or is it done subconsciously?
Ali Banisadr: I am not really sure, I just try to solve the problems within my painting in the best way that I can. I never really think about it in terms of Eastern or Western. I also never think too much about where the influence comes from, maybe once I have finished a painting and some years later I understand perhaps where part of the influence could have come from, for example if I had traveled to a place and seen something that had intrigued me. But these things always manifest themselves in an indirect way.
Widewalls: Along with the announcement for your “At Once” exhibition at Blain Southern in 2015, there was a quote attached: ‘People are always afraid of what they don’t understand, but artists have to step into the void – the unknown. The unknown territory is where it’s worth exploring.’ What is ‘The Unknown’ in your work?
It is about stepping into places that might not rationally make sense to others or might not have any categorization. You should not always have to categorize yourself and change your work so it fits within an existing category. You should move towards places that are unknown to yourself and, in a way, create a new path where you don’t see any other footsteps, places that others have not discovered or perhaps are afraid to go to because of preconceived boundaries.
Widewalls: How do you refer to painting in general, as a traditional art genre? Is it the only genre that you’re interested in (as an author), or would you consider using your synesthesia to create different forms of art?
I am open to using other mediums but I think painting itself is such a challenging and rewarding medium and there is so much more I want to explore within it that it takes many lifetimes to master, if ever.
Widewalls: Do you plan to do some collaborative works, perhaps? Would you try working with musicians, composers, movie-makers, in order to create multimedia pieces? Even if this is not the case, tell us about your future plans.
I would love to collaborate with artists that work in other fields including musicians, filmmakers, composers and writers. I gain so much from these other mediums and merging with them is an exciting idea.
Featured images: Portrait of Ali Banisadr, Courtesy the artist and BlainSouthern, Photo credit Fernando Sancho; Installation View, At Once, 2015, BlainSouthern, London, Courtesy the artist and BlainSouthern.