A Celebrated Iranian Artist Helps Bridge East and West at a New London Gallery

Apr 21, 2016 10:16PM

A new gallery opened in London last month: Sophia Contemporary, specializing in contemporary art from Iran and the Middle East. On the first evening of the inaugural exhibition, “Reza Derakshani: The Breeze at Dawn,” the gallery sold nearly all paintings on display.

The successful debut was hardly a surprise for fans of the artist. After all, the new gallery aims to bridge East and West, and few people better represent that link than Iranian-born painter, musician, and performance artist Derakshani.

Born in Sangsar in northern Iran, Derakshani grew up in a nomadic setting; the family home was a large black tent pitched high on a mountaintop. Though he’d later go on to pursue educational and professional opportunities in Tehran and, later, in the U.S. and Italy, Derakshani’s childhood—days spent among horses in fields of wildflowers, nights staring up at the moonlight shining through tiny holes in the tent’s fabric—has proven fundamental to his identity as an artist.

Indeed, there’s something timeless, even traditional, about the pieces featured in “The Breeze at Dawn.” On first glance, some of these works look like cave paintings, as in the bulky torsos and elongated legs of Derakshani’s horses, depicted in works like Sunset Hunting and White Hunters (both 2015). And then there’s the texture of the paint itself, vibrantly hued but faded and imperfect, the oil smudged and smeared, almost dripping down the canvas in pieces like the aptly named Misty Hunt (2015).

Aside from Derakshani’s “Hunting” series, the exhibition also highlights selections from two other series, “Pomegranate” and “Garden Party,” as well as two large-scale works from his new “Calligraphy” series. Pieces in these other series have a decidedly more contemporary look, with brushstrokes that call to mind Western abstract paintings. That’s true of the pomegranate paintings in particular, from the cheerful Pome Happy and Pome Red to the moody Pome in the Dark (all 2015).

Nevertheless, as with all Derakshani’s paintings—several of which can soon be seen in exhibitions at the Russian Museum and Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz, Germany—they’re still grounded in traditional Persian art. Even in his daily life, the artist brings together two cultures: He currently divides his time between Dubai and Austin, Texas, bastions of East and West.

 —Bridget Gleeson

Reza Derakshani: The Breeze at Dawn” is on view at Sophia Contemporary, London, Mar. 9–Apr. 23, 2016.

Follow Sophia Contemporary on Artsy.