A Coffee Break with Pegah Lari

Jan 23, 2017 10:56AM

Nikki Meftah, co-founder of EMERGEAST sat with Pegah Lari in Tehran to find out more about what inspires the artist and talk about her worldwide plans for art dissemination…

Mermaid, 2014

In three words, describe Pegah Lari the artist…

Iranian contemporary artist.

What made you draw inspiration from the Qajari dynasty as a central element to your art?

Before I started using Qajar figures, I focused on my colour palette. For me, the colours in my work are the central element in my works. When I was a student, I spent a lot of time exploring my palette and experimenting on Iranian miniature backdrops. I used works from Persian miniatures, in particular works from Jouud, to practice my palette and get the colours just right. As I was doing this, these works started attracting a lot of attention and I started developing my colours and skillset to this past era and giving it a whole new dimension. My vibrant colours which I applied to these old miniature style paintings gave birth to a whole new culture. These contemporary pop colours did not exist in miniature paintings so this felt like a new discovery in the work of Iranian art as it was the perfect balance between old Iranian tradition and contemporary pop infused together on one canvas. For me, this is the most important thing in my artworks.

There is a strong fusion of east meets west in your work – is this a reflection of you as a person?

No matter how modern we try to be, us Iranians will always be stuck in our traditions. At the time, a few Iranian artists started using Qajar figured but I tried to be different in specialising in the world of colour that I had been practicing and developing. I wanted to stay loyal to traditional colours but in the meantime still adding an additional layer to my signature style. I bridge this gap of East and West by adding Western pop elements like funky sunglasses. Despite this, as Iranians we always stay true to what we know, the central elements in our culture. (for example – unlike before, nowadays its common for people to date before marriage and get to know each other, however when it comes to marriage, they sit down and discuss the dowry). As current and contemporary as we try to be, we will always stick to our traditions…and this is how I see my paintings.

Bakht (Luck), 2015

As well as exhibiting in Iran, you have exhibited in Europe, what is the message you would like to send to your audience?

I would really like to be seen as an Iranian contemporary artist, before anything, this is the most important for me. Since I can remember, this has always been my passion and my dream, I never wanted to be a regular person, I wanted to be known as a contemporary artist from Iran. I specialise in vibrant pop like colours, this is my domain and I know this. To me, it is very important for people to recognise this in my work and to be stamped as an Iranian artist. It is vital for me to be part of the Iranian art community which represents what Iranian tradition and heritage stands for to an international audience. I also feel that is it is essential that no matter what work we produce, we must stay true to ourselves. Contemporary art is a very broad term in the world of art. There are many factors that play into contemporary art, many elements affect it. Who knows, maybe if we didn’t have the major auction houses like Christies and Sotheby’s us Iranian would be drawing differently, we must believe in ourselves. Important to recognise myself as a pop artist, I’m trying to make ‘pop’ Iranian. By using my colours and my script I have tried to ‘pop’ise Iranian culture … and I hope I have been successful at doing so!

When your ‘Pegah in Wonderland’ exhibition took place in Antibes, France, you were unfortunately denied a visa to travel to France, how did it feel for your art to be exhibited internationally without you being able to personally represent it?

Well unfortunately it was a really sad feeling not to have been there, especially on the opening night when you know the doors are opening to a new audience. I had two group exhibitions prior to this in Paris, however it is a different feeling having a solo show. In a group show, there are a variety of works for different types of people but when it’s a solo show, it’s a one man show with just a few works and judgmental crowd! Also, it is rather nerve wrecking! Despite being daunting, it also stirs curiosity, who will be there? What will they like? Particularly in this case, to a French audience. The exhibition opened many dialogues for me…I had people go to my show in Antibes and immediately add me on Facebook after! One person contacted me from the show and told me she wanted to include me in her dissertation. She sent over some interview questions in English and next thing I knew I was featured on her university’s website! I also had someone else contact me and write about my works…so the exhibition opens many opportunities other than just a sale. Going back to the question, it is a strange feeling being across the world and feeling happiness and pride whilst being nervous all at the same time…I mean I still felt like a part of me was there but obviously as an artist, it would be ideal to be there and to support the works.

The signature to all of your works is calligraphy, will we be seeing any new elements in the near future?

Actually, I’d really love to explain this about my works. When I was completing my studies, and familiarising myself with Western art, calligraphy just found its way into my works. I was painting on a plate by drawing a scene from the Safavi period and I included my doll by the name of Nazanine. This doll to me, represented a difficult time in my life actually, my grandmother was very ill (we were very close) so my mother took me and my sister to buy us something which is when I got this doll. This doll now brings back nostalgic feelings of that period. So, as I was drawing this plate I included a little figure of the doll too. Then the border of the plate remained white. I wanted to do something to make this different to other works. First I wanted to include western alphabet then I decided against it and decided to use Persian elements. I realised Nastalliq (traditional Persian calligraphy) had already been done many times and I also wanted to move towards pop so then I went for a different kind of script, Naskh. Naskh is a script we are all accustomed to in Iranian, it is something we all know. We all learnt Farsi with it, in our school books, it reminds us of our childhood and holds a certain element of our popular culture as it is used in all our newspapers, books, magazines. They are all published with Naskh font. I start using these letters in my works and wanted to turn this Naskh font pop while still reminding the audience of that sentiment ‘oh these letters are familiar to me!’, to take them back to their childhood memories. I have started on my new series, still staying true to Persian culture and tradition.

Do the subjects of your artwork always come to life in your dreams?

Actually, I usually foresee what I draw before starting a work of mine... I really believe in this, that anything from your subconscious is revealed on the canvas. 

Lady of the Sun, 2015