Saya Behnam (Iranian-American) works intersects between three artistic movements: Western Abstract Expressionism, Chinese ‘Literari’, and Persian Calligraphy. Even without speaking Persian (Farsi) the viewer’s eyes stay active, stretching across the paper immersed in the harmony and balance of the curves that highlight the languages tendency toward natural forms. Lyrical and artistic in their own right, Behnam repeats the Farsi calligraphy of hasti (“To be”) and hastam (“I am”). These conjugations of “being” visually connect to the other elements in Behnam’s work. Combined with the Chinese ‘literari’ aesthetic, which scholars in Japan and China employ the application of ink to express their personal feelings rather than demonstrate professional skill, Behnam captures the exaggerated elements of Chinese composition and brushwork, with the combination of organic qualities of the Persian language. Reinventing the traditional approach to these historical art movements, she reveals a part of herself while creating a distinctly unique aesthetic.
By simplifying each stroke she extracts the energy and nature of the brush; transcending them into a visual language. Using unconventional materials, the pigments are extracted from natural flowers and spices such as borage, saffron, tea, as well as stones and minerals found in nature. These ‘natural’ colors are prepared and behave differently than synthetic paints. Sourcing materials from around the world, Behnam can pinpoint where a particular flower was sourced as each produces a different color due to the variations of weather, soil, and location. Sourced at a specific moment in time and location, each painting is truly unique and can never be replicated. There is a true art to this process of allowing different natural elements to fuse depending on how long they are allowed to be absorbed in the water, thus adding to the complexity of Behnam’s work.
The influence of meditation transcends through Behnam’s work – not only through her combination of natural elements but in the process of her painting. Each brush stroke is unique to the artist’s hand and deeply relates to how she is feeling at the moment. Using her breath as a guiding tool of the organic medium, this technique allows the natural stigmas of saffron to fall in unique patterns. The canvas becomes “a receiver of my breath of life, capturing its essences in a gentle spray of color and form. This is a true co-creation with nature,” explains Behnam.
Behnam has started to explore the idea of using these mediums in an installation form, drawing upon the ephemeral and eternal aspects of flowers. This never before seen process will be displayed at the opening reception of The Theory of Color: Pt. 2 Color and Intent in Abstraction on Saturday, May 5, 2018.
“I incorporate live, dried, as well as the ashes of blooms, all at the same time. In doing so, I am creating multiple universes. I am bending time, where all stages of a flower’s life are free to co-exist with one another. These grey ashes were once vibrant with the same life as the fresh blooms, sending off their delicate scents and beauty out onto to the cosmos; and at that moment, they were a fragile, fleeting companion to all of existence.”
The dripping colors, natural shapes and layered transparency in her work allow the complexity of each of these cultures to shine. Those emotions carry through the work as the viewer becomes fascinated with the quick brush strokes and the intricacies of the various colors. With over 25 years of experience, Saya Behnam’s work explores the multi-faceted approach to exploring Eastern and Western cultures combined. Her works have been featured in the Iran Contemporary Museum of Modern Art and she has participated in programs at the Corcoran School of Art in DC.
About Saya Behnam
Iranian, Tehran, Iran, based in Washington, DC, United States