I have always admired artists that never stop exploring new ways of expressing themselves through their art. The artists whose fire inside them grows with their age instead of turning into the dust of experience. Azadeh Ghotbi–a painter, sculpture and photographer–is among these artists. I enjoy taking a vacation from the chaotic world we live in and spend my time with her artwork, enjoying her exciting and uniquely deep way of looking at life.
Bijan Tehrani: Please tell us about the “Rooted UpRooted” exhibition, its theme and your participation in it.
Azadeh Ghotbi: I was invited to participate in a four artist show in New York focusing on roots and trees. The concept of the curators is to see how in a world rocked by the winds of change four Iranian artists with different backgrounds retained their ancient culture roots yet express themselves in different ways. Roya Khadjavi, one of the curators, chose specific works from two of my more recent photography series, Fading into Glory which focuses on the cycle of life through leaves and The Nature of Light which gazes on majestic tress through the scope of time and light.
BT: How Do I Read Between The Lines, is an absolutely a creative, beautiful and artistic way of engaging with what is going on in our world today and how we should explore what is hidden from the public by authorities. What is amazing is that it has no obvious visual references to current political climate of our world, and could be applied to anytime, anywhere, it is not dated. Please tell us how did you come up with these series of paintings and how did you execute them?
AG: This is the series I’m currently working on and hope to exhibit for the first-time next year. I don’t know if my interest stems from experienced exile and revolution as a child having but I’ve grown to be keenly interested in history, news and world affairs, in facts vs fabulation, all this decades before “alternative facts” and “fake news” became such prevalent words. Abuse of power, propaganda, and censorship are neither limited in time nor geography, so I wanted each painting in this series to be relevant and speak to people regardless of where they’re from and when they see the work. For example, many of the paintings have some elements of newspaper clippings as part of the medium but they’re more of less visible and their content censored as I paint over them. The specifics of the article itself is no longer relevant yet it speaks volumes.
BT: Please tell us about Veiled Revelations 33, among paintings in this theme, this is strongest to me. Its solid design shows that you are coming close to a conclusion on this subject. To me Veiled Revelations 33 is like a beautiful and eye-opening scenery to our world today, and you can travel back to it and sit and watch and enjoy it. I can tell the same about Twisted Tales.
AG: Thank you. It means a lot to me to hear that you took the time to truly look at some of my works. There have been several studies done to see how long people spend looking at artworks and the one done at the MET showed a mean time of just 27 seconds looking at a painting and a median time of a mere 17 seconds. Interestingly, the very concept behind my Veiled Revelations series is an invitation to peel the layers and observe keenly as they are complex paintings with many subtle layers behind them. A simple glance wouldn’t reveal that.
The Twisted Tales series you mentioned are rather physically demanding to make but the result is visually unique. They appear as three-dimensional paintings. The message behind the lacerated and twisted strips of canvas is one of reconstructed lives where turmoil & composure, helplessness & defiance, revelation & concealment, fragility & strength, chaos and tranquility all coexist.
BT: The last time we talked about your paintings was 16th of March 2013 please tell us about your artworks and directions you have taken since then.
AG: I had somewhat of an epiphany several years back. I took up photography having been inspired by a simple little dead leaf which I found utterly compelling and felt the urge to reveal through that medium. I spent a couple years focusing mostly on photography and it opened a whole new world for me. It sharpened by eye, my sense of observation and composition. I gained a medium that’s given me immense pleasure but hopefully has made me a better painter as well. I’m now going back to the studio and spending time painting new works. I love working in both medium, it’s like having learnt a second language and having the luxury of switching languages depending on which one best conveys a specific message.
BT: Even your photography pieces, like in THE SHAPE OF LIGHT series, you are still a painter, you are simulation the brush strokes by playing with light. How did you come up with this style?
AG: The Nature of Light series opened my eyes to a different way of seeing and photographing with light. The Shape of Light came as a natural extension of that. It’s a brand-new series I have yet to exhibit. It’s precisely my way of painting with the camera and bridging the gap between the two medium I love using.
BT: In your photography website under the sections “In COLOUR” and “WATER” series carries the layers characteristics of your paintings, one should study them over and over to discover the hidden depth of them, do you agree? I was also fascinated by photos; would you please tell us a bit about them? Also, why you are not using titles for your photos?
AG: Those sections are a mix of snapshots I took for fun in the last years. They weren’t part of any specific series that’s why they’re not really titled. I happen to see beauty in my surrounding whether it’s in a crumbling dead leaf or ripples in the water and like to share some of it on my site.
BT: In your photo site the sections ARTISTS, LIFESTYLE PORTRAITS and HEADSHOTS, you step in a new field, dealing with people, there are several magical beautiful works among these series, but doesn’t this kind of work limit you?
AG: I enjoy taking portraits of people and often do so on commission. I’ve often been told (usually by women) that my camera is kind to them and makes them look good. I think it’s because I’ve always dreaded being photographed myself and empathize with the subject and try to bring out the best in them, what’s at the core, not what they first try to show when self-consciously posing for the camera. That said, most of my work and inspiration as a photographer comes from nature and non-figurative elements.
BT: What are your upcoming plans?
AG: In the short term to exhibit “How do I Read between the Lines” next year.
Overall to continue being inspired by the good and bad I see around me and find ways to convey the experience through both painting and photography.
Revolution, loss, exile, and the idiosyncrasies of being stateless yet feeling proud of one’s heritage marked the early part of my life. I left my country at an age when one is too young to fully comprehend the magnitude of the situation yet old enough to be scarred by its consequences. From one day to the next everything I knew, cared for, and took for granted was behind me – out of reach.
A diminishing proportion of my life has been spent in my country of birth yet the feeling of kinship to it remains strong like a rope that’s been frayed yet defiantly holds its grip by some threads. The passing of time has only made me further appreciate and cherish the importance of history, roots and cultural ties. Diaspora, statelessness, transience, lack of continuity is my “normal”.
However, I have found that such experience can bear unexpected gifts of strength, adaptability, empathy, and a heightened sense of observation.
The cumulative effect of all this imparts and reflects itself upon my work.
ROOTED UPROOTED Exhibition will be held at Elga Wimmer PCC – 526 West 26th Street 3rd Floor #310 – New York, NY, 10001 between November 12 to November 25, 2019