Although Mostafa Dashti's paintings are coveted by the most important collectors in Tehran and the rest of the world, the 48-year-old artist comes off as mysterious and brooding. Dashti, who looks like a wire-haired Iranian version of Julian Schnabel, is a self-taught artist who has been painting for over two decades, yet somehow he manages to give off the vibe of a sulky teenager. This is not to say that he is somehow unkind. In fact, he is perfectly polite. He's just not a linear kind of guy, and the oversized - possibly best described as looming - canvases hanging in his new solo exhibit at the B_asement Gallery seem to back up this theory.
Dashti was born in Iranian Balochistan, an area best known for its desert landscapes and carpet production. He grew up in a house that was known in the neighbourhood as the Artist's House. Though no one knew if the structure actually housed an artist before his family moved in, Dashti says that the legend of the house must have had a subconscious effect on him. "It is not that my mother wanted to put something in a child's head," says Dashti, who speaks only Farsi (his statements are translated into English by the B_asement Gallery co-owner Baharak Raoufi). "It is part of a memory of my mother telling me that this was the house of a painter," he says. "Maybe the house doesn't exist anymore. Maybe the house has disappeared under the sand. But it is exactly what happened and I believed that it was a kind of destiny. It is exactly what happened."
Memories are a particular inspiration for the artist, who often draws landscapes from the roads he has travelled. "I need to confess that I start with roads, like driving in the road and what you see along the road, going back and concentrating on what is happening," says Dashti. "Landscapes happen; sometimes the sky, sometimes the earth." His large-scale works, most of which are around 200x200cm, have layers of thick acrylic. Lighter tints and darker tones of one particular colour in each work - usually in orange, blue or green - look like waves crashing on grey cliffs or crumbling mud highlighted by the first rays of dawn. He says that he thinks of them as "details" of an imagined landscape from the roads of his youth.
Dashti began making art 25 years ago, driving a car full of supplies to a desolate area and taping paper to the bonnet. In his early career, he focused on landscapes of the desert, a place he knew intimately. Nowadays, Dashti has forgone these artistic road trips for his studio, though he still considers himself a landscape painter even if his canvasses seem abstract. "More than being an abstract painter, it's people thinking I am an abstract painter," he says. "I see myself as a landscape painter, having a small spot of the sky or the earth or detailing any part of the landscape is what is interesting to me. This is how I look at my work - as more figurative than abstract."
Though he is best known in his home country, he feels that his approach to art would be the same no matter where he lived. "The sky is the sky; nature is nature and you cannot ignore that," he says. "I believe I am working more globally than limiting myself with the place where I live." Throughout his career, Dashti has had more than 20 solo exhibits and more than 50 group shows in both his native Iran and around the world. Christie's sold an untitled piece that also used a variation on orange, black and white from this same collection in late October for over Dh80,000. But he says that regardless of his stature in the world art community and the high price his landscape-abstractions often fetch, he thinks that he was meant to be a painter.
"If I am born into this life again, I definitely want to be an artist," says Dashti. "With painting, it gives me a kind of satisfaction; it is the best thing that I can do in my life."