x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Iranian artwork

In the first of a weekly series exploring the creative process behind new artworks, we talk to the Iranian artist Golnaz Fathi

Untitled, by Golnaz Fathi, oil on canvas, 2010.
Untitled, by Golnaz Fathi, oil on canvas, 2010.

Untitled by Golnaz Fathi, 2010

For four years, the Iranian calligrapher and artist Golnaz Fathi has been working exclusively in black and white. But in the spring of 2009, she woke up one morning and felt compelled by colour. "When the feeling comes for anything, I'll accept it," says Fathi. "So after these years, one day I woke up and I had this feeling that I have to go and buy red and yellow. Hot yellow. I went to the paint shop and I bought the paint that I wanted and I felt that was a good sign that, look, changes are coming."

Canary yellow is the specific colour she's using, in acrylic - "I'm allergic to oil paint. I get sick, I get a sore throat, runny nose" - plus a turquoise blue, vivid red, graphite pencil and China ink for the calligraphy - if calligraphy it is: "Nothing is written there," she says. "The Iranian cannot read it, I myself cannot read it, nobody can read it, because I'm playing with these words and alphabets. I'm trained as a calligrapher, so of course I have lived with calligraphy, because calligraphy is a thing that you have to practise eight hours a day, and in my dreams I'm writing, so with this calligraphy I'm challenging it to take the literary part of it out and make it pure form. You can't read anything."

But the real story of this painting, and the series of which it is part, begins in June 2009, just after the Iranian elections that saw Mahmoud Ahmedinejad re-elected. "After the election of last year, people started writing slogans on walls, and then at two in the morning or five in the morning, the government hired people to come and paint over them. So in the mornings, from my home to my atelier, I walked this distance, and every day it was a new walk for me, a new piece of art. Imagine different things written in different colours, any colours they had, sometimes red, yellow, green, black. At first I didn't recognise where this work came from, because when I work it comes spontaneously. Then I did a show in April in Kuwait, and the first paintings were there, and usually when I finish I'm like a pyschiatrist: I start to look. And I said: 'Look, these are the walls in front of my window from my atelier.' I said: 'It's seven months going this way and coming back, it has been kept here in my head,' and somehow it was my interpretation that came out on to this."

It's not that Fathi doesn't think about her work; she simply finds herself in another world while she's painting. She doesn't even know how long her pieces take, she says. "Time doesn't exist, believe me. You are somewhere else."

The exhibition Controlled Chaos by Golnaz Fathi is at the Third Line Gallery, Dubai, until October 21. Visit www.thethirdline.com for directions.