Turning toward new horizon
The Imaginary Planet
The inhabitants of the imaginary planet
Conceptual painting and interpretation
A little at a glance
A - Structural Particularities
B - Contextual particularities
History of animated films in Iran
When I was a child, on my way back from school, I would spend long moments standing here and there fascinated by scenes where Siavash riding his stallion, was crossing the fire, where Bizhan, clad in steel armor, was sitting atop Hooman, lifting his head in his hands where Rostam's arrow, having sprung from his excellent bow,had pierced the chest of Ashkboos, where Faramarz was lifting the elephant and its mahout at arm’s length, or where the chivalrous butcher was beholding his severed hand.
These scenes would carry me away to a world which, although unknown to me, overwhelmed me with joy and awe. On the threshold of the age of sixty, those scenes still enrapture me with their gratifying exotic memories. Legends have ever been novel to me. Perhaps, at first sight, I may be considered a painter of legends, but this is not the entire story. I have used heroes and their universe as pretexts to speak of my own time, of the present era, of man going on living in this world as though nothing had changed since the time when Cain unfairly slew Abel with a blow of a rock until the present day when that rock has turned into deadly arsenals, when man, alas, is still slaying his innocent brothers for the sake of illusory ends.
To relate these iniquities, I do not resort to history, which is fraught with lies. Rather, I invoke the past, and occasionally the future, in quite simple terms. In my work, I abolish time, which is an ascribed reality; everything becomes non -temporal; yesterday, today and tomorrow become one, and man, who has been repeating specific motions and actions during his entire lifetime, appears on my canvases detached from his nationality, geographic features and local particularities. I deal with man in an unending time in order to delve into the depths of the tragedy of his existence without making any judgment. I try to reach beyond this immense canvas. I have always been tempted to discover what lies hidden beyond this event, this panorama, this horizon. Science says that, beyond this planet we call earth, solar systems, galaxies and infinities exist; that, beyond this limited time which we call human civilization, there are boundless times and light centuries. Where do we stand in these temporal and local infinities? Does the entire history of mankind and beyond it more credit than one instant in the face of this infinitude? And if it is so, can the entire existence on this planet and all of man's destiny in this perishable perimeter be dealt with within this single instant? My temptation is to behold life within this brief moment and I want to record the existence of man, beyond what the eye sees—no it n scientific terms, which lie beyond my capacity, but through artistic signs. And I wish to say that this inclination has appeared in me naturally, rather than knowingly and consciously. We are still in our eternality. The apple is still the eternal apple, with the same form, colour and taste. Flowers, horses and even men are still the same as they were at the time of their original creation. Perhaps we still are at the first second of our creation.
The fixed second will begin when the apple is no more round, perhaps becoming cubic; when the tree will be rooted in space rather than in the ground; when everything in our environment will be radically changed, in another second when the world will have a different meaning. I still see man and the world in their eternal and everlasting unalterable forms. You are an artist from the past, like our past miniature painters. Your outlook is similar to theirs, just as your performance. ...Like Renaissance artists! Of course, I am pleased by this designation. To tell you the truth, they are my models in life. I do not want to and cannot be one-dimensional, doing only artistic work. When I rise up in the morning, just like any ordinary citizen, I find myself ready to accomplish daily chores most of which are apparently unrelated with the world of art. For reasons of health, I jog a little in a park. Then, I buy fresh bread for my breakfast and do some necessary housekeeping. Afterwards, I open the Sabz Gallery Managing this gallery calls for a full-time employee, but I don't give it all my time. I climb to the first floor, where I do my painting. Some work arises. I go and take care of it, following which I return and go on working, with the same feeling and enthusiasm. I do not believe very much in inspiration and in "Hey, keep quiet, I am doing creative work!", because, in art, I believe in instants. During my daytime, I carry out various tasks, some of which require separate specialties, yet I manage them all. When I return home in the evening, I go on painting, mostly watercolours .My watercolours, which now constitute a fairly large collection and have been published in two books, are my recreation break. I rest from working with more work. On holidays, I go to the village of Bagh-e Bankfa, in Kordan. I have a small garden there. For hours, I spade and plant flowers. I have done most of the construction work there myself, On a specialized level. I am a good carpenter. I have done my own woodwork, doors and windows, Chairs, etc. When doing plumbing repairs, I work with the same eagerness and attention as when I am setting pearls on the skirt of Qajar lady. I reject the idea that, being an artist, I must do only art work. Today's man is multidimensional. Experience in one profession can prove enriching in another. In character, you are an ancient artist, like past artists. — I believe in the old values of the heart, in all that is human in man I have my own particular character. For me, bearing enmity makes no sense. I am incapable of hating. I do not want to confront anyone, anywhere. I want to have the time to live well, alongside those who try to live well. I love nature. All I have learned, I have learned from nature. When I go to the desert, I stare for long moments at a stone. I am submerged in it, in its vast, particular world. The stone opens up itself to me. It makes its texture and volume perceptible to my fingertips. It shows me its shadows and lights while revolving in front of my eyes. I go into the stone, into its non -historicity, its relation with us, with nature, with existence. Sometimes, the stone tells me, “Do not look at me like things familiar and obvious to you. Look at me as I am!" And the stone, now confiding in me, reveals its secret.
Thus. We two creatures of nature converse. For a long time, I would lie down at the foot of a bush, watching the tiny plants hardly visible from above until they uncovered themselves to my vision in an intuitive perception. — You are an ancient artist, like our miniaturists, like those of the Renaissance, like... — I have patience for everything. I am not precipitate. But you see how much I have worked; enough for three artists to leisurely quit toiling. For years, I have done 'graphic' work, for the market. You know, or perhaps you don't, how hard it is to satisfy people who have a strange and often erroneous idea of our work. I have made films. I have illustrated books for children. I have made thousands of designs, hundreds of paintings. I still think that, with a storehouse—really a storehouse—behind me, I must fill yet another one with the designs I have in mind. When I sit to paint this warrior woman, working is still refreshing to me. I have won a lot of prizes. For my films. My paintings. But the best prize is the pleasure I feel when the colours I apply on the canvas come out as I have in mind, or even better. — This is why I think that you are a true artist... — this time you didn't say an old one. I am not scared of this adjective. I not only do not abhor it, but think it to be even more appropriate. To a certain extent, I still work in the old manner. On white canvas or paper, I first draw a line, then another: I add some paint. Then some more. Little by little, the painting I have begun on that day or night opens up its way, taking its final form. Lines or colours lead to contexts and meanings. And feelings and meanings bring about the form of the painting. For me, meanings and imaginations bear originality. With the skill I have developed, meanings always find their best representation. Sometimes a complete design waits for years in my notebook until the temptation of finally executing it is aroused in me. I expect a great lot from myself. In completing a work, I am so demanding with myself as to allow no technical fault to remain for others to point out. Not that I'm afraid, It's the responsibility I feel. Well, we're working in presence of the masters of history...
'Ever since the beginning of the modern painting movement in Iran, Which dates back to the 1940s, an academic advice which has largely affected the main trends of Iranian painting for several decades has been to 'benefit from tradition'. The problem is this: How can one benefit from the cultural heritage, remain Iranian, and at the same time achieve international status?
Undoubtedly, innovation in any domain revolves around the existing tradition, but not in a convergent rotation, like a spring that spirals toward its centre and, by enveloping the shell of tradition and apparently repeating it, is reduced into a more compressed state. Rather, an innovator begins with tradition, becomes acquainted with its real dimensions, moves beyond it and, in a divergent rotation, spins away from its centre toward new horizons and, benefiting from the entirety of mankind's achievements, assumes a dynamic role in the development of indigenous arts and contributes to the treasure of universal art. The creative artist moves in a divergent rotation from his country's tradition and culture toward universal culture and joins the body of contemporary international culture. In this cultural communion, everyone, each in a dialect of his own, yet in a common cultural language, participates in a universal conversation.
In his particular interpretation of tradition, Sadeghi first deals with the particular world of the Iranian person, and then with the roots of man's world. In contemplating these worlds, he sometimes subdues time and location in his works, invoking the entire humanity in an eternity in which the universe is seen at the stage of the creation of the apple, the tree. the horse and the first man. At times the world is depicted in an eternity in which men, after centuries of efforts, appear to have reached the end of time.
If we accept the premise that 'art is the interaction between imagination and reality', in the sense that the artist's imagination draws vigour from the outer reality and affects it in return, with art being born from this continual interplay, this interpretation fits Sadeghi better than any other painter, because he has really made use of imagination in his works. This imagination is not of the fantastic, unbridled or sickly nightmarish type. Rather, in the terms of erudite Iranian artists, it is a kind of vision, a worldly outlook of existence. Our past artists and scholars believed that the 'world of imagination' can provide an interpretation of existence superior to that resulting from experience or reason.
Sadeghi has built an imaginary planet with a strange geography, chimerical peoples, a real history and fantastic adventures. His colourful Imaginary planet bears similarities with our world. At times its link with it is filial. At others it is so remote that identifying it with the mother planet becomes difficult. The planet of Sadeghi's paintings is made, not from reality, but of the substance of 'imagination'. His active imagination transforms the surrounding realities into the form and colour of imaginary space; although the boundary between reality and imagination has long become so blurred that separating them is a simplistic proposition. He begins his work with the pictorial heritage of his own culture that is Iranian painting, which is the outcome of his ancestors' imagination in the face of the real world. Past Asian painters, particularly Iranians. 'Contemplated' the materiality of the real world at large but did not reproduce it as such. Instead, they depicted their minds' reactions to the surrounding world in an 'intuitive' form, in esoteric signs. The aim was to depict one's mystical understanding of the world rather than to faithfully reproduce it. Iranian artists recognized the microcosm and the macrocosm in the mirror of mysticism, poetry and myths, in the realm of imagination. They believed that the meaning of the universe is nothing but a transcendent imagination. Imagination, therefore, is an effective means of understanding existence.
Material experiences and reason cannot lead one to the universal truth as effectively as active imagination. After graduating from the Faculty of Fine Arts, Ali-Akbar Sadeghi touched upon various experiments in painting: stained glass and graphic design, which resulted in his acquiring brilliant. Technical skills in various fields of plastic arts. But his cooperation with the Children and Young Adults Intellectual Development Centre as book illustrator and film producer was the beginning of a new period in his artistic career which he has ever since pursued at an accelerated pace and with stupendous diversity. In his illustrations of the Hero of Heroes (1970) and other books, mostly published during the 1970s, and in his five or six animation films, which range from the Seven Cities to Zal and the Simurgh he utilizes the apparent mould and space. of miniature paintings, aligning himself with many contemporary painters who revived or renovated miniature painting in order to preserve traditions and adopt an indigenous iconography.
In this period, Sadeghi simplifies the forms and spaces of miniatures and applies this 'ultimate stylization' to his colours as well as to his lines and forms. But what distinguishes Sadeghi from his peers is his next step in exploring the world of miniatures. Beyond the apparent 'face' of miniature forms, he reaches the 'essence' of Iranian painting, and this essential discovery saves him from imitating, copying and playing with forms. He is instinctively aware of the 'intuitive perception' ancient artists had of existence. He feels that a miniature painting is an imagination of this world, not the world itself. So, it is imagination that is principal, not the figures. One may, then, discard the appearance of miniature forms and pay attention to their soul, apprehending the space of their imaginary 'symbolic world'. One can imagine the world differently and still have an original function like that of ancient artists. and benefit from their knowledge about existence. The apparent face disappears. A door opens. Sadeghi enters the immensity of imagination, where the world can be artistically recreated and that transcendent reality painted in an esoteric space. This immensity, this essential universe, is filled with poetry and mysticism. One can soar in it on the wings of myths and fables. Here, dreams and nightmares transcend reality. Symbols, codes and allegories rule in this eternal universe, which is the universe of reflections, of wonderful human imaginations. of artistic creation. In the world's modern painting, when passing through new experiences, some avant-garde .artists alter both their work's foundations—form and content. That is, when they opt for the subjective world and turn from faithfully reproducing nature to depicting the world of imagination, they change both their 'subject' and the 'method' of dealing with it; just as Picasso and Joan Milt changed both their 'vision' of painting and their 'style' of materializing it.
But Sadeghi—like Dali and Magritte—cautiously retains one foundation, i.e. the manner of classical paintings, to which he has grown accustomed and which he has mastered, while altering the other foundation, which is the 'context' of his painting. Thus, he depicts the surreal universe of his imagination in a classical manner, not risking to alter both form and content in order to preserve his link with his innumerable audience. While renewing his mental world, he does not sever his bonds with pictorial tradition and habits.
On this imaginary planet, the poet, the mystic, the painter and the sage are very much alike, because they all enjoy the same water and air, breathing under the sun of imagination and mysticism. So, it is no wonder if, in Sadeghi's paintings, you find a sage who has reached serenity, if, in his "Horses' Paradise", in his flowers and apples, you sometimes meet the pensive stare of a savant pondering upon man's existence in life, love and death, or if, in his "Three Red-clad Figures", you perceive an idyllic mood, because the fragrant world, and occasionally a wild frenzy, transport him to the realm of strange dreams and nightmares which are mystical transgressions in a visual mold; I mean in works such as his "Pendulum of Fear". At other times, he is a painter who cares for nothing but his love for the lines, color, space and composition of this special world, as in most of his still lit es, particularly his "Rolling Apple", created only out of the temptation of the motion of color in space. In visual terms, Sadeghi's oil paintings can be divided into several categories. He has created numerous paintings with particular elements.
for example apples, trees, clouds. horses, horse-riders, paladins, women, masks, water, boats... He toys with a theme or concept along time, depicting its dimensions and qualities in various ways. At one time he paints the subject—an apple or a boat—in relation with other objects within a pictorial ensemble, at another he sets it by itself alone at the center of his canvas, as though he were picking every detail of his elaborate paintings one by one, exposing them to revealing light and dissecting their innards. Apples occupy a prominent place in his works, appearing each time in a different color and with a different meaning. Here it signifies life. There it symbolizes love. Elsewhere it is a metaphor of natural balance. Yet elsewhere it is a hermetic world the painter is enthusiastically tempted to crack open.
His "Golden Apples", which bring together infinity and the moment, are different, with aggressive apples which seem to descend upon us from another planet. When a red apple rolls in a petrified forest, its motion is the animation of hope, the dynamic color of life, artistic life at the heart of a rock-land, the presence of love in an improbable environment... He paints each of these apples in blue, green, yellow or red, as he wishes. It may be splendid and beautiful. Or bitten and used. Sometimes it is lost amid pebbles. Yet again it soars crowning hilltops. At times we see it supporting its own tree, its mother planet, and the motor of the cycle of life. The painter is not yet done with it. He shows it in the company of a book, in a light shining from behind bars. He makes it the soaring target of archers on horseback. He hides its chastity, as that of a maiden, under a veil. He makes it emerge from inside an egg. He makes it the heart of his painting, spreading its imperative rule in the air. From the apple's appearance, the painter turns to its inside, applying the knife. He makes the cut pieces of the apple bleed. Here a drop and elsewhere a bowlful of blood gush forth. The apple cries out its protest and yearning for liberation. As one in pain, it raises a commotion. It becomes the crowning tower. It falls to the ground. It cracks open, sometimes one of its sections appearing as a moonlit night, another half a brick wall, and still another a panel of tessellated tile-work. An apple from which more apple blossoms grow out. An apple that is reborn, strewing joy in its endearing motion, spreading perfume across the world, conquering the universe.
This treatment can be pursued at length in each of the painter's various themes, in which he has indulged in all sorts of plays, be it a boat, water, fog, the sea or a woman. But these are better seen than described, and what I have said merely indicates how the painter's mind functions, how untiringly he puts the subject to the ultimate pictorial test, creating yet one more amazing world out of a simple element.
The contemporary plastic world shies away from interpretation, because interpretation limits it to its apparent image. But conceptual paintings, which belong to the universe of imagination and mysticism, just as their mysterious poems and tales, allow for interpretation and each viewer, according to his disposition, finds a particular meaning or interpretation of his own in it, even if these meanings and interpretations are not congruous or the same as what the artist had in mind.
In the rock-land desert, a herd of horses is circling within an invisible enclosure. A few are drowsy and unaware, while most are excited and frightened, because a cube is on the point of landing out of flaming space. A steely mass out of which six deadly spears are protruding. The herd is aware of the mortal menace and naturally terrified at its impending inescapable fate. Among the rocks lies an apple; a memory of a lost peace, a sign of a lovely innocence or a departed freshness.
The onslaught of the dreadful steel mass upon the circle of the existence of a herd of horses. which symbolizes beauty, dignity and dynamism, represents the eternal combat between the forces of Ahura-Mazda and Ahriman, a theme often repeated in the Manichean space of Sadeghi's works. In this Manichean space, evil is dominant, besieging good, perhaps disguised as good or having digested it. Yet, hope is not lost in the turmoil, even if it is as small as an apple lying in the rocky landscape. Such is the miracle of being a man that, in the face of the material immensity, he is able to brandish a spiritual garden out of a single apple.
The colossal spiky mass appears to be a fragment of the tumultuous flaming skies tumbling down. Some distance remains before the mass pulverizes the herd. The alarmed horses find this distance an ordeal every moment of which is unavoidable death. Death is not frightening if it comes suddenly, but a death you see and expect is really terrible, and the painter has masterfully depicted this suspense. The horses' whirling motion bespeaks the existence of an invisible barrier around them, while no barrier is to be seen.
The composition of this painting consists of three rectangles: an upper rectangle shows the flaming sky out of which the steel cube is falling as a bomb. Another rectangle is a space of smoky, blue, indigo and gray colors which spans the distance separating the cube from the horses and includes the horizon. It forms a central volume between the dominant space and the dominated. It creates the tragic suspense. The lower rectangle, at the center of which the horses are circling, completes the balance of the classical composition of the painting. This rectangle and its central circle, around which the frenzied i stallions are galloping, is depicted in similar colors. The harmony between the horses' colors and that of the rocky landscape in which they are whirling probably points to the interaction between the creatures and their environment. In contrast with the two upper rectangles, this lower environment is made of yellow and bluish tones. In fact. the geometric shapes involved in the painting are a plunging steel-colored cube and a whirling yellow and bluish circle. The regular geometry of horizontal and vertical lines is entangled with the natural proportions of curves. The "Steel Cube and Horses" is one of Sadeghi's complete paintings in which the artist has gone beyond the conventional indigenous conceptual representation and achieved a universal conceptual space which speaks of human relations in the local language of anywhere. Is that steely mass the onslaught of technology upon nature? Is it the dominion of the industrialized world over countries kept underdeveloped? Does it depict the relationship of dominant and dominated forces, of ruling and ruled space? Is it the confrontation between the world of Ahura-Mazda and that of Ahriman, the eternal clash between good and evil? A contemporary Iranian may prefer to see it as a bomb from the arsenal of the new world order dropped by war-mongering hands on the defenseless people of his country, on this fragile circle of life ever threatened by annihilation. Others, anywhere in the world, may interpret it as a metaphor of authority, of individual horrific nightmares, of the futile erosion and destruction arising from the fight against liveliness and dynamism, of the combat between unbridled civilizations with green nature...
Horses are often present in Sadeghi's paintings, just as apples, ancient paladins, imaginary creatures, flowers, beauties, birds, grassy meadows and paradisiac gardens. In a painting one may call "Horses' Paradise", seven horses are depicted under the tall vault of a corridor, in a space filled with soaring pink flowers with turquoise-colored leaves. The uniform blue-gray hue of the horses and the space creates a dream-like atmosphere to which the flowers add a note of colorful animation. This flowery shower may be interpreted as the inner image of the silent life of horses so gracefully walking through the dimly lit corridor of life; wild horses free from trappings man has conceived for them. The composition of the painting is also affected by this context. It is executed more freely and aptly invokes 'liberation' in form and meaning.
Sometimes, in the company of resplendent figures, the horses are so submerged in sumptuous adornment as to fall in from their nature, becoming decorative objects. This is visible in his "Slumbering Knight and Horse". A warlord going to war, or perhaps returning from war, is seen in a garden. A handsome stallion with henna-dyed crest and tail, bedecked with lavishly adorned saddle and armor, is carrying a knight holding a heavenly 'Besm' bird in his hand. Wearing a green garment and a turquoise-colored mantle, the knight appears in a haste to join a party rather than a combat. In an alley of the garden, the rider and his mount are slumbering in a mutual embrace, resting awhile after a difficult journey. The gay, vivid colors. the refined and harmonious decoration, and the blue, red and yellow palette in particular, together show the rider and his horse as a circle of lively colors. At the center of the painting, between the multitudes of charming adornments, the shape of the paradise bird catches the eye. These joyful colors conceal, to a certain extent, the deep sadness of the old rider and his fossil-like mount. Their flamboyance alleviates the depth of the tragedy. Perhaps the artist has attempted to shroud the sadness of the petrified mythological hero—who is not unlike Rostam—under the brilliant colors and magnificent patterns of his attire. A contained conflict, an unstable situation that tends from sadness to joy and then back to sadness. Or perhaps this noble knight and his horse are sleeping so serenely because he is neither coming from nor bound toward anywhere. It is as though they are merely posing for an invisible painter to create a tableau of 'the end of the knighthood era'. With his strange humor, Sadeghi has indicated their lengthy pause by painting a flower in the prolongation of his bejewelled sword, below the foot of the horse.
The slumbering knight and his mount are surrounded by a garden with tall cypress trees surmounted by extinct candles and the space is populated with ghosts of figures from Timurid miniatures, including a faceless sultan and his military and civil retinue, who have nothing to do in this garden and are worried about their floating state. Are they dreams happening in the warrior's head? Or are the knight and his motionless steed the garden's dream and the extinct candles its interpretation?
To become acquainted with the world of this old knight, one has i to turn to Sadeghi's series of "Riders", which have, in the course of years, appeared in his works, each representing part of the human truth and the realities surrounding man. Sadeghi says, "Horses are man's eternal companions, from the beginning to the present. They have been together in all historic events; in war, in peace, in fiction and in ordinary life. These inseparable companions have often shared a common fate. Man and his mount have trekked through this complicated existence together, even if one has always been carrying the other's burden. For me, horses symbolize beauty, liveliness, friendship and man's counterpart in his fate."
His horsemen are often warriors from historic dynasties, legends or symbols of various powers in different eras. In terms of composition, the hero is depicted at the center of the painting and everything else is relegated to the margins and the background. By this layout, an axis is created. This arrangement is repeated in many of Sadeghi's works. Even in his latest work, the "Warrior Woman" is centrally located while the ladies of the period of Nasser-ed-Din Shah surround her accompanied by an incongruous guest, the Gioconda. In Sadeghi's Manichean universe, evil ultimately annihilates itself; as in the case of the four warriors who, out of ignorance or depravity, draw sword upon one another until all are slain. Their similar faces, their attitudes and weapons, show that these four knights are one and the same. torn apart by conflicting forces and bewildered at their ordeal. These slayers and slain may even be innocent. Their fault may be ignorance or a blind, useless enmity. Paradoxically, each is both the executed and the executor. They have opted for evil. They have attempted to kill one another, and therefore themselves. It is as though Sadeghi is repeating this divine message: "To kill one man is as killing all mankind."
In his "Invading Foot Soldier", we see a roaring man rushing forth while holding Genghis Khan's book of laws in his left hand and brandishing a sword in his right. He bears all the features of aggressive hordes who have invaded our country. But this red-clad warrior has met no opponent with whom to measure himself. The motherland and the people, disguised as a mythological sculpture, cover the entire space, enfolding the historical conqueror. In a sense, this is temporal history rushing forth to fight non-temporality; although it can cause a slight disturbance in the space of Ahura-Mazda, it is ultimately digested by the mobile and fluid roots of this firm space. Sadeghi does not believe in history and depicts ethnic fabrications in the face of mankind at large as vile and contemptible. He laughs derisively at absurd wars, whether at the individual level—as the four warriors slaying each other—or in its collective forms—as in his "War of Attrition" or "Three Red-clad Figures"—, and this anthropocentric outlook preserves him from ethnically oriented susceptibilities. In the landscape of his canvases, conquerors are powerless, because, owing to the brevity of their opportunities, they are ever vanquished by boundless eternity. In his "Invading Foot Soldier", the subject is represented in vivid, brilliant colors and further accentuated against the dark green and gray background. In reality, what organizes the composition is the context, not structural necessities concerning the location of images. Of course, once he is done with the main task of creating his subject, the artist does consider esthetic proportions, giving a balanced appearance to the space of his canvas by daubs of paint or secondary images and background patterns. Sometimes these secondary images appear on the canvas as much as is needed to achieve perfect harmony between the lines and colored surfaces. Occasionally these patterns and figures saturate the painting, to the extent that the viewer is lost amid a forest of contexts and images. At the onset of Sadeghi's imaginary period, the influence of Salvador Dali's world was perceptible in his work. Apparently, he had learned pictorial saturation from Dali and the agitated universe of Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Brueghel. Resorting to religious narratives, popular legends, myths and dreams, and exercising imagination, Bosch and Brueghel moved forward to their wondrous worlds' full pictorial capacity. By metamorphosing and hybridizing objects and animals, combining incongruent elements, disfiguring human figures and upsetting conventional time and space, they created worlds metaphorically descriptive of their time's social realities and the wrong, decadent human relationships which, they thought, were leading the world to its end.
Sadeghi presses ahead as far as his imagination will take him, even if the architecture of his painting is immersed in a Rococo space filled with decorative details which serve no organic purpose. Later, when he becomes familiar with the works of Rend Magritte, he reaches the stage of purifying the space of his axial images. His apples attest to this pictorial conciseness, which constitutes his personal syntax. The further he goes, the less abundant lines and colors become in his paintings, and this structural conciseness reaches the point where colors are used metaphorically and lines and colors appear as allusions and allegories, particularly in his watercolors; and this is one of his great achievements.
We noted that structural similarities are visible between some of Sadeghi's works and those of Bosch and Brueghel. The "Three Red-clad Figures" is one such work. Similar to legendary chimeras with several heads and legs, a crouching creature with three joint bodies is depicted at the center of the painting. Each of its heads is looking in a different direction. One gazes toward the viewer and the two other worriedly stare either way. One of these creatures is inclined toward peace, poetry and legends, because it holds a book, which appears to be the Shahnameh, out of which it is orating. On the page it is holding open, a title describing the creation of the world is visible, and on the opposite page, a man is seen beheading another. Under the effect of the epic poem he is reading, he has drawn its sword, but from.the handle on, the sword gradually changes into a spoon, which makes the creature appear as a "Yalanchi Pahlavan" (Fake Hero). Of course, this character, which deals with books, could not have become a full-fledged warrior by reading epic tales, and its ineffectual ferocity is well depicted by its helmet, which, instead of a steel crest, is surmounted by a cage in which a white pigeon is peacefully resting. The comic aspect of this creature, with its peace-inclined mind, useless sword and vain ranting, contrasts with that of its red-clad sibling facing us. This one has brutally flung its sword, cutting a metallic empty pitcher in two. Meanwhile, a hatch has opened on its chest giving way to a marionette which is staring stupidly at the whole absurd scene. In its other hand, instead of a shield, the fierce red-clad creature is holding a tray on which a plate of pomegranates is visible. A green flower pot stands on its shoulder. Is he not as ferocious as he seems, although a creature has grown out of his red attire which is threading a needle with barbed wire to sew him a fringe? In fact, the presence of this second sibling bears a contradiction: with one hand he deals violent blows of his sword and with the other he presents a tray of pomegranates. The third sibling wears a helmet atop which a turquoise-colored flower is most tastefully set and completes the joke with a fried egg he has cooked on the edge of his helmet for the audience. He too brandishes a sword—as though they all have to!—, but his has turned into a slide down which a marionette is gliding in awe.
Who is this tripartite membership, this aggregate of triplets reading a book about the creation of man? Is this title not an extrapolation of his existence? A man whose integrity of existence has been thrown into turmoil by conflicting forces, so that his inherent good and evil features have alienated and turned him into a ridicule being. This existential contradiction is clearly conspicuous in the objects and creatures which make the background: firstly, translucent, ghost-like marionettes, thinly scattered at the bottom of the painting and growing in number toward its top. By their actions, these marionettes evoke legendary friendly or treacherous dwarfs. One marionette is holding the pitcher for the sword to slice. Another is spinning for his friend to mend his coat. But they are not always the prey. They also have a disruptive action. A shadow-like marionette is sawing off the red-clad figure's foot, which has turned into vegetal roots. Another marionette, casting away its ghost-like appearance and acquiring materiality, is striking the tray of pomegranates with a club. One is blowing a horn while pierced through by a sword. Snakes are raising their heads from inside his horn. Another is swinging while suspended from the sword turned spoon. Yet another is sliding down the sword of the conqueror. But, besides these marionettes, other creatures are involved in the background of this nightmare: beginning on the right hand side of the painting, the viewer's eye follows a beheaded eagle chasing two headless pigeons, a pair of frightened deer running away from fire and the eagle, a pair of horses sunken to their necks into the chessboard, two apples from which worms are wriggling out, and a bird nonchalantly perched on the pommel of the sword, before reaching the center of the painting, where stand a tree and a locked gate whose key hangs beside it. At the middle of the gate, there is a metallic hatch with iron bars behind which the crescent of the moon is imprisoned. Past the gate, the night continues, with the three pyramids flying on wings of their own and corresponding with the three headless birds. In this painting, numbers acquire cryptic importance: three ereed-rclasd figures three pomegranates, three birds, three pyramids. Three b on spears, four fish escaped from the sea and flying over the landscape, two deer, two horses, two apples... at the end of the night and the day at once. The upper part of the painting represents the night and a hellish environment, while the lower part embodies an idyllic part. We meadow with lush trees unrelated with the charred stubs in the upper and return to the book's title concerning the creation of man and become immersed in the painter's Manichean view and his image world in which conflicting forces have broken down the wheel of life.
Sadeghi's works can be categorized in several ways. One is that of dealing separately with his oil paintings and watercolors, which bear obvious differences. In Sadeghi's own words, his watercolors are the outcome of his "recreation breaks" at home, after a day spent in the studio concentrating on his oil paintings. But his watercolors are valuable in their own right, as we shall briefly see. Whereas, in his oil paintings, he is attached to the world of meanings and a conceptual view of existence, proceeding on the path of imaginary creation by precise construction and execution, in his watercolors, he often frees himself from restraints he carefully observes in his oil painting. In his watercolors, liberated from the surreal world's concepts and nightmares, he freely and hastily depicts objects around him. Still lifes, panoramas, constitute his materials. He simply, swiftly and relaxedly goes on making realistic representations of things in the environment: flowers, plants, fruit, lamps, bowls, buildings and natural views
. Perhaps his watercolors are his response to a deep need which unconsciously drives him toward a different kind of painting. Accustomed to the ornate and masterful manner of creating paintings saturated with imaginary figures, and respectful of conceptual painting, he is being unconsciously drawn by a powerful motive toward a style totally opposed to his works: not imagination and imaginary painting, but representation without the intermediary of objects.
In his watercolors—with a few exceptions—, he is closer to the outlook of modern painters who consider painting independent from literary-historic features and solely the inherent function of lines, colors, light and space. Occasionally, Sadeghi is improvisedly captured by the sudden presence of color patches running on the paper, their natural. haphazard diffusion into the white surfaces and their combination with the other volumes of the pictures. In these works, he presses ahead to the limits of abstraction, creating works that are pure painting. An event beyond the artist's personal desire takes shape on the paper. An apple or flower is created which can only come into being in the realm of painting. Everything in this work is of the substance of painting. An apple matured on the world of painting.
A flower grown out of paint. Colored volumes only born and seen in the medium of painting. I have already described the particularities of these works in the introduction "Iran, the land of Mehr", but let me add here that his composite works—which have become a sort of collage—follow his oil paintings and do not fall in the above-mentioned category. In conclusion, here is a brief description of the structural and conceptual particularities of the artist's works:
1. Accomplished technique
Sadeghi masterfully applies painting devices in the most appropriate places. He is able to construct and execute whatever he wishes and this technical ability is the upshot of forty-five years of incessant activity in various fields of plastic arts, half of which have made up the foundations of his work in the past two decades. This technical skill often astonishes the painter's audience, which is not to displease him. He has paintings which can be viewed under two different orientations. In fact, these are dual paintings in one. In some of his paintings, this device has structurally perfected the work, although this is not always the case, occasionally giving way to unnecessary sophistication. This artistic device reaches perfection in his "Green Umbrellas": Viewed upright, a terrace is visible which continues to the horizon. Three groups of three red-clad figures sitting under green umbrella-like tree crowns are engaged in some mysterious ritual. The left end of the painting is bounded by a wall which also covers part of the ceiling and casts its shadow on the terrace. The wall has an eye-pleasing color and a solid regularity. Past the abrupt interruption of the wall, a space of simultaneous day and night decked with light wisps of cloud is visible and a grayish wall on the right is covered with shadows and colored patches which turn into a tree-covered landscape captive under a sky of bricks when the frame is viewed sideways in one direction. And in the opposite direction, the clouds are raining on a closed architecture and pulling down the entire landscape. This device has been used in some of Sadeghi's paintings and shows his mastery in balancing various compositions and playing with the interplay of volumes. This technical skill always tends toward natural representation and adornment. The painter insistently takes care that whatever is depicted in his paintings be exact, natural and as beautiful as possible; that the window is such that even an expert i carpenter cannot find a flaw in it; and that the ribbon encircling the mummified apple involves no wrong fold. Attention to details is indispensable in this type of work, but it may be asked whether profuse adornment and sophistication can be considered an organic necessity. In several of his recent paintings, this decorative beautification has been intensified and, lo!, on the contrary, in his recent watercolors, colors and lines conspicuously bear least quantity and most quality.
2. Complete studies
Wherever the opportunity arises, the artist records his pictorial notes in notebooks, to which he later refers when painting. These sketches usually begin with a line. Then comes another. The sketch takes shape piecemeal until it is carefully completed. The sketches of one of these notebooks were once published alongside their painted counterparts. The studies and the paintings were not very different and only details had been deleted or added. Sadeghi's professional order is worth being cited in example and one of the reasons for his voluminous output is this very outer discipline and inner order which he observes in his work.
3. Focalized composition
The majority of Sadeghi's paintings are focally oriented and this quality pervades all his contextual works, in which the context constitutes the main axis of the painting and is located at its center of gravity, at the converging point of its forces. In these paintings, the hero is depicted at the center of the canvas and forms the central point of interest, without the painter remaining indifferent to the rest of the work. His backgrounds are as carefully constructed as the central figure, the axial context. Once the main context is assembled, elements such as trees, clouds, flowers, the sky, the horizon, the sea and buildings carry out the task of filling the background. The advent of these elements takes place without artificiality, respecting the harmony of volumes, the rhythm of colored areas and the accord of all the structural factors. And this skill and organization are not the results of deliberate composition and earlier calculation; rather, his improvisation originates in his ample experience, gathered in the course of long years of work, painting after painting.
Sadeghi's palette is extraordinarily varied. He rarely uses original, pure paints. He mixes and combines. A single color theme often dominates his paintings, and this is a most arduous achievement in view of the flourish of colors he uses in all his works. The presence of blue, bluish, gold, silver, orange is conspicuous in most of his works, although, just as in the case of his teacher, nature, one cannot say which one he prefers. His colors are brilliant, vivid, pulsating, fluid, and youthful. His seas are as varied as his apples and involves the same colors and chiaroscuros.
5. Pictorial multiplicity and unity
Some of his paintings are pictorially saturated, filled to the bursting point with all sorts of elements. Far from restraining his imagination, he allows it to drive on to the end of everything and everywhere, depicting all things at once by a dive into the subconscious. This behavior occasionally fills his paintings with creatures and elements whose presence are unnecessary in terms of the composition or the harmony of volumes and colors, but which he seems to have felt compelled to depict, as though submitting to a superior will. This manner makes some of his works appear 'crowded' and 'unintelligible', and he is aware of this. Sometimes, from among these 'mother' works, he selects 'childhood'. From amidst a swarming canvas, he picks out elements with which he constructs a painting whose simple composition revolves around one or two visual elements and is serene and deserted. These works are exceptionally powerful in virtue of their formal brevity and appropriate spatial organization.
1. Manichean contradiction
Ipointed out that Sadeghi's mind is involved in an incessant contradiction whereby he sees the world and existence at the mercy of good and evil forces. The context of his paintings, as a whole and in their details, is based on this contradiction. At times this duality is obvious, as in the opposition of day and night, desert and sea, or flower and stone; at other times it is hidden and metaphorical, as matter in the passage of time, bondage yearning for freedom, or germination confronted with erosion. Although evil overcomes, giving a bitter taste to his works, as the one where the desert needs the sea while the sea is an image on a scroll hanging from nowhere, yet, in this Manichean world filled with evil, a dim light of hope ever shines and the painter does not consider the domination of any of these forces to be total, and this is the result of his misgivings about the judgment of pragmatic mind. Eventually, what he finds effective is love.
2. Humoristic mind
Sadeghi faces the surrounding reality with humor and, unbelieving in history and its current cliches, takes refuge in a superior reality where the logic of dreams, inversion, displacement, ambiguity and grotesque space rules. In the universe of his imagination, nightmarish dreams unfold in which the world is affected with displacement and inversion, rather than being established upon the usual and obvious order everyone takes for granted. We see a perfect example of this nightmarish world in his "Fortress during the warriors' rest." A soaring fortress is visible above which a fake sun shines. The sun is engraved on the shield of a warrior who has flipped as is being cut in two by a sword. The symbol of the fortress' inhabitants is an apple and a white flag of peace with a blazing trail. Hot and cold water taps are installed on the body ofthe fortress. On the ramparts, a group of men clad as fishermen—undoubtedly due to the muddy water—are fighting or extracting lemon juice and offering flowers. At the foot of the fortress, taking advantage of the temporary lull in the war, each of the invaders is carrying on with whatever he was doing before. In the words of Mowlavi, "Nations' wars like children's quarrels be!"
3. Legend, lyricism and epic
Sadeghi looks upon history but does not believe in it. He is a history-watcher rather than a historiographer, just as he is a legend-observer and not a legend painter. He sees the world as a legend others have discovered. It is in such an attire that he has found reality, or become involved in it. He makes no judgment on this conflict. He only records. To make a judgment is up the viewer. He likes people i and is familiar with their folklore. He looks upon their superstitions and rituals, their customs and beliefs. He records without judging, for he does not see himself as separate from them. Sometimes he looks at the world lovingly, as a dream of crystal and tears. Look at the house with its window emitting a stream of fog toward the lush green valley. This is a materialized paradise of lyrical peace untainted with sadness. Or look at the painting in which a building is visible between the grass and the fog, with columns and arcades of the substance and color of air, perceptible but inaccessible, just as a well turned poem. Sometimes the epic recorder is saddened at the fate of heroes who, like Don Quixotte, have set foot in the world at the wrong time. Occasionally fairies appear in his paintings beside or against monsters and devils. He does not flee into the past. For with time is eternal and the past and the future happen conjointly with the ephemeral present. The simultaneity of non-contemporary eras gives him the opportunity. to reflect unhindered with conventional divisions of time, alongside ordinary men—who are unbounded by temporal and spatial constraints—, and to ultimately deplore their fate with deep love.
A particularity of Sadeghi's work is 'colocation', which can perhaps be more readily rendered in painting. In many of his works, this particularity—superimposed horizons—is visible alongside simultaneity. He says, "As anyone else, I have heard about the seven skies and the seven hells. For me, proverbs, epithets, metaphors and beliefs are transformed into images, as in the sentence "the hero was submerged by iron and steel", following which I have often depicted these paladins literally suffocating under of their hefty armors. Likewise, I have adopted the superimposed horizons from among popular beliefs." A horse, its eyes blazing from weariness, is hastily crossing the dark sky, as though bathed in a sea of smoke. The horse is on the point of leaping over a wall. It is faced with a sea. Above its head, the full moon is visible in the sky which is crossed by a strange fish. Behind the extenuated galloping horse, the heads of two other horses immersed to their necks in fluid blackness are seen. Below the horse's legs, another horizon with a calm sea on which an immobile boat is floating can be seen. Below this sea, another horizon lies partly covered with elm trees and partly filled with the reflection of other trees in water. On a yet lower horizon, a tree-filled plain ends at a sea on the shore of which dead fish are impaled on spears planted in a long row. Beyond the wall, still another horizon is visible; a desert in which the shadows of galloping horses can be seen and which ends at the edge of a boundless sea. Bubbles, which frequently recur in Sadeghi's paintings, are floating in space. Sadeghi is the narrator of contemporary man's complicated and contradiction-laden world. This complication ranges from the heart of the atom to the volume of the galaxy, and man is alone in this wondrous world. The artist paints the sad picture of man's solitude amid the crowd, but does not surrender to this loneliness and separation. At the end of this smoky horizon, he contemplates a sunny future in which man is sympathetic to man. Unlike a man of the age of rationality, he is not solely infatuated with reason and science. Rather, just as his ancestors, he still seeks the wisdom of life in art and despairingly hopes that art will teach him all that science has failed to bestow upon man and the world.
Javad Mojabi Tehran, 1996
The history of animated films in Iran spans three generations and three distinct periods: 1. The initial period, beginning in the late 1950s, during which the first works of Iranian animation art appear in Iran. Although chronologically significant, this period bears no considerable fruit, due to the incapacity of the country's cultural authorities; 2. The second period, beginning in the late 1960s, which puts forth its first products in 1971, and with which we shall deal further: 3. The third period, which began after a long standstill entitled Cultural Revolution and eventually began a revival in the late 1980s and the early 1990s.
The details of the first period and generation fall beyond the scope of the present discussion. We, therefore, examine the second period of the history of animated films in Iran, so as to find Ali-Akbar Sadeghi's place in it.
In this period, the initial seed of animation was sown by the annual Children's and Young Adults Film Festival in the minds and hearts of an eager and creative generation as ready as a dry sponge to absorb every drop available. Viewing films different from what was then known as animation (Hollywood short cartoons such as Mickey Mouse, Tom and Jerry, etc., or long ones like Snow White and the Jungle Book, which merely amused in the first case and appeared as stupendous miracles beyond reach in the second) opened a window onto the vast domain of animated film as expressed by the new prophets of this art, namely Norman Mc Laren, Jiri Trunka, Raoul Servais, Karl Zeman, Alex Alexev, Bordo Davnikovic, Bruno Bozzetto, Ivan Ivanovic Vano and many others.
Intellectual animated films from Canada and Europe became the first university to call forth enthusiasts of new horizons. The young, eager artists of the time swiftly adhered to these schools, each drinking in proportion with his or her thirst, but in the absence of academic and technical training facilities, they turned to autodidactic and intuitive work. The Children and Young Adults Intellectual Development Center, which originated this movement among the young generation, became the womb where many great talents, including Sadeghi's, were nurtured and developed.
In the southern wing of the Children and Young Adults Intellectual Development Center—on the floor below that of the Executive Director—, there was a simple large room where, between 1973 and 1978, such film as "I'm the one who...", "Rokh", "The Sun King" and "Zal and the Simurgh" were born on thousands of sheets of paper and celluloid. These films were begotten by Sadeghi, who had earlier, in more nonprofessional conditions, but still for the Children and Young Adults Intellectual Development Center, made his two other films, "The Seven Cities" and "The Shower of Flowers." In the adjoining room, Farshid Mesqali was making animated films in his own nonconformist, modern way.
In the eastern wing on the same floor, on one side was Kia-Rostami's room and on the other stood the studio of Nafisseh Riahi. Between them was a workshop where the author was similarly occupied (making animated films).
It was in that building, and on that floor, that I became acquainted with Sadeghi and his works. Initially, our acquaintance was limited to encounters in corridors or in our mutual rooms, but we were both so often absorbed in our works that sometimes days on end would pass during which I heard his loud, jovial voice without seeing his face.
Then came the last days and nights of our films, the long shooting hours with the mammoth Oxbery camera and sound superimposition in recording and mixing studios. Day and night, we worked together and in parallel. Together we passed sleepless nights, together we exhaustedly bumped into walls, and together we finished our films. During those years, lively, boisterous Sadeghi, with a stature and eyes alike all his paintings, went on making his animated films with rare perseverance and insistence. In that period of feverish work, Sadeghi produced at least one ten- to thirty-minute film a year, participated in innumerable foreign festivals and was time and again awarded various prizes.
The style of Sadeghi's animated films is the same as that of his book illustrations, his early stained glass works and, later, his oil paintings: green-eyed, joint-eyebrowed heroes and supernumeraries clad in sumptuous Qajar attire, often covered with shining metallic weapons, but always wearing profusely embroidered garments and existing in colorful spaces filled with refinements. [And Sadeghi is so generous and evenhanded with his refinements that none among the supernumerary can complain of Sadeghi having failed to make his epaulet, belt or boot as glistening as those of the main hero of the film!) Sadeghi was so faithful to his pictorial style that, even though the scenarios of his films were not written by him, any scenario reaching his film factory ended the same as the distorted miniatures which bore the seal of Ali-Akbar Sadeghi in his books and paintings. Sadeghi learned animation in no school and from no professor. Solely relying on his inherent learning capabilities, technical skills and incomparable perseverance, he plunged into this arena and painstakingly proceeded on the rugged road of success.
One .must perhaps say that, far beyond film making, Sadeghi has other hidden talents which can only be perceived after long years of familiarity. He has not and evenor imitated the sound effects and dialogs of his films, d .ose of others, but is also a well trained traditional interpreter of re igionus lamentations, an eloquent narrator and a humorous showman and impersonator. And to all this one must add his fine, precise wood-ma working, glass-cutting, furniture carpentry plumbing, frame-making, sonry and even cookery, which he has' done and is doing in his home.
In conclusion, let me tell you a cute anecdote I heard about Sadeghi's first animated film: "... The clamor of applause, whistles and shouts filled the cinema. The film had ended and a man was standing on the scene, under the dazzling spotlights, facing the audience and waving to it. Perhaps you want to know what all the excitement was about. It was about the production of the film just shown on the screen. What was the film's title? Ali-Akbar Sadeghi's "Seven Cities of Love." And Ali-Akbar Sadeghi was just the green-eyed man joyfully waving to the crowd from the scene." The narrator—Abbas Kia-Rostami—thus continues: "Once the projection began, the audience was faced with a hero whose every deed was heroic (or was supposed to be), excepted that he limped. But the philosophical complexity of the story, which was by Firooz Shirvanloo, the declamatory prose of M. Azad, who had written the texts of the film, and the enthralling voice of Ahmad Shamloo, who had read the narration of the film, had altogether created such an atmosphere that the audience, intentionally or unconsciously, had accepted the hero's limping as one of his heroic attributes—rather than a defect. Our story ends here, but the funny part is that some time later, in the English reference book Sadeghi had used, the walking sequence after which he had modeled the motions of his hero was found to bear the caption "Limping man."
Zal & Simorgh, 1977, 25 minutes
The Sun King, 1975, 22 minutes
Flower Storm, 1972, 9 minutes
The Rook, 1974, 10 minutes
Boasting, 1973, 11 minutes
Seven Cities, 1971, 18 minutes