Farzin Nikzad: a Cosmopolitical Artist

When we contemplate Farzin Nikzad’s work with modern, western eyes, which have been informed and moulded by a critical tradition accustomed to contrasting linearity with pictoriality—at least since Heinrich Wölfflin’s famous Principles of Art History (1715)—as well as differentiating fine arts from decorative arts and major art from applied arts and crafts, what disconcerts and intrigues us most is the way the artist inverts the values associated with these terms which are traditionally considered to be antinomical.

Taking in some way the opposite approach of David’s exhortation to his students: “Draw your lines carefully and place whatever you want within them,” the serenity of the solid, flat colours, accentuated by the actual screenprinting technique itself, as seen even in Farzin Nikzad’s earliest works, fulfils the traditional role of the contour, whilst the latter escalates, serpentines and breaks into a dance that prevents the eye from becoming fixed in one place. Quite easily identifiable motifs thus pursue a hypnotic whirl and at the same time make us question the reality of these imaginary spectres and appreciate the plenitude of the judiciously chosen and very carefully combined colours. The important thing here appears to me to be the musical vibration of colours and lines, the sumptuousness of the tones that create contrasting atmospheres. Here also, the oriental fascination of a Matisse helps us understand in reverse retrospect and savour the “luxury, calm and voluptuousness” of this distant, impertinent heir. The artist’s apprenticeship and influences in the contemporary art world—essentially American, which is itself marked by French “fauvist” art—have nurtured his taste for the interplay of colours and motifs of Iranian art. His familiarity with and in-depth knowledge of Iranian kilims, owing to the Nikzad family’s trading business, along with his studies and practice of textile art for over seven years, could probably also be invoked in the analysis of his artistic work. The collision of these two traditions, of western art and Persian culture—figuration versus abstraction, representation versus contemplation—undeniably goes a long way to explaining the singular and rather “unorthodox” nature of the painting by a Belgian artist of Iranian origin, who grew up in Belgium then studied art in the United States, before returning to live and work in Iran… May I also cite Ingres, one of David’s disciples and a master of neo-classicism who said that “drawing is the probity of art”, in order to suggest that far from breaking with this moral imperative, Farzin Nikzad’s drawing imposes on the western eye nothing less than a cultural reversal of perspective. By way of an anecdote, we can observe that his subjects are on occasion borrowed directly from history or are inspired by Persian scenes, which are sometimes very plainly western. The irony meted out here, a timely reminder to us that we are in the presence of a quality specific to Persian secular wisdom, operates as a counterpoint to Dadaist derision, which forms a dominant current in western contemporary art and which is in fact used to counteract the seriousness of the mystique of “art for art’s sake”.

In Farzin Nikzad’s screenprints and paintings alike, the background appears to dissolve or make the forms levitate. The technique could be evoked here, i.e. the brutal enlargement of the drafts, extracted from series, in a simplification lying somewhere between the romantic sketch and ready-made pop art. The artist’s training at an American Art School and his forays into the advertising and fashion illustration world have certainly left their mark in this respect. Warhol followed the same path, blurring the categories of genres and hierarchies of values between scholarly and popular art. Artists of Farzin Nikzad’s generation, whatever their origin, are now advancing with no qualms regarding the transgressions of this heresy, which has become commonplace in contemporary art.

Dictated in part probably by the artist’s atypical trajectory and situation, Farzin Nikzad’s ultimate aim is to produce works that have an immediate impact on the spectator through their seductive power, and at the same time induce a ludic reflection on the way in which the codes and values of global culture shape and structure our collective personality, irrespective of our cultural identity. The universal, pictorial language he uses and shares with the spectator is itself reminiscent of those of Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, Antoni Tapiès and David Tremlett, Cy Twombly and Keith Haring, to mention just a few—thereby demonstrating remarkable erudition—whilst his pictograms and logograms, found in his more recent works, can be understood as a sort of grammar or lexicon for use by the citizen of the contemporary world. Without however making any cosmopolitical demands, his paintings are nevertheless the pages of an almanac or cosmopolitan vade-mecum. We might care to remember here that cosmopolitanism as defined by Diogenes is based on cosmos (universe) and politês (citizen) to designate those whom we call “citizens of the world” and to express the notion that we can achieve universality through our individual nature, without having to renounce our uniqueness. Reminding ourselves that we are above all multiple before being different constitutes undeniably a most exciting and salutary programme, both for the artist and the citizen. It is remarkable that an artist such as Farzin Nikzad achieves this quite simply, without appearing to broach the issue—adding humour and light-heartedness into the bargain.

Daniel Vander Gucht (professor of sociology of the arts, publisher and member of the Committee for Visual Arts of the Belgian Ministry of Culture)
January 1996 - October 2010