Appearances can be deceiving, as Iranian-born artist Iman Raad’s latest exhibition Tongue Tied demonstrates. At first glance soaked in vivid colour, a second look reveals scenes of an altogether darker nature. We spoke to the now Brooklyn-based artist to unlock the secrets behind the mysterious set of works.
Where are you at the moment and what are you working on?
My life-and-work partner and I just moved in NYC after four years of living in New Haven, Connecticut, where she got her MFA in Sculpture and I got my MFA in Painting and Printmaking from Yale School of Art. At the moment, we are arranging our new live-work space in Brooklyn and are eager to start our work in this fresh environment. We moved to the US in 2013 from Tehran, Iran. I have a BE in Mechanical Engineering, but I’ve barely touched any engineering tool in my whole life. I used to run my own small graphic design studio, as a self-taught designer in Tehran. My design works have been always on the edge of design and art though. Despite my background in graphic design in my home country, immigration gives me the opportunity to refresh my knowledge and career towards art, so I went to Yale School of Art to study painting and have been focused on painting since then, however, my work is fluid between disciplines and I’ve been always organically resistant to classification.
Tell us about your latest exhibition Tongue Tied and the ideas that surround it.
In spring of 2017, I gathered a variety of works that I had made in 2016 in an exhibition at Sargent’s Daughters Gallery in New York, all under an umbrella of one single title: _Tongue Tied_. The show included a series of 9 x 12 inch egg-tempera paintings, lying down on their individual narrow shelves. White bowls with red roses decoration, fruits -mostly oranges, candles on a table covered with tablecloth with fruits pattern in front of ornamental wallpaper. Paintings represent a moment of disturbance to reality. I create this disturbance through wrong perspective, disordering physical rules, image replication inspired by digital glitch on screens as well as representing momentary events as threshold of a crisis. In this paintings objects and fruits appear to be self-conscious animate things. I also included a large marker drawing on paper in the show. This drawing represents a complex interplay of ornamental tablecloth, wallpaper and carpet interrupted by long rows of overlapping birds move across the painting. The work narrates a moment of confrontation between different sorts of order and disturbances in an unknown yet familiar environment that is getting occupied by flock of birds.
Two 3D works were part of the exhibition. One includes two acrylic paintings on raw canvas, eight marker drawings on paper, two acrylic paintings on artificial plants, dyed found fabrics and decorated wood sticks. The painting on the front side representing a pink flower and the back painting representing a colony on Mars.
My installations appear like a collection of unrelated pieces, but reading them together would suggest a narrative of the whole.
Also, a mural I made inside the gallery that presents a collection of paintings and colourful ornamentation that is influenced by South Asia Truck Paintings.
Despite the oppressively bright colours which define the visual works in Tongue Tied, it’s easy to spot mythical, mystical symbols; devils, eyes, fire. Can you tell us more about where those came from?
My research interests have been recently around communication structure between believers and images, objects or places that are made, owned or collect together in association with their belief. I’ve been thinking how an artist can generate feeling of belief, or how an artist can face you to an unknown belief from, maybe, an unknown far future of human, to suggest a moment of doubt and uncertainty in your everyday normals and to shake safe bases of our thoughts.
Murals transforming the space through high impact of bright primary and secondary colours and variety of mysterious and humorous images and ornamentation seducing people with beats of detailed patterns. Primitivity of visual language, marks and material in my work push back the barriers of mastery and proficiency and face viewers more of raw imagery. Under this charming ornament is a thorny bush presenting our insane brutal world, our failures of hopes, our disease and disasters, and our weakness and pitifulness.
My work presents a contradictory combination of beauty and fear to may generate mixed feeling of pleasure and pain.
Some aspects come from my interest in psychology and notion of reality. My work addresses humankind’s anxieties about existence by staging a traumatic scene of a disturbance in reality. This rupture occurs through displacement of objects and interruption of perspectival and physical order. My paintings often explores the subjectivity of “being” through non human subjects including self-conscious animals, fruits, objects or imaginary creatures. In one body of work, fruits become animate; in another, birds are self aware and take the place of humans. My work insist on orders and disturb that itself to reveal our very selves we have lost in different sort of social and psychological structures. Digital glitch, which causes replication of digital images in the screen, has also informed my way of thinking about the role of a subject in a composition. Condensed repetitions in my paintings create lines of image-of-objects rather than representing concrete physical objects, effecting a sudden malfunction of perception of physical reality. And it goes without saying that humour is always present in my work!
Where did you look for new ideas?
I remind myself that studio practice evolves the idea, not to focus on idea itself. In cases that I have no deadline, I start to draw with a simple subject matter, for days without pressure. And I read. In cases that I’m under time pressure, I’m usually useless and just trust my destiny with hope of last-minute breakthrough.