Whitehot Magazine

Interview with Ali Banisadr

Ali Banisadr, The Messenger, 2021. Oil on Linen, 72 x 160 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Kasmin Gallery

These Specks of Dust: Ali Banisadr

Kasmin Gallery

May 6 through June 26, 2021

By LARA PAN, June 2021 

These Specks of Dust, an exhibition that I visited at the Kasmin Gallery, is perhaps one of the most complex exhibitions of the Iranian-American artist Ali Banisadr. For more than a decade I’ve been following this artist’s work and the evolution of maybe one of the most talented painters and thinkers that I’ve had the privilege to meet and collaborate with. His very unusual and synesthetic connection of sound and visual imagery has a mystical and harmonious presence in this exhibition, providing a rare sensory experience that invites the viewer into a guided and meditative experience. 

What is actually meant by experience? Is the illusive nature of the specter of reality less real or actual than the safe haven of the cogito? Or should we say that the dreams (and dreamlike states) are actually full of meaning, and that the legitimacy of conscious experience is where the paradox lies? In this interview, Banisadr provides answers that explore his creative process so that the reader can follow and investigate the subjects of his paintings more deeply. The artist in this exhibition renders glimpses into prophetic and unknown realms, providing an experience that could be transformative, and certainly not forgotten.

LARA PAN: Ali Banisadr’s exhibition titled, These Specks of Dust, was inspired by a series of Goya etchings from 1799, Los caprichos. Can you tell me about your close relationship with Goya’s work? 

ALI BANISADR: I think Goya is one of those artists which I feel a deep connection with because of the fact that he was an observer of human folly and he made comments about human behavior in such a profound way. I think growing up in a chaotic time where I witnessed and experienced revolution and war has made me see the world in a different way. I have perhaps witnessed the dark side of humanity and can identify with someone like Goya.  

LP: With Los caprichos, Goya was making an experiment as well as a scathing critique of Spanish society at that time. But I think it was more than that. Consider, for example, plate 43, “El sueño de la razón produce monstruos” (The sleep of reason produces monsters). This plate depicts the artist lying asleep with his head on the desk while various visions and dreams of owls, bats, and giant cats swirl around him and over his head. The inscription accompanying the etching reads, “The artist dreaming.” What is your interpretation and understanding of Los caprichos?  

AB: I think Goya is saying We are all caught up in our own madness. 

Ali Banisadr, The Prophet, 2020. Oil on Linen, 66 x 88 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Kasmin Gallery

LP: I know the titles of your paintings are not merely incidental. They indicate a special relationship with a hidden narrative. Before I ask you about few titles, I would love to hear about the narratives that you source from mythology, history, philosophy, and science. It seems to me that you treat a narrative similarly to how composer constructs a symphony. 

AB: I am a collector of stories, symbols, myths, archetypes, dream symbols, etc. I do a lot of research with each painting and try to remember visual things which speak to me, or imagery which I get from reading, Personal matter, my environment, the state of the world, etc, so when I am in front of the painting, I can access this headspace whenever I need to and also to let it unfold in the way my imagination’s algorithm functions. So, the fragmented narrative in the paintings, are the synthesis of all of this, Similar to a way an Epic poem is constructed. Although in my position this narrative of course is visual and it is not alluding to a single existing story but it begs for the viewer to create a story in their own imagination.

LP: A while ago you said in an interview to David Anfam that sound always was an important component of the inspiration for your work, and that you like to use sound as a starting point in the early stages of the creative process. Does this remain true for you today?  

AB: Sound has a parallel function as I am painting, every shape, color, line, texture has notes of sounds, the figures in the paintings also have sounds. It is always there as I am painting, guiding my hand to know where it should go and the choices which should be made are calculated in sounds. It is there through the entire stage of making the paintings, once the painting is finished, there is a harmonious symphony, the painting has been activated. 

LP: In your latest interview, you also spoke about synesthesia, specifically about how you can turn sonic input into visual input and vice versa. You also spoke about the possibility of seeing parallel visual worlds through writing. I too sense those possibilities when I read or see a work that contains hidden narratives, and I sense that you are an artist whose work does just that. Tell me more about your experience with the creative process and synesthesia. 

AB: Literature makes you remember things, even though they might not be from your own personal memory, they open up the door to the collective memory and I find this space very interesting. When I am reading a good novel or poem, I feel like this parallel world starts to move and the words on the page become like notes of music and you forget you are looking at a book, there is a metamorphosis. Kafka said that you read books so it can be an axe to the frozen sea within us, this can also be applied to paintings. 

LP: One of my favorite painters is Leonora Carrington. She said that creative essence and ultimately what you put on the canvas—that this energy comes from somewhere else. Does it ever feel like your paintings are the products of an alternate state, such as in meditation or hypnosis?

AB: One of my favorite works of Leonora Carrington has always been “Map of the Human Animal”, I love the way she is able to show the Micro and the Macro from the universal to the individual, I do not believe that I exist only within the borders of my own body. I don’t think I have an answer for where these things come from, there are things which we don’t rationally understand, perhaps that is why I paint them we are just fragments trying to find our other parts in the world, not too different than the legendary story of Simorgh. 

Ali Banisadr, He who saw the deep, 2021. Oil on Linen, 16 x 20 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Kasmin Gallery

LP: The more one looks at your work, the more we have an experience that is marked by a feeling of connection, of limitlessness, but there is somehow also a strange yet controlled order of things. Can you describe in more detail this relationship in your work between order and disorder? Your extremely skilled brush movement is like a sound vibration, but a controlled one. What are your thoughts on this comparison? 

AB: Nature itself is a controlled chaos. In painting, you have to understand and think like paint, it has its own laws. The paintings are ordered disorders. 

LP: I want to go back to question three about the titles of your paintings. In this series, “The Messenger,” “Red,” “The Healers,” “Only Breath”—some of those titles are inspired by different sources, but ultimately they unite to form a singular vision; they become prophetic almost, like a message from the future delivered to the present. Do you choose the work’s title before you begin, during the process, or once you’ve finished?  

AB: Dante said Diviners see the future, Prophets see the present and make commentary about the present. I am trying to see the present, in present moment, there might be signs and symbols floating in the air which contain the seed of something that may Manifest in the future. The titles of my work function in the same manner, the titles have to contain within them everything that I am thinking about in the duration of making the paintings. WM

Lara Pan

Lara Pan is an independent curator,writer and researcher based in New York. Her research focuses on the intersection between art, science, technology and paranormal phenomena.

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