Yari Ostovany is an Iranian-American abstract artist who moved from Iran to the U.S. at the age of 16. His works have been exhibited extensively in the U.S. and internationally, and are in the collections of institutions including the New Britain Museum of American Art in New Britain, Connecticut; the Pasargad Bank Museum in Tehran; and the Reno Art Department at the University of Nevada.
Kayhan Life had an opportunity to speak to Yari Ostovany on the opening night of his solo exhibition in Los Angeles, which ended recently at the Rebecca Molayem Gallery.
Q: Why did you decide on this particular gallery and how long have you known Rebecca Molayem? Have you worked with her before and what is the best way to exhibit your paintings?
A: Paintings have a presence that needs to be experienced in person, the energy and the presence of a painting does not fully come through in a reproduction. Because of that, I favor showing work through traditional venues such as galleries and museums.
I became acquainted with Rebecca and the Rebecca Molayem Gallery about three years ago, following her work online. I approached her a couple of years ago and we started planning this show then. I simply liked the space and thought that it would fit my work well.
Q: You are an Iranian artist but the type of art you practice has a universal appeal. Was this by choice?
A: Living in the space between two cultures, I have always been interested in investigating the nomadic in-between spaces: between emergence and disappearance, between the solid and the void. I have been interested in the mechanics of a symbiotic relationship between Persian and Western art — the former being my innate orientation and the latter the tradition in which I have been trained. My interest has been not so much in a synthesis of styles but rather in an epistemological approach: to dismantle those visual vocabularies to their most bare and abstract cultural elements and sensibilities, using this as a point of departure and moving more and more towards a terrain that lies in between the musical and the architectural. So the trajectories in contemporary painting in which my work belongs range from Abstract Expressionism in the West to Persian and Taoist/Zen aesthetic sensibilities in the east.
Q: How often do you visit Iran and how supportive are Iranians of your art? Can you tell us about your background?
A: I have always been close to my roots. Throughout all these years away from Iran, I have followed the arts and culture there (to the extent that I can from afar). I am familiar with many artists there and in the past few years have become active in the art scene in Iran with three group shows and two solo shows in Tehran.
I was born and raised in Tehran. I moved to the United States at the age of 16 and pursued my studies in art first at the University of Nevada in Reno, and then at the San Francisco Art Institute where I received my MFA in 1995
Q: What attracted you to abstract art and as a creative person do you practice any other form of art?
A: My work was figurative and surrealist at first, very much influenced by Giorgio de Chirico and to a lesser extent Max Ernst. Over time the figures started to become looser and freer – more expressionistic – and then moved towards becoming dense, brightly pigmented silhouetted figures set against a freely painted background. Then what was happening in the background started to interest me more and started pulling me in, and that’s how I eventually moved away from figurative painting.
Although I have dabbled in printmaking and sculpture, as an artist I am focused on and dedicated to painting.
Q: Iranian artists and art from Iran has been in fashion now for some time. What is your take on it?
A: I find it to be a double-edged sword. Pandering to the prevalent (and demeaning in my opinion) neo-Orientalism in the art world today fueled by the voracious appetite of the nouveau riche to be recognized as culturally minded has distorted the art scene terribly. Although through all of this some Iranian artists have deservedly risen to international prominence, others have been pandering to and riding this neo-Orientalist wave. Many young artists try to copy the type of works that sell at these auctions instead of developing their own visual language. I think once the dust settles we’ll find that it has hurt Iranian art more than helped it.
Q: Who are the artists you admire? If money was not an object which artist’s piece would you like to own and why
A: They are truly too numerous to mention. What draws me in is always the poetic outlook and sensibility; be it in the works of Gerhard Richter and Bill Viola or those of Antoni Tapies and Eduardo Chillida.
If money was not an object which artist’s piece would I like to own and why … that’s a difficult question to answer. I love Francis Bacon’s work but I wouldn’t want to live with it.
Some of the pieces that I would choose to live with would probably be Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine,” Fra Angelico’s “The Annunciation” or one of Gerhard Richter’s gloriously enormous abstract paintings
Q: What are your next projects/shows?
A: Concurrent with this exhibition my work is in shows at the Sloan Myasato Fine Art in San Francisco, Saint Peter’s Church in New York City and the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art. Upcoming shows include solo shows in San Francisco, Point Reyes Station and Washington, D.C. I will also be the artist in residence at Chateau d’Orquevaux in France for the month of November.