By Corrie Parsonson
The U.S.-based British-Iranian artist Jason Noushin has a fondness for birds, Persian calligraphy and poetry. In his most recent works, he manages to combine the three, producing life-like birds covered with words. A brace – modelled in wire, paint, ink, plaster, barbed wire and encaustic – is currently part of a group show of Iranian art in London.
The Gerald Moore Gallery, located in Mottingham in the grounds of Eltham College, is a gallery with a growing reputation, and it is hosting an international exhibition featuring four Iranian-born artists (see details below). Jason’s sculptures (pictured) have crow’s bodies but human heads. They are inspired by Jason’s love of birds – a love that dates back to his encounter with a dying crow when he was a young boy in Tehran.
“One day, I came home from school and there was a little baby crow in our yard and he was near death. He’d been attacked by other crows. So I took this little guy and fed him, loved him and nurtured him and kept him in a little box,” says Jason during installation of his works on the first floor of the Gerald Moore Gallery. “And one day I went to school and on my return I found my little crow dead in the middle of the yard. He’d been pecked to death by other crows.”
“So I’ve always had a very soft spot for crows,” explains Jason.
Jason Noushin was born in Plymouth, England in 1969. When he was just three months old, he started what became a somewhat itinerant life. His parents sent him to Tehran to be raised by an aunt and his grandparents. When he was three, his younger brother Simon (now also a well-known Iranian sculptor) joined him in Tehran.
When the 1979 revolution started, “my brother and I left for a year and went to Paris with my grandmother. We only stayed a year, because my grandmother couldn’t stand being away from Iran, so we went back.”
“By this time the war with Iraq had just started, so we were stuck in limbo. Because we couldn’t go to school, we missed a whole year [of education].”
Jason plays down many of the frightening experiences he had as a 10- or 11-year-old in Tehran, including the arrest by the Revolutionary Guards of his aunt. “For kids, the drama doesn’t really count.” Yet he vividly remembers wading through shell casings after the Revolutionary Guards – for four to five hours non-stop – shot up a neighboring house sheltering members of the Mojahedeen-e-Khalgh. “We were on the way to school, back-packs on, but the guards ordered us back into our home. The only survivor in that ‘khaneh-teemi (team house)’ was a baby,” he recalls.
The brothers left Iran again in 1984, heading to France and then to London to live with their mother. There, “we had to go to language school to re-learn English.”
At the age of 20, Jason accepted a modelling contract in Japan, and stayed there for eight months. He then returned to Paris and briefly, to London.
“It was a bit of a nomadic life. I didn’t do any art. I was nightclubbing the whole time. Then I met my future wife in Paris. But she had to go back to Connecticut, so we moved to Connecticut and got married. We have three kids, so in 2008 I really had to make the decision to either give up my art or pursue it. I’ve now been working full-time as an artist these past two to three years, in which I’ve developed this ‘voice’.”
Jason’s sculptures are often ‘dressed’ in text. When Jason Noushin was seven or eight years old, the Iranian master calligrapher Reza Mafi (1943-1982) lived with his family in Tehran for six months. “He taught us how to write and taught us how to cut a reed pen. He was very patient with us, and really showed us the methods that he used to do his work.”
“The Hawk in the Rain” (2017), the white bird (on the left in the images reproduced here), is covered in calligraphy, Roman counters and English text. The title is a poem by his favorite poet, one of England’s greatest: Ted Hughes. “The calligraphy, which I never forgot, is a loose translation of the poem.”
The blue bird – “Hawk Roosting” – is inspired by another eponymously-titled Ted Hughes poem.
The birds are emblematic of Jason’s cross-cultural heritage. They also represent a traditional Iranian art form of essentially hybrid creatures – animal and human – that pre-dates Islam, going back as far as 3,000 B.C.
How did he come to work in sculpture?
“I do drawings of objects or, in this case, these strange birds, and then I try to imagine what they’re going to look like in a three-dimensional piece. It almost feels as if this is a drawing that I can pick up and hold, because the work that goes into it is very similar to the work that I do on paper,” Jason explains.
Not surprisingly, given his background, Jason has an abiding interest in geo-politics. Back in his Paris days, he put his calligraphy skills to work as a political graffiti artist. Politics is still an important element of his work: his 2009 “Uncommon Sense” exhibition scrutinized the horrors of war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992-95).
Jason Noushin’s work has shown, among others, at the deCordova Biennale in Massachusetts; the New Haven Museum in Connecticut; the Shirin Gallery (Art Miami), and the Seyhoun Gallery in Tehran.
His sculptures, drawings and paintings are on display in the group exhibition ‘The Ocean Can Be Yours,’ curated by Janet Rady, which runs until April 29 at the Gerald Moore Gallery. The other three featured artists are London-based Afsoon, Manchester-based Ghalamdar and Paris-based Katayoun Rouhi. The exhibition is open to the public on Saturdays until April 29, 10:00am to 4:00pm; or during the week, by appointment only: call +44 (0)20 8857 0448. Photographs & Video: Corrie Parsonson