AN INTERVIEW WITH PAINTER ALIJAN ALIJAN
Edited for clarity and partially translated from Farsi
Waif Magazine: How did you become a painter?
Alijan Alijanpour: When I was a child, about 6 or 7 years old, I saw two painters in my village, a Provence north of Iran. All of the people there were fishers or farmers. Two painters came from the Capital Tehran and came to my village and saw that everything was beautiful and natural and they painted on a boat. When I was a child I saw the boat and I thought it was very beautiful. I thought, “maybe this is God’s gift to me,” I don't know, but when I was 7 years old I was painting with my soul… No books no color… only by charcoal on the wall and on the floor. My dad was a farmer and a fisher and didn't know art or anything else. When I was 9 years old I was painting on glass and on cars. People saw and thought it was very beautiful. When I came to Tehran, my uncle helped me because when i was 3 years old my mother died, I was studying in high school and I painted by myself. I never had a master or classes, only God helping me and in my inside I felt there was art working, working, non- stop. After 25 years my artwork was going to shows and exhibitions in Iran. After the revolution in Iran, after the new government came to Iran, I never stopped working, working for 21 years. Now I’ve been in Canada for 20 years. 2 or 3 years before coming to Canada, my artwork went to contemporary museums in Iran and China. When I came to Canada my artwork was hung in the Parliament building.
WM: Did you leave Iran because of the revolution?
AA: The revolution was 40 years ago, I came to Canada 20 years ago. The revolution actually helped my work become more successful.
WM: Do you feel your art is traditionally Iranian or is it contemporary? Is it considered classical or modern art?
AA: Both of them. Modern classical and miniatures*. My miniatures are new artwork not old artwork. After the revolution I had a lot of exhibitions inside Iran and outside Iran.
WM: I’m so interested in the black and white drawings
AA: Oh, United Couple. This artwork is art concept. No man is better than woman, No woman is better than man. Two people are one person. Man and Woman are one person. Kissing, dancing, flying and harmony. It’s talking about the human. You have to love. Love is life, life is good for all the people. Everything in the simple lines with the United Couple, you can see all the feelings.
WM: What is it like to draw the United Couples? Is it very quick, do they flow out of you?
AA: Actually, The United Couple, 18 years ago, I said in my mind, “Ok Alijan, can you be unified with the world under your name?” I started to see all these photographs, all these movies, from dancing to kissing. One by one, I asked, “What is this patinage? What is this tango?” I felt an explosion in my insides. After that I explored the explosion and catching it on paper. God tells me “Alijan, start it.’ When i start the line, it’s very hard work. Sometimes I have to pick up my brush! The brush is going off and the brush stops in my hand. Around 3-and-a-half-years ago, I finished this project for a show in Quebec and they got all the pictures. France, Italy, Russia…Every country says “Alijan, this is very beautiful.” Dancers and people from dance classes ask, “Can we use this as a logo for the dance company?” Amazing, very amazing. Some people published a book and used this design on the cover.
WM: The United Couples feel so simple. But your other work, the miniatures, are so complex, so colorful and vivid, and seem often to be honoring women. Can you tell me about the process of the miniatures?
AA: The woman, inside my wisdom, is very, very powerful for sure. I don't know why I paint when I start, only I see the woman and the woman for me is a very good person. Actually, i don't know, maybe because when I was 3 years old my mother was dead. All my students are women, all the students, for 40 years. I’m proud of my artwork that is made from the woman, the prestige in my artwork comes from the woman. The miniature is very hard work. Sometimes by acrylic, sometimes by water color, sometimes by Gouache. Everything in my mind is suddenly brush and color coming on the board. My mind is woman, woman is there; modern. Woman is there; angel. Woman is there; holding a baby. The woman is very nice for me, every time. Woman is sacred.
"My artwork is art concept, my artwork is not for decoration, my artwork is philosophy."
"The history of my art work is: Who am I? Why did I come to the world when I came in the world? What can I do?"
WM: Why do you think so many woman have been your students? do you think men have a fear or resistance of being artists? How is that for you, a man?
AA: All the people coming in my gallery are woman. maybe 5 or 6 men in 40 years came to my gallery. I don't know, I don't know my dear. Maybe God chose me, Alijan, you have to learn to teach only women. The Men that have been my students have never been good students. The Women have been more in tune with their emotions so they can access that power and put it in their art.
WM: What about for you? How do you stay in touch with your emotions in order to continue creating art?
AA: I don’t know, I don't know, it may be something coming from the universe, coming from God. I cannot explain how. Because i didn't have a master or go to art classes. Actually at this time, I think about that, at this time my age is 63 years. When I was thinking about this, I thought ‘Ok Alijan, you are not an artist, God gave you this gift and God tells you how can you design in the world, on the canvas.’ It’s coming coming coming. But my feel is: It is coming from God. If God gives to you, you have to give to people. My artwork is art concept, my artwork is not for decoration, my artwork is philosophy.
WM: Do your paintings tell a story?
AA: Of course. The history of my art work is: Who am I? Why did I come to the world? When i came in the world, what can I do? At this time I can say to you my dear, If you don't come in my gallery, I'm dead. Not for food. My song is dead, my art is dead. Everything, everything, when I issue it in my art work is for people, for everybody. Why do students come in my gallery? Because the student is teaching me. Not one ways, two ways.
WM: I want to ask you about a specific painting, “Mother,” can you tell me about it?
AA: When I was a child, 5 years old, I was speaking to myself, you know how children sit at the corner and speak to themselves. I told my mom, “Mom, if I one day become a big artist, my perfect art, my beautiful art, my famous art, will be for you.” When I had an exhibition in China a woman saw “Mother” and started crying. In Canada, a woman saw “Mother “and she was crying. In the US it’s true. in Greece its true. All my inside feelings I transfer to this painting. One night I had a dream of my mother, I was craving that love. My wife helped me to provide me that love. When I was working on the painting she would constantly check on me and let me know her opinions.
WM: Your wife is involved in your work?
AA: My wife has non-stop helped me every time. She gave me good energy. Because I am alone. It was always a presence that my mother was gone after she passed. When I got married my wife has always been by my side and has always taken care of me and helped fill the void.
WM: That makes sense that woman have been such a huge part of your life and your work in their presence or not. I have one more question for you. If you could encourage the world to continue to buy paintings and to continue to care deeply about physical artwork what would you say?
AA: There are a few things. The relationship is two sided. It’s not just the person who buys the artwork but the person who's creating. It fills both people up: The person who's creating because they're creating, he creates for other people because this is his gift he wants to give other people some of that light. To have someone receiving that is an important part of the process. For the other person it’s not just about making their home look better or more aesthetic, it’s deeper than that. He wants his paintings to either bring some sort of realization or peace to the person who's witnessing them, to add poetry to their lives and to their day to day. ♦