“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
(George Bernard Shaw)
I was a nine-year-old child when I began to paint on the wall of my room like a cave artist depicting the Hall of the Bulls on the cave walls at Lascaux. Occasionally, the adults would come to my room to analyze my art and attempt to decipher my vital experiences. I was not pleased about this because, as Antoine de Saint-Exupery said, “Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.” Their analyses belittled and kept the truth from my art. They closed the door to the affection in my innocent heart as if it were an enemy–all of them except for my father who was a poem life wrote on my heart. Through his eyes, I saw myself as an artist of masterpieces. Because of him I studied art, music, play, philosophy, and drama, which have made me the artist I am today.
As an Iranian, the first philosopher who touched my soul was Omar Khayyam who discussed crucial questions of existence in his Rubaiyat:
“Some in deep thought spirit seek
Some lost in awe of doubt reek
I fear the voice, hidden but not weak
Cry out ‘awake! Both ways are oblique.’”
As he indicates, it is beyond our control to be born, and death is an inevitable fate for everyone. What matters is focusing on each moment of our lives, as we are infinitesimally changed by every moment we experience, although our fingers spin the thread for the raiment that we shall never wear; this is the beauty of life and the secret of existence. As an artist who is always concerned about existence, my paintings started with a sense of yearning to see beauty and order around me. A Girl with Persian Goat (1990) had harmony in its color, classical symmetry and balance in its composition. I started painting by utilizing the brush tools, but that did not satisfy my feelings.
As a long-time playwright student, Descartes’ principle that is “I think, therefore I am” was on my mind and was a soul-debating subject. This dualism guided me to create paintings that forced my audience to think. At that time my bible was Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which taught me how to think and act like a child; it gave me an innocent existence in which I was ready to prove myself through experiences. I needed to lay the foundation of the future by having authentic, pure values and throwing away all hypocritically virtues. My first painting with this belief was The House in Nowhere (1995), which depicted a house built on no land with more achromatic color and less light. The last one with this belief was The Pregnant of Spring (2000), which was full of chromatic color and motions. At this point, I was still forcing my hand to be a friend of the brushes.
While I was a graduate student at Tehran Art University, Professor Farzan Sojoodi opened the door of modern literature critique for me, which was a wonderful way of thinking, observing, and perceiving art and literature. The structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure explained that a sign is composed of the “signifier” and the “signified.” I looked back at my paintings and realized I was not a signifier of my signs, and I had not bestowed ultimate meanings to my paintings. I said goodbye to the brush and began using a palette knife, creating thick textures and jubilant colors for catching eyes, and only then did I see my true feelings on the canvas.
Today, when I finish a painting and somebody asks me, “What is the story behind it?” my response is,”What is your story about it?” My paintings are my life experiences and have heartbreaking stories, but I have created positive results from negative events in my life, such as The Spirit of Him (2009), The Woman Tree (2010), and Chair (2011).
After receiving my first master’s degree in drama from the Tehran Art University in 2000, I published my dissertation as a book entitled Bayzaei’s Grammar and won the eighth-cycle Student of the Year award in the field of art in 2001. I went on to teach the applied arts of acting, speech, and public speaking techniques at Ferdosi Teacher Education College in Iran.
When I became a graduate student again at Trinity College in Hartford, I developed an interest in attempting to understand the integration of American history and art. Attaining my master’s degree in American studies allowed me to understand the history and culture of the United States. For my final project, I researched and produced three paintings to link the city of Hartford to specific human rights issues: Freedom (2014) connected Harriet Beecher Stowe to President Obama, Equality (2014) linked the state capitol to the equality of marriage act that made Connecticut the third state in the nation to pass a law allowing same-sex marriage, and Justice (2014) focused on the welcome that U.S universities and colleges give–or sometimes do not give–to immigrant students and students of diverse backgrounds.
My thesis for the master’s program in humanities and social thought at New York University explored the emergence of modernity in modern Iranian literature and its impact on visual art with a discussion of the intellectuals of the socialist-nationalist movement who became trapped in Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979, and how Iranian revolution undesirably strayed toward the Islamic one.
Therefore, all my paintings include drama, politic, and poetry. I believe the prophetic mission of an artist is to discover the truth and reveal it, even though someone who seeks truth and proclaims it to others is bound to suffer. The people who listen to the truth of life are not inferior to those who reveal it. My ears are open, and my hands are alive. Through painting, I keep pace with the earth and its soul, which helps me bind myself to myself, and others.
About Tea Haunt Canvas
“Parvin! Would you make some tea so we can have it together?” my dad would ask. Since I was a child, I heard this request a few times every day. It was a delight for me, having tea with my dad. It gave us time to talk and understand each other. The steam of Persian tea told us how good it would be if love were reciprocal. Opening our eyes and starting the day by the sweet smell of fresh tea was normal during my childhood. Brewing Persian tea with a samovar machine meant family time for chatting, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company. Tea time was also a relaxing time that allowed us to finish a difficult day behind closed doors. For me, painting and smelling tea have been connected like a bird and flight, and I like to share it with others because:
Somebody “introduced me to the sun.”
Somebody “took me to the gathering of doves.”
Somebody “taught me, Keep the flight in mind – the bird may die.”
I am delighted to tell stories through my paintings, like a poet who takes pleasure in reciting his best poem. We have forgotten–or so we tell ourselves–the philosophy of art, which means to yearn for the spirit’s freedom that would teach man to rejoice with his neighbor at the light of the sun and the warmth of a cup of fresh tea. I believe that painting teaches me about my own creative expressions–from the past and present. When I think of illusion in connection with an image in one of my paintings, I usually assume that image is true to life. Painting enables me to become a better person, gives me a window into my thoughts and emotions, and, consequently, exalts my spirit.
I look forward to sharing the unspoken, the experience of truth, and the roots of freedom, which are entwined in the silent heart of the painting. Today we are carried along the current of modern civilization, so please accept my hand for reconciling Tea, Haunt, and Canvas.
–Parvin Pooya earned an MA in drama at Tehran Art University (2000), an MA in American Studies with an honor in graduate scholarship at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut (2014), and an MA in the field of humanities and social thought/ the art world with a scholarship from the John W. Draper Interdisciplinary Master’s Program at New York University (2017).