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The Many Influences of Ali Banisadr

May 20, 2019 // by Caitlin Swindell

Perhaps best known for his Hieronymus Bosch-like panoramas, New York-based Iranian artist, Ali Banisadr creates paintings and works on paper that often incorporate several small figures, sometimes appearing as beasts and others rooted in mythological and historical sources. Working in bright colors and more recently a monochromatic palette, Banisadr explores history and imagination as well as order and disorder. Below is a Q&A with Ali Banisadr that addresses his many influences. 

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Photo by Julia Niebuhr. Image courtesy of Ali Banisadr.

Tell us about your interest in art history as there are many references to Modern art, Renaissance art, early Dutch painting, and Persian miniatures in your work. 

I am fascinated by art history and always discovering new art that relates to my work-be it ancient or contemporary.  So much inspiration comes from 15th/16th century Persian Miniature paintings, Early Dutch paintings, such as Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel, The Renaissance Venetian painters for their use of color and paint handling, and Velazquez for the way he was able to understand the way we see and how paint can explore that on the canvas.

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© ALI BANISADR, Coercion, 2012. Oil on linen, 48 x 60 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Sperone Westwater, New York.
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Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights Triptych, ca. 1500. Grisaille, oil on oak panel. Permanent loan to the Museo del Prado from the Patrimonio Nacional, belonging to the Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial. Public Domain.

How does your experience as a refugee from the Iran-Iraq war inform your earlier paintings up until your most recent work?

I think the hybridity in my work comes from living in two different worlds.  My childhood was spent in Iran during the revolution and war and then when I was twelve I moved to the U.S.  Having such a range of experiences and cultural influences at such a young age broadened my idea of the world and the people and places held within it.  I still like to explore that idea of the vast and endless range of people, places, and things that exist in my work today.

When did you realize you had synesthesia and how does your auditory memory affect your painting?

When I was a child in Iran and the eight years' war was going on, I would make drawings based on the sound and vibration of the explosions that I was hearing to try to make sense of what was happening around me. I did not think much of this then but as I got older I started to realize that there was always this parallel visual world when I was hearing sounds or reading. I then realized that this also worked in reverse, when I would look at visual works, I would hear a sound. I wasn't aware that there was a term for it until later when I read Kandinsky's influential book "Concerning the Spiritual in Art."

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Installation view of Micro-Macro: Andrew Sendor and Ali Banisadr, MOCA Jacksonville, February 2, 2019 - July 28, 2019. Photo by Doug Eng.

There is a theatrical component to both your paintings and Andrew's.  How is this theme realized in your work?

I see myself as a theater director when I am painting - first I create the stage, and then the figures start showing up in their costumes and masks. They start to find a dialogue with each other and a story is hopefully created in the viewers' imagination. Some of these figures keep reappearing in the next paintings, and sometimes they are in the background of one and get a more prominent role in the next painting. I see it as a collaboration, since I am in the studio working alone for long hours, they become my peers and together we create an orchestra.

Ali Banisadr's exquisite works can be seen in the exhibition Micro-Macro: Andrew Sendor and Ali Banisadr, which is on view in the third-floor galleries through July 28.  

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