“The unique mixture of his rather contradictory qualities induced him towards yet another style of painting where he works the traditional curves of alphabetical characters in a highly controlled manner…” – Behzad Hatam
Old Persia experienced a petit renaissance in the 16th century during the reign of the Safavid kings. Under the Safavids who were the first native dynasty ruling Iran after the conquest of Islam in the 7th century, Iranian arts and crafts flourished and reached a glittering zenith. Calligraphy saw great masters and especially important achievements in the improvement of ‘Nasta’liq’, a purely Iranian script.
During the centuries that followed the fall of the Safavid Empire under another foreign invasion, Iranian cultural life declined and the elegant artistic aesthetics of the Safavid era either faded or later gave way to the less cultivated Qajar aesthetics. Calligraphers were among the exceptions who could improve their craft during the long reign of the Qajar dynasty, due to their self-reliant art which could be practiced with no link to culture or the outside world. Those links are essential for the evolution of aesthetics which could not be improved and updated then.
When approximately at the dawn of the 20th century a new era began in Iran, writers and poets, painters and musicians were led by culture to slowly harmonize their steps with the beats of the modern times and update their aesthetical view. Calligraphers, a traditional class, remained among carpet weavers, wood carvers, metal engravers and other artisans and they either never came up with new aesthetics or, just like carpet weavers, lost their traditional taste and craft in their attempts to modernize their product.
Since the 1960s some Iranian painters like Charles Hossein Zenderoudi or Faramarz Pilaram used letters or scripts in their works and created artistic images of differing values; but the calligraphers who later tried to create paintings with calligraphic elements ended up with kitsch.
Then one day in the early 1970’s in an exhibition at a gallery in Tehran we faced a series of masterly produced enchanting images where the traditional calligraphy had met with cultivated modern aesthetics. They were the reward of a decade-long efforts of their creator Mohammad Ehsaei, a truly traditional calligrapher with a complete knowledge and mastery of his art who is also a modern artist with equal knowledge of world art. His frames in that exhibition were variations on the word ‘Allah’ executed by elaborate calligraphic gestures and not with a calligraphic reed pen but rather painted in an abstract expressionist style with wide brushes soaked in various colours; action and spontaneity were embraced in the movements of an extremely trained hand that had developed an instinctive control.
Ehsaei continued the series over the decades which he named Eternal Alphabet. But he is also a professional graphic designer with modern taste and has also been a university professor of graphic art and typography. The unique mixture of his rather contradictory qualities induced him towards yet another style of painting where he works the traditional curves of alphabetical characters in a highly controlled manner and with a fresh – often Pop – pallet to create paintings which communicate with another modern aesthetic language based on traditional elements.
Nonetheless the calligrapher-cum-painter-cum-graphic designer who has created numerous logos and calligraphic emblems for different institutions, embraces his impulse for creating pure graphic images with his individual style and material. This booklet is dedicated to a number of images from this latter domain.
Through the artworks presented on these pages the different approaches of the artist are revealed. Some of the images show free movements where forms seem to fly while a few others demonstrate highly restrained forms composed around a sophisticated structure; some are poetic, some gay and some present the strikingly power and solidity of a logo.
Calligraphic or not, more than any classical calligraphic piece these would reveal the slightest flaw. But our artist is a master who has won the seven- year challenge of executing a complete Diwan of the great Iranian poet Hafez followed by a ten-year painstaking task of executing an innovatively calligraphed Quran. We may only appreciate our being contemporaneous with him.