“His is a unique visual language; through enlargement, repetition and contrast he imparts all his works with architectural strength but also decorative appeal.” – Rose Issa
Or VISUAL POETRY
Mohammed Ehsai is a master calligrapher, draughtsman and painter who melds Persian script, dense interlaced texts, graphic design and modernist abstraction. For more than five decades his principal subject matter has been the pure architecture of the Persian letterform, and hence creating visual poetry.
Born in 1939 in Qazvin, one of the old Safavid capitals of Iran, Ehsai went to Tehran University in 1966 to study fine art and traditional calligraphy. In 1971 he was given a teaching position there. As early as 1974 he began exhibiting in Tehran and Paris; this was a time when Iranian art and artists were catching the attention of the West. Ever since his work has appeared on an international stage.
His popular large-scale canvases, ‘Naghashi Khat’ (calligraphic paintings), often display brightly coloured letters on monochrome backgrounds. But the works seen here are two-tone, black-and-white compositions of words conflated into images, symbols and script. By toying with proportion and scale, they seek to convey the unique power that calligraphy has traditionally possessed.
There is a religious, mystical aspect to Ehsai’s work. It is clearly visible in his traditional, calligraphical works, often on a smaller scale, or on paper, as in his Allah series; or in large-scale ceramic commissions, like the ones that adorn the Iranian embassy in Abu Dhabi. But there is also a secular side: the modernist, twisting and sculpting of letters; such as the many versions of Mohhebat (Kindness), or Rain in the Wheat Field, phrases inspired by the poets Rumi, Hafez, Saadi or Khayyam.
Ehsai’s dynamic interpretation of the tradition of graphic arts, his improvisations with symmetrical and asymmetrical letters, his magnified and monumental text, his interwoven letters taking an illegible form – all celebrate the lyrical curvature of letters, intricate and simple at one and the same time.
His is a unique visual language; through enlargement, repetition and contrast he imparts all his works with architectural strength but also decorative appeal. In Ehsai’s skilled hands, language is a visually playful medium. He has few if any rivals in being able to combine total command of traditional calligraphy, the rhythms of the cursive Naskh as well as the Nasta’liq script, and dramatically arresting visual contrast. Thus he achieves a seamless transition between ancient and modern. Here, therefore, is an artist who has brought a new vision to lyrical Iranian art.
Rose Issa, London