Born 1937 in Tehran, Iran. Lives and works in Vancouver, Canada and Tehran.
From 1960 on, Parviz Tanavoli became a pioneering figure in contemporary Iranian art, revisiting Persian traditions and modern sculpture. While he was studying art in Tehran in the mid-1950s, the Iranian government’s cultural policy was opening to Western practices, at the same time as encouraging the development of national and traditional arts. This led Tanavoli to study sculpture in Milan at the end of the 1950s and teach for two and a half years in Minneapolis in the early 1960s. Returning to Tehran and reflecting on the modernisation of Iranian art, his studio soon transformed into a hub for exhibitions and collective reflection. Gathering artists and poets, his studio, Atelier Kaboud, was the fertile ground for the formation of the Saqqakhaneh School. The most influential avant-garde movement in 1960s Iran, the Saqqakhaneh School developed a visual language drawing on popular culture and its symbols, re-appropriating traditions with a modernist stance.
Parviz Tanavoli’s practice, developed throughout the 1960s and 1970s, is characterised by the modern incorporation of traditional techniques, notably everyday handicrafts found in the blacksmiths, foundries and pottery workshops of Tehran, and traditional subjects such as popular love stories as depicted in Persian poetry. Recurrent in his works are motifs taken from religious folk art, especially the saqqakhaneh, a votive fountain protected by metal grills. The Poet and the Beloved of the King 1964–6 is a striking example of Tanavoli’s re-appropriation of the evocative grill element, but extracted from its original significance by applying it to robot-like figures made out of brightly coloured, pop-inspired material. Revisiting poetic traditional love stories, his series of screenprints celebrates idiomatic Persian myths and symbols through a resolutely modernist visual language. Many of his works pay tribute to the legendary love story of Farhad, the only sculptor mentioned in classical Persian poetry, who challenged the Sassanian King Khosrow Parviz (r. 590 to 628), his rival for the hand of the beloved princess Shirin. Tanavoli reinterprets, throughout his works, this poetic legend as well as icons found in Shiite folk art, such as the cage, the lion, the lock and the bird, using geometric forms and new mediums.
Tanavoli's work has been auctioned around the world leading to overall sales of over $6.7 million, making him the most expensive living Iranian artist.
Critically acclaimed and widely acknowledged as the “father of modern Iranian sculpture,” Tanavoli’s trajectory has spanned east and west as he has innovated ambitiously across media. Best known as a sculptor, his expansive oeuvre also includes painting, printmaking, ceramics, rugs, and jewelry. As well, he is a highly regarded collector, scholar, and poet. This exhibition shares the breadth and richness of his work from the 1960s to the present.
Based in Tehran and Vancouver, Tanavoli (b.1937) was a leading influence among a generation defined by its commitment to artistic practices that are both modern and distinctly Iranian. Over decades, he has refined a complex system of symbols and motifs into a distinctive visual lexicon, fusing Persian traditions with pop sensibility. As well, his work entwines profound sensitivity to language, formal clarity, and conceptual engagement into a forcefully original artistic practice.