Fondation Behnam-Bakhtiar visits Yari Ostovany at his New York studio to discuss his new works and upcoming projects in the coming year.
Tell us about your artistic career and how long have you been painting for?
I have been painting for more than 30 years. I took my first serious art class at the University of Tehran Extension Program while I was a Sophomore in High school. My first love was Modern Iranian Poetry. Later I studied art at the university of Nevada and continued at the San Francisco Art Institute where I received my Master of Art in Painting in 1995. Since then I have been painting non-stop and exhibiting nationally and internationally.
My early work was figurative and surrealist, very much influenced by Giorgio de Chirico and to a lesser extent Max Ernst. Over time the figures started to become freer and more expressionistic. Gradually the figures started dissolving and dissipating and my work moved more and more towards non-representational abstraction.
Where is the main source of inspiration behind your work? Where do you categorise your work in general?
Living in the space between two cultures, I have always been interested in investigating the nomadic in-between spaces. I have been interested in the mechanics of a symbiotic relationship between Persian and Western art — the former being my innate orientation and the latter the tradition in which I have been trained. I have never been interested in a synthesis of styles but rather in an epistemological approach: to dismantle those visual vocabularies to their most bare and abstract cultural elements and sensibilities and using this as a point of departure, moving more and more towards a terrain that lies in between the musical and the architectural. As far as how I would categorize my work, you can say that the trajectories in contemporary painting in which my work belongs range from Abstract Expressionism in the West to Persian and Taoist/Zen aesthetic sensibilities in the east.
Can you talk to us about the spiritual aspect of your paintings?
Spirituality has always been a part of my life, the yearning for the source. In its most basic definition for me, it is a poetic and non-linear view of existence; epistemological poetry. The spiritual in my work does not refer to any specific mystical tradition but what I found common in different spiritual traditions; where they overlap. The rest in my opinion is NATIVE dialect.
The Oracle VI, oil on canvas, 55 X 75 inches (140 x 191 cm), 2017
Talk to us about your practice and process of creating your latest abstract works.
Yoshi Oida, the Japanese theatre actor says:“in Japan, when we dig for a well and do not reach water, we keep digging further. In the West, they abandon the well and start digging somewhere else.” My work is very much like that. It does not take major leaps and shifts in style but rather keeps getting deeper and deeper and in my opinion, closer to the source. By source I mean that energy that is there before it becomes a poem, before it becomes a musical composition etc. My aim in my work is to get closer and closer to that energy. And the colors in the more recent works are definitely becoming more and more vibrant.
What is the core message behind your work?
Continuing the response to the previous question, the more personal a piece is - the deeper you go within - the more universal its reach. As an artist I am satisfied when I see that a work of mine stops someone in their tracks and touches them deeply in a way that the viewer himself/herself can not put his/her finger on it. What it comes down to is to transcend time. Someone wants told me that looking at my paintings feels like the experience of staring at a flame. That's a moment that time stops. I want my work to stop time and in doing so, point to the timeless.
We know you have recently moved your studio to New York. How does that help your practice?
As it turns out this was a temporary move, I will be heading back to the West Coast. These days everything is decentralized and that goes for the art world as well. New York has not been the center of the art world for some time. I thought that by coming here I would be in the middle of "it" and then I realized that there's no "it" to be in the middle of here.
The Arrival of Shams, oil on canvas, 78 x 74 inches (198 x 188 cm), 2018
Tell us about a favourite work of yours and why is it special?
That is not an easy question to answer. Mainly because as I work on many pieces at the same time, tempo of each piece varying, some take a couple of years, some a couple of days and because of that I am not focused on a painting but on the act of painting. Thus, what I am working on at any given moment is my most important work to me.
Can you let us know about your new works?
A few different series have been continuing to expand; Cantata, Conference of the Birds, Verses, and Fragments of Poetry and Silence.
Wanderer's Hymn 3, oil on panel, 16 x 12 inches (41 x 30 cm), 2019
Any upcoming exhibitions?
At this point I have two group exhibitions planned with a couple of Chelsea galleries in New York and a solo exhibition in New Jersey in 2020. Other shows are in the planning stages but not yet finalized.
In the Garden of the Beloved, oil on panel, 29 x 39 inches (74 X 99 cm), 2018
New York studio of Yari Ostovany
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