© 2015 - 2019 Fondation Behnam-Bakhtiar.

SOHRAB SEPEHRI

Sohrab Sepehri was born in Kashan and graduated from Tehran University's Faculty of Fine Arts. He founded a school of poetry resembling that of the French symbolists. Although commentators place him within the tradition of Iranian poetry, he created totally new metaphors in his verse. Sepehri's most famous piece, Seda-ye Pa-ye Ab (The sound of the water's footsteps, 1965), is an autobiographical narrative verse that many critics consider a masterpiece of contemporary Persian poetry.

 

The most extraordinary thing about the Trees series is the extreme economy with which Sepehri describes his subject. It is true that the forms, either attenuated or broad, resemble calligraphy, but so too are related to the misty landscapes of Japanese hand-painted scrolls. What is new about them, however, is the sheer scale of the individual features and the degree of abstraction, but above all, the way he frames the trees both within and outwith the pictoral space. He never includes the tree in its entirerity, just features of it- the trunks or the branches, or abstracted leaves. On the one hand, these elements are truncated by the picture plane; on the other, huge swathes of blank space surround them in other parts of the picture. Together these effects combine to produce a sense that his subject exists within unlimited space beyond the boundaries of the composition.

These elements of Sepehri's work demonstrate the marked influence of Japanese prototypes. Sohrab Sepheri travelled to Tokyo in 1960 and was deeply impressed by Japanese Haikus, becoming the main translator for these into Persian. Equally his painting was affected by his exposure to the work Japanese Zen masters, including Sesshu Toyo and Hakuin Ekaku. Since that time his landscapes and still lifes became minimal, meditative and often abstracted.

1965 was an important year in Sohrab Sepehri's career as it marked the beginning of his decade-long work on his famous tree-trunk painting series of which this work is a perfect example. One can see the basic variations in style, the composition and the color. Sepehri's tree-trunks are depicted in close-up with no foliage nor brances. Only the essence of the tree is represented with soft brush strokes and a dark black outline which embodies its depth. Therefore, this series and this work in particular appear as the final point of a long and laborious experimentation in art. The viewer is absorbed by the minimality of the lyricism of the tree-trunks, yet the details, the nuances and the depth of the painting engender a unique emotion in us as if they enabled us to reach somewhere beyond superficial reality. Through the work, one is taken away by nature, touched by the romantic and spiritual rendition of the tree-trunks. The artist has reflected a state of self-meditation and of timeless abstraction through the contemplation of the subtle beauties of nature.

Sohrab Sepehri passed away in 1980, but his influence on a generation of artists after him is irrefutable, both in poetry and in visual arts. The simplicity and the state of meditation revealed by his austere images of trees have influenced a generation of Iranian artists, the most renowned of which would be Abbas Kiarostami.