Intervention In The Spatial Order: notes on Moslem Khezri’s latest paintings
By: Ali Golestaneh
March 12, 2021
Moslem Khezri has dedicated the past couple of years to depicting a high school environment, its classrooms, and students. Rather than highlighting the repressive aspects of the learning environment, these images tend to offer glimpses into a more or less open atmosphere that the students themselves create within this structure. Depicting this atmosphere would not have been possible without considering two fundamental aspects of naturalistic representation in his visual studies: first, the question of motion, and second, the study of the interactions between the characters. Far from being static or frozen, his painted figures show transient movements and unstable states. A meaningful social connection has been established between them, unlike earlier works where two or more human or animal figures were depicted in limited, pointless, and simply absurd movements. This depiction of movement and communication among the figures, in my opinion, deserves special attention within the context of contemporary Iranian figurative painting.
Most young artists who entered art since 2010 tend to paint pictures of human figures with odd facial expressions and poses in an imaginary space that is either full of exaggerated joy or some sort of delusive apocalyptic cul-de-sac. Here, the artist would not create any dialogue between the subjective presuppositions and the tangible, objective reality, nor would s/he feel obliged to make any attempt to engage his/her ideas and illusions with the sensory perception and objective aspects of the relations between the characters. Instead, by exploiting the persuasive aspects of naturalistic representation, s/he would attribute these illusions to reality without giving him/herself or his/her audience any chance to gauge the validity of these illusions. In other words, the artist uses the appealing and captivating aspects of naturalistic painting to "unilaterally" dictate his/her illusion as reality.
Moslem Khezri's earlier works would more or less belong with the same category – albeit one can detect some degree of sensitivity towards the quality of lines and attention to composition in these pictures. However, he has changed course in his paintings over the past few years, attempting to depict the space he, as a teacher, is in daily contact with: the classroom environment. This space is also occupied with human figures which are found in various states: students who fill in the exam papers under the watchful eye of a supervisor, listen to the lessons delivered by the teacher, daydream, whisper things to each other, become distracted by something beyond the classroom, make noises in the absence of the teacher, laugh together, brag about things each other, tell each other stories, and so on. There is no fixed image, no clichéd or exaggerated gesture. Even the most static scenes contain movement, and the most unexpected gestures are counterbalanced with other states and gestures, adopting an altogether familiar and tangible appearance.
These paintings are clearly based on photographs taken by the artist of the classrooms he taught. But at the same time, judging by the ease of the space captured in the photographs, one can clearly see that they do not represent a controlling viewpoint. The photographer's stealthy point of view is physically shared with that of the teacher, yet it no longer bears a teacher's authoritative impact. Now that the photos are ready for painting, it is time to intervene in space: Khezri is particularly adept at depicting various states and movements of the figures as well as different light effects and perspectives. Yet, he opts for repetition of forms and compositions as the visual means to show rhythm and communicate some form of exasperating repetition. His altered, restrained, and pale color palette clearly expresses the sluggish atmosphere of a classroom. Khezri translates the photographic focus into a painterly way of attention and emphasis by leaving parts of his working surface white, and through scattered surfaces and tremulous marks, he shows the instability of the space.
The variety that our painter has shown in poses and gestures is not the fruit of good drawing skills or an aptitude in mimesis in the technical sense; it is rather due to his daily exposure to space and attention to the variety that can be found at the heart of the most repetitive things. Just as the vagueness, immobility, and lack of interconnection between human figures in certain paintings are not directly due to painters' technical inability, it is certainly due to their lack of touch with reality. In principle, representation is not a matter of technique but of experience, understanding, and insight. Likewise, Moslem has yet to become the most technically accomplished draughtsman in Iran; however, not just as a skilled draughtsman, but more significantly as an observer and experimenter, he has succeeded in understanding his subject with all its internal variations and proportions and, at the same time, expressing this knowledge visually. This very opportunity of experience has made his portrayed students rise above the prevailing portrayal of vague and passive figures staring at the observer or sitting still in unnatural positions without any proper relationship to each other.
Then again, these paintings are "realistic", not just because they depict a tangible environment from the experiential world, but precisely because they reflect the uncertainty of reality and the contradictory aspects of the human experience of the environment, rather than dictating their own rigid commentary and illusions onto the reality. That is why, referring back to the beginning of our discussion, at the subject level, these paintings are not merely representations of the limited, defined, and suffocating atmosphere of the formal learning environment; rather, they introduce a space that is occupied by human figures (students) and whose resonance has changed as a result of it. Here, the artist's look and vision have been entangled with, and thus, enriched by the contradictory aspects of experience, perception, and understanding of the subject. As a painter and a perceiving agent who is at least as real and objective as the objective reality of his subject of painting, [Khezri] not only engages with, intervenes in, and simply changes the subject of his work, but he also depicts the human body as an active agent that, far from being motionless or inarticulate in the face of the world, is capable of penetrating and transforming its surrounding space and environment. Isn't this the fundamental message and purpose of art, after all?