The mysterious portraits of Koroush Sarmadi

“I’m guessing, everybody wanna be somebody …” recited a famous house song from the 90s, unknowingly anticipating the obsession for self-representation in celebrity style that thirty years later would have invaded the web through the widespread presence of social networks. In the last period, the ambiguity between wanting to be someone and ending up being anyone just because of the homologation of the visual standards through which the collective imagination ratifies its media idols is evident. The multiplication of images (of the self) conveyed by the network has also renegotiated the traditional canons of the portrait, a figurative genre that has strongly come back into vogue with a style that is at the intersection between painting and photography.

These reflections want to introduce the work of Koroush Sarmadi (b.1993, Tehran) a young Iranian artist who, after several exhibitions in his hometown, was recently selected for a collective exhibition in Vancouver organized by the Federation of Canadian Artists Gallery. At the center of his visual poetics we find the portrait, the pretext to capture a variegated catalog of real or imaginary humanity through paintings identified by a few compendiary and structural brushstrokes. At first glance, nothing strange: a gallery of male characters is appearing before our eyes, looking beyond the space of the canvas, sometimes looking for a direct comparison with the viewer, others as if they got lost in an unattainable place elsewhere. The artist does not indulge in superfluous details but with a few traits identifies physiognomies and states of mind that appear instinctively verisimilar, as if each painting were the result of a silent interplay of looks between the painter and his model, a mutual study and understand.

All the portraits convey a sense of enigmatic suspension, as if their contact with the world was uncertain, on the verge of cracking: at the same time the vividness of a recent memory and the indeterminacy of a mystery that thickens with the prolongation of the observation. The lack of contextual references, the newly sketched or totally abstract backgrounds, the generic clothing, amplify the feeling that what we are looking at is not exactly what it seems at first sight. Contrary to what happens in traditional portraiture, there are no clues to define the peculiarities of the individual, his belonging to an era, a profession, a social status, even though carefully observing we begin to recognize some characters. Some references appear obvious, such as the iconic presence of surrealist painter Salvador Dalì or Prime Minister Winston Churchill who led the United Kingdom to victory in World War II, others will appear as such only for those familiar with more specific cultural contexts, such as Iranian poet, writer and journalist Ahmad Shamlou.

The fact that the series includes famous people, leads the viewer to attribute real identities also to the anonymous faces that parade before his eyes, triggering an intriguing short circuit between truth and fiction. In one hand the subjects seem to exist in a pictorial limbo outside a given moment and place, on the other it is not their reality of people that is represented, but their intrinsic humanity, made essential. Koroush Sarmadi considers his subjects as existential suggestions, rather than as explicit stories or specific portraits. His characters, who emerge in a sober, almost in a theatrical way, challenge the viewer with intense and determined looks and are the reflection of a deep emotional connection between the artist and humanity and invite the viewer to meet them in turn, recognizing them as an aspect of themselves.

The visual poetics of the young Iranian artist fits into traditional formalism, adhering to parameters of pictorial specificity such as line, color and dimensional scale, but the subject and the way in which painting is managed are decidedly contemporary. By abolishing every hierarchy of importance between known and anonymous characters, Koroush Sarmadi interprets the act of painting as a political action and as an instrument of social criticism, which reveals some fundamental traits of our contemporaneity. The reason why his paintings are so captivating and so disturbing is the cognitive uncertainty they produce, the uncertainty that attracts attention and that is played in a refined dialectic between the emphasis (of photographic matrix) on the subject’s bodily characteristics and the lack of interest in its identification.

Koroush Sarmadi examines lights and shadows of his mental images and transforms them into figures without using any reference model. Through painting, he creates character elements that do not belong to real people, placing his figures in possible, but undefined, worlds that do not identify narratives but suggest openings to stories, leaving the visitor free to imagine. The deception of celebrity images is a trap that forces the observer to penetrate with his gaze into the paths of color and into its intrinsic expressive possibilities, free from the referent. The evident structural brushstrokes, spread with the immediacy of a gesture that does not allow for revisions, foreground the quality of paintings, their live presence, and at the same time his paintings are characterized by an economical means that allows a crude, unresloved conceptual space to emerge.

The physical and psychological traits of the protagonists in his paintings reinvented the human identity to favor the concentration on his multifaceted essence and on the impossibility of exhausting its representation in a catalog of exemplary subjects that in fact reveal their nonexistence just when they seem to affirm it more forcefully. The deception of these portraits pierce the veil of illusion on self-representation concept and returns fluidity to a collective imagination that now invalidated by mass media conditioning that, in the name of easy cultural consumerism, tends to attenuate the symbolic scope of its models reference reducing them to a pop icon.

Koroush Sarmad, Untitled. Painting, Acrylic on Paper – Cotton, 2018

Koroush Sarmad, Untitled. Painting, Acrylic on Board, 2018

Koroush Sarmad, Ahmad Shamlou. Painting, Acrylic on Paper – Cotton 2018

Dieneke Tiekstra. Sculpture as a three-dimensional puzzle

“I think having the earth and not ruining it is the most beautiful art form you could ever want.” (Andy Warhol)

Berendina Sjoukje (Dieneke) Tiekstra (b.1957, Haarlem, The Netherlands), award-winning artist and co-director of Galerie Rueb&Tiekstra in Rijpwetering, after graduating in visual arts in May 2018 at the Kunstacademie Haarlem in Leiden, chooses to embrace a professional artistic career in the field of sculptural design. Accustomed from an early age to transform what happens in her hands (such as printed circuits, views of the city, paper, musical instruments, wood, etc.) into artistic objects, her work focuses on universal themes – time, the future, the movement – seeking the balance between abstraction and figuration. After an initial phase in which she dedicates herself to experimenting with a wide range of techniques and materials, she finds her own peculiar expressive dimension in the reuse of every day waste objects, in an implicit ethical stance against over production that negatively characterizes the era in which we live. The formal and semantic reinterpretation of these apparently banal elements aims to explore their still unexpressed creative potential, bringing out new connections that stimulate the imagination of the observers by inviting them to actively reconsider the environment in which they live.

The artistic research of Dieneke Tiekstra is oriented towards the creation of a direct language, instinctive and playful, capable of arousing complex questions using simple and readable forms, which do not reject the viewer with useless hermeticism. In the series “The evolution of Man” the artist materializes her interest in the design of the future, which has become a paradigm of a lifestyle that will inevitably have to deal with the widespread presence of machines and the intrusion of digital reality also in the most private aspects of our life. What will the world look like in a hundred or a thousand years? Will man be destined to disappear in a digital cloud? Will humans and artificial devices manage to coexist peacefully on the same planet and protect its existence?

The aforementioned series of works is composed of sculptures made from hundreds of fragments of puzzles depicting men, women or hybrid creatures in expressive poses, asexual characters that embody individuality and the generality of species. These bodies are always devoid of clothes, but they are not naked because the pieces of which they are composed form a colorful skin, an uninterrupted and ever-changing fantasy that makes the demarcation between inside and outside uncertain. The human being is in constant motion and its presence in space and time is represented by the artist as a fragmentation and a temporary recomposition of an order in constant evolution. Will the future always remain wrapped in uncertainty or will the various pieces find a definitive place one day? We can not know, but the harmonious compositions of Dieneke Tiekstra, “superorganisms” that recall the nests of eusocial insects in which each individual, like the organs of the human body, performs specific tasks, portend a positive resolution of these questions.

From the structural point of view, on the one hand the figures appearas “skinned” anatomically (some muscles and joints are distinctly recognized), for another they resemble machines formed by mobile gears. Their presence develops through the alternation of cavities, reliefs, full and empty that generate a fragmented and discontinuous clair obscur that recalls the sudden appearance and disappearance of the pixels of a digital image. In this way it seems that the figures are modeled according to the surrounding space, enclosed by contour lines that develop as a sequence of curves now concave, now convex that do not limit their physicality but expand it in the space. The anthropomorphic sculptures of the Dutch artist redefine the concept of the human body by identifying its deepest essence precisely in the metamorphosis and in the movement that at first sight seem to undermine its integrity.

If the movement is the outward manifestation of a search for balance, the body appears as a material shell that holds within itself a higher principle, the soul: hence a constant tension, the epic effort of humanity to get rid of this impediment by elaborating a structure more suited to satisfying the multiple forms in which its most spontaneous and pure “I” can be embodied. Translating this suggestion from the symbolic level to the stylistic one, the expressive figure of Dieneke Tiekstra reflects an analogous aspiration to merge abstraction and figuration to free materials from their objective limits and transform them into pure emotion.

An equally stringent bond betweenform and content can be found in the choice of preferably using recycled objects: the titles of many works, such as Decline of the Earth, Time traveler or Last man Standing make us imagine an epic narrative of humanity traveling to survive itself, capable of transforming obstacles into beauty tools to consciously set out towards a more sustainable future. The emphasis on movement and fluidity, a result not easily obtainable in sculpture, reminds us that the environment in which we live is an integral part of our body and that only the perception of this interdependence will allow us to develop ways of existence that respect this necessary interpenetration.

Dieneke Tiekstra, Bits and Pieces (2). Sculpture, Modeling Sculpture Technique, 2018

Dieneke Tiekstra, Decline of the Earth. Sculpture, Modeling Sculpture Technique, 2019

Dieneke Tiekstra, Time traveler. Sculpture, Modeling Sculpture Technique, 2019

Roman Stańczak. The Flight

In the 70s Gordon Matta-Clark, after meeting Robert Smithson who introduced him to the Land Art, moved to New York to take part in the artistic and cultural ferment of the most lively city of the moment. Attracted by organic materials and their transformations (in one of his first performances he roasts a pig and serves it to the public) the artist founded Food, a restaurant-meeting place for artists and creative people. In 1973 his irreducible language took shape: together with Laurie Anderson, Richard Nonas, Lucio Pozzi and other artists, Gordon founded Anarchitecture, a movement that overturns the traditional idea of ​​architecture. Gordon identifies abandoned buildings or buildings destined for demolition and intervenes in the architectural structure, creating cuts, gashes and cracks that reshape space and identity. In Splitting (1974) an entire house is divided in half by a vertical cut; in Conical Intersect (1975), on the occasion of the Paris Biennial, two buildings are drilled before their final dismantling to leave place for the Center Pompidou. These structural interventions, called “building cuts”, challenge the idea of ​​space, of exterior and interior, of light and shadow, but they are also political acts of protest against the American building exploitation of the Seventies. Gordon Matta-Clark dies in 1978, only thirty-five years old, due to pancreatic cancer and his radical approach is handed over to the history of art still incorrupt and powerful, before the system and the critics could metabolize it.

From here the work of Roman Stańczak ideally starts again, who in the Poland Pavilion in the 58th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia presents an impressive environmental installation, entitled The Flight. For the occasion, the artist transforms the exhibition space into a hangar at the center of which there is a real plane overturned so that the interior, ie the elements of the cockpit, the cabin and the passenger seats, are visible on the outside, while the wings and the planking are compressed and rolled up inside the sculpture. The visitor finds himself displaced in front of the paradoxical monumentality of the object and is instigated to investigate its interior with an almost voyeuristic attitude. The alienation gives way to desire but after the initial and morbid attraction for the disaster, arrives a more analytical attention for the intricate routes of the cables left in the open, for the seats still soft tipped over and curled up in a fetal position, for the imperfect sutures that support the whole, for the scratches and the marks that can be glimpsed in the rolled wings. It is clear how weak the boundary between safety and danger is, how uncertain the established order is and it is also discovered with a certain discomfort that the innards of that gutted mechanical carcass can disturbingly resemble the ducts that guarantee the functioning of a biological body.

The artist’s interest is profoundly humanist, for him it is important that the objects he destroys to reshape have met the man and bear the memory of his body and his gestures. In The Flight this suggestion becomes choral and universal: the plane has transported hundreds of people at high altitude and in its interstices birds and wasps have found refuge, whose nests have been incorporated into the work as an integral part of the machine. Through worn and brutalized everyday materials, Roman Stańczak speaks of the ancestral human yearning to go beyond the material world to access the spiritual dimension, recounts his aptitude to inhabit the matter and his inability to definitively free himself from it. It speaks of the limit and the beauty of imperfections, which are perhaps much more compelling than the aseptic perfections of functional and efficient forms, and of the irreducible unpredictability of life.

His working method takes on performative and almost ritual connotations: sculpting is for him a close encounter with an object to be confronted in a violent melee and when the object is the size of The Flight‘s plane, the fight becomes titanic. Stańczak has in fact cut the fuselage lengthwise in a single cut to overturn it as if it were the skin of an animal and suture it again by replacing its innards on the outside. The plane is open like a prey and the internal structures show their elasticity: the vulnerability of the new structure recalls to the artist that of a piece of meat to be roasted, in singular similarity with the first performance of Matta-Clark. Here too the different reformulation of space and light leads to an almost sacral exploration of the object that loses its pre-established function to become a pure signifying form. Another aspect in common between the two artists is the great scale of a work that goes beyond the measure of the human body and that for this magnifies the demiurgic potential of its gesture. For Stańczak, creating is a way of testing himself and his dormant abilities by expanding his possibilities to ideally reunite with the ancients who managed to move enormous stones to build architectures at the limit of the incredible. The essence of sculpture is to be found in the effort of the body which strengthens the mind and sublimates the thought.

Destruction, the prelude of a new creature, thus becomes a symbol of strength and awakens the utopia of uniting a divided society starting from the recognition of its weaknesses and the inevitability of transformation. Sculpture is an invitation to abandon false security and rigid identities, to take the risk of dissolving in the world to be reborn in new free and inclusive forms and then (perhaps) finally fly.


Roman Stańczak at work on the sculpture Flight, film still from Anna Zakrzewska’s and Łukasz Ronduda’s film Flight, 2019, Kijora Film

Roman Stańczak

For the last three images: Pavilion of POLAND, Flight.
58th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, MayYou Live In Interesting Times
Photo by: Francesco Galli Courtesy: La Biennale di Venezia

Damiano Mirò Serafini. The eternal topicality of history

Damiano Mirò Serafini is a very young self-taught artist deeply fascinated by history and by the great masters of Italian artistic tradition. Just eighteen, last year he was selected among the 30 finalists in the painting section of the 12th edition of the Laguna Art Prize and last February he won the Excellence Award of Circle Art. His graphic style is inspired by the engravings of the XVI and XVII century, whose styles are updated with an extremely versatile, vibrant and synthetic pen-stroke that manages to recreate lights, volumes and atmospheres with an extreme economy of means. The characters in his drawings, whose exploits are almost always set in the past, seem to emerge from a variegated literary magma to give life to new stories in which the contemporary spectator can still be identified despite the epochal distance.

Intrigued by his early talent and by the maturity of his artistic culture, we interviewed him to get to know him better.

What is your education and when did you realize you wanted to pursue an artistic career?

I started drawing when I was very young and from that moment on I never stopped, continuing to practice independently, I believe without the real purpose of completing a training but rather with the spontaneous intent to improve myself. I never perceived this tension as something premeditated, I simply always enjoyed myself in the practice and study of art, both practical and theoretical.

Your works give a glimpse of a profound familiarity with the work of the great masters of the history of art and demonstrate a truly unique depth of understanding for such a young boy. Does the choice to inspire you to certain currents of the past be purely aesthetic or functional to a particular concept?

I am firmly convinced of the substantiality of the form. The depth of a work, I believe, should be judged on the quantity of references that it radiates within that immense basin of information that is History, tracing routes and ordering in a single organism those that would otherwise be disjointed pieces. Our present, alone, is incomplete, it necessarily needs a past, of “ancestors”, if it does not want to slip into the flatness of everyday life and oblivion. What Art does is to open behind the surface of the immediate the infinite perspective of references that our habituated eye regularly ignores. Its purpose is therefore to give a meaning and a context to our existence, to draw a path for it, to remind it of an origin and an end. All things (I hope) of immediate need for each of us, which should be enough to dispel the slothful myth of art for art.

In your drawings I also see a particular interest in the architectural styles of the past, which you analyze with extreme sharpness and then recombine into new eclectic visions. Of these settings do you find the design aspect or the scenographic one more appealing to you?

The design one, so much so that I intend to make architecture my main occupation in the future. The search for an architectural style for our times (which takes into account what has already been said above) is certainly my fixed point; the problem is not easy to solve.

What attracts your attention to the world around you instead?

What strikes me most negatively – alas – is the indisputable predominance, in contemporary society, of the material impulse on every other kind of aspiration. The call of material well-being is, in our times, the most powerful force, the engine of every activity. I hope with all my heart that the prospect of an Art as a structurally necessary tool for the spirit, rather than bizarre self-hypnotic fetishism, can some how change this unfortunate condition.

Some of your more elaborate drawings depict scenes with a large number of characters engaged in choral actions. Are these fragments of existing stories, metaphors of existential conditions or sketches of narratives yet to be invented?

In many cases these are illustrations for books I have written, in others they are possible stories or simply symbols. The category of the symbolic is especially interesting because it inserts on the usual substratum of references, common to each work, a further reference, conscious and privileged, (ie the one addressed to the object that is symbolized), which makes it a supreme condensation of meaning.

Tell us about the creative process that leads you to an illustration.

I don’t have a fixed rule. Sometimes the composition and the subjects are already very clear even before starting (but they are rare cases), others I just throw down a detail, a face, an architectural decor, and then gradually extend the design, others, may be that which happens more frequently, I have in mind a seminal idea, a theme, which serves as a guideline for the sufficiently free development of the work.

What are you working on and what are your future plans?

I am currently working on illustrations for a short poem of my own composition, Cosmographia, which intends to be a small anthropological synthesis of what man has done and thought since his birth. In this work the study of depictive stylization over the ages and in various cultures will be fundamental. I also deal with the graphic design of the literary magazine L’Orecchio di Dionisio.

Damiano Mirò Serafini The Fight of PhilosophersDamiano Mirò Serafini, The Fight of Philosophers. Drawing, Ink Painting, 2017

Damiano Serafini-FolliaDamiano Mirò Serafini, Follia. Drawing, Ink Painting, 2018

Damiani Mirò Serafini, New Gothic – Odling Builds the Tower. Drawing, Ink Painting, 2018

Shirin Moayya. The restless forms of the human soul

The human beingcannot come out of himself, he does not know others except in himself; and, if he says the opposite, lies.
(Marcel Proust, Albertine dìsparue, 1925)

We live in an agitated age: dark forces are at work above our control and our consciences to guide our behaviors and choices in the directions that most suit the strong powers. The exasperated individualism of the so-called “liquid society” is daily shattered against the impotence of the single person facing a collective destiny that increasingly appears as a drifting boat. Those of us that are still sensitive today seem to be skinned alive, they are the sentient receptacle of our existential unease towards a society in which the logic of profit and efficiency seems to have definitively outclassed human istic ideals. As much as we try to silence dissatisfaction and insecurity with comforting and seductive substitutes, the body tells us that something is not working: it is an animal feeling that never abandons us.

The body has immense power; in a dematerialized and standardizing world it continues to be a fixed point because it represents the beginning and the end of each of us. The body is the place of introspection, of self-construction and exchange with one another, and for this reason the oppressive power would like to control, limit and flatten it. In difficult times, the body is simplyreduced to a container of pain, but in spite of everything it continues to exist, to be rebellious and disturbing.

These reflections are at the center of the poetics artworks of Shirin Moayya, an Iranian painter already involved in numerous exhibitions in Tehran, the city where she lives and works, who in  recent years has been attracting the interest of the juries of several international competitions, such as the 1st Dubai Painting Symposium and Residency or the 11th Annual London International Creative Competition, to name a few. The source of her work is the emotional and spiritual experience of reality, which she translates on the canvas with an expressionist language characterized by a strong chromatic accentuation and a powerful emotional deformation of the visual data. In her paintings there are no gradations of colors and shades to create shadows and volumes, but bright and strongly contrasting colors. Three-dimensionality is abolished in favor of a single pictorial plane understood as a battlefield between contrasting forces, the forms are simplified, the colors are sharp and bright, the line is strong and expressive. The painter consciously distorts reality to make it clear that what we see on the canvas is not the reproduction of an object as it appears, but how she “feels” about it; by concretizing her inner perceptions, the artist forces the viewer to live on his/her skin, his/her own sensations, without the possibility of seeking refuge in anesthetic digressions.

In the series of paintings entitled as Inward Organized (2015-2016) large drafts of juxtaposed colors identify the synthesized shapes of enigmatic objects surrounded by an irregular and thick outline, which is no longer the constructive and idealizing design of distant Renaissance origin, but a tool to give drama to the composition. Shirin Moayya engulfs the world and transfers it into her soul and then returns it in a transfigured vision like a hallucination populated by objects-bodies, which seem to stagger and then settle into a new mysteriouse quilibrium. This reconciliation, even if fought, between inside and outside derives from the artist’s ability to emotionally align herself with the objects of her vision and then let the instinct guide the brush without any prior design imposition. In this way what happens on the surface of the canvas is the manifestation of a thought caught in the bud, before the word or theory impoverishes it to make it intelligible.

In the series Human Beings and Forgetfulness (2017-2018) the artist exasperates the caricature deformation of the image and painting becomes a real existential scream. The contour lines propagate like waves starting from multiple psychic epicenters, concavity and convexity follow each other with dangerous rapidity, the color appears stretched as a direct emanation of impulsive and brutal gestures, the palette is rough and at times rude, oblivious to the pictorial refinement that harmonized the slanted visions of the previous series; Inward Organized. In this case the subjects are incarnations of states of mind, moods and alienations generated by an expressive urgency that; transforming themselves into body and flesh, goes beyond the individual dimension to become a universal cry. Each personification appears isolated and shaped by its own monomania, barely contained in the limited space of the canvas, ready to attack the viewer from whom it seems at the same time to expect understanding and help. The pictorial material of these paintings is enriched by the insertion of papers and newspaper shreds that give the image three-dimensionality and that unequivocally project it in the here and now of our contemporaneity.

Shirin Moayya’s lucidity in identifying the peculiar traits of each psycho-pathology shows how the expressionistic accentuation of the pictorial languagedoes not exclude her ability to give a critical and disenchanted look at human discomfort while showing a deep emotional sharing. And it is precisely this capacity for reconciling harsh reality, empathy and pictorial frankness that makes us understand how, for the artist, exposing the inconsistencies of existence is only the first step of a journey of hope animated by the confidence that in the future a new humanism will succeed to re-establish the human being starting from the destruction of the false certainties of the present.

Shirin MoayyaShirin Moayya, Inward Organized, Painting, Acrylic 2016 – 2017

Shirin Moayya, Inward Organized, Painting, Acrylic 2016 – 2017

Shirin Moayya, Inward Organized, Painting, Acrylic 2016

Shirin Moayya, Pessimists, Painting, Acrylic, Collage 2016 – 2017

Hoonaz Afaghi. The Universal Soul of Nature

Since the graffiti in prehistoric caves, mankind has expressed through art its deep connection with nature. Initially it was elementary signs that responded to magical and religious needs, which over time evolved into more complex images. Nature has always nourished the collective imagination and inspired artists from all over the world with its inexhaustible archive of shapes, textures and chromatic ranges. Starting from the last century, nature in art has also recovered its mysterious character, it has become a refuge and a way to escape for the man who is oppressed by the frenzy of contemporary society, seeks in it secret correspondences with his/her own moods and a renewed sense of belonging to the life of the universe.

These spiritual instances have radically altered the pictorial depictions of the natural elements in the direction of an increasingly less realism. The artists havebegun to communicate their vision of the world through geometric lines, abstract shapes and colors so that a barely sketched shape or a hint of chromatic gradation were enough to bring out the naturalistic reference.

Many artists in their search for the lost unity between man and nature became interested in archaic cultures, which rejected a clear distinction between man and other beings. For the primitives,things had a soul or strength that gavethem life and the magic was based on the belief in “hidden connections” between all beings and therefore also between man and natural elements. To visually highlight these formal and symbolic affinities, painters who have favored an abstract language subject of nature worked toward a process of analysis and synthesis, at the end of this process, the canvas shows a new mental panorama in which nature is the manifestation of the inner perceptions of the artist in relation to the landscape, he/she is watching or imagining.

To this category belongs also Hoonaz Afaghi (1973, Tehran), an Iranian artist who, after an initial creative approach to the calligram, chose to gradually move away from the line to arrive at pure painting.

Her paintings, made with an opaque palette that incorporates all the animal and vegetal nuances present in nature, reveal the unique rule that regulates everything; which the Swiss painter Paul Klee (1879 – 1940) wrote in his Diaries. The silences and epiphanies evoked by her paintings lead the viewer to the discovery of that spirit, or vital principle, which lies latently beneath the surface of reality and which generates and governs human beings, animals, trees and mountains.

The privileged subjects of Hoonaz Afaghi are details of trees, rocks, leaves or animals in which the real visual data is decomposed and divided to reach the minimum and indivisible unity of matter and reach its essence, that universal soul of what exists on the life cycle painting is based. The artist mentally circum navigates the subject to be represented and analyzes all the parts to return it in a condensed image that goes beyond the concept of time, intended as a chronology of events to allude to an eternal simultaneity of dense moments.

In her compositions there is no distinction between figure and background and the acrylic color simulates everywhere the same indistinct organic paste of which the world is made. In some areas the chromatic layer appears to be stretched in a fluid way, while in others sit thickens in elaborate layers; sometimes it seems to expand freely on the pictorial support, sometimes instead its propagation appears governed by lines and contours that suggest enigmatic outlines of structures. The absence of sharp boundaries between the various elements that make up the vision and their metamorphic nature does not imply that the images are irresolute and poorly structured, but on the contrary manifest the awareness of a higher order that passes without interruption from one element to another. Emblematic in this regard are the paintings of the Tree series, where the tree-matter, indifferently understood as crown, leaf, wood, trunk, forest or branch, is investigated as if it were a primary mythological entity that overwhelms the human being with its luxuriant and multi-faceted beauty.

Just like Paul Klee; also Hoonaz Afaghi’s naturalistic painting is the most immediate way to express a determined Weltanschauung (idea of ​​the world), which would not be misleading to define animistic. Her symbiosis with the landscape is so accentuated that from the outside it is almost impossible to guess whether in her paintings the visual references to nature are to be interpreted as a metaphor for an existential condition or if instead human emotions are shaped by the depicted biomorphic scenarios.

The  constant search for chromatic harmony and formal balance (regardless of whether the vision has a calm, joyful connotationsa, melancholic or disturbing) demonstrates how at the basis of her poetics there is a cyclic and circular conception of life, in which each element settles down and transforms itself in relation to others. Particularly expressive in this regard is Disturbed, a brilliant essay in compendiary painting in which a few quick gestural brush strokes sketch an ambiguous silhouette of a woman in total fusion with the imaginary landscape that surrounds her, to the point that she herself seems to assume the appearance of a rock that stands proudly towards the sky despite the wind and snow.

And precisely by recalling the ancient intuition of all existance through artistic interpretation; creates a profound sense of liberation and pleasure that one feels by looking at Hoonaz Afaghi’s paintings, in which the inevitability of everything that happens on the canvas clears every hypothesis of conflict and regret. The depth of her observation, which is applied with the same intensity to the infinitely small as to the universal, makes it clear that abstract painting can be an instrument of spiritual research intimately connected with the ancestral forces that shape and perpetuate the mystery of life on the Earth.

Hoonaz AfaghiHoonaz Afaghi, Tree 2, Painting, Acrylic, 2019

Hoonaz Afaghi, Life-Cycle, Painting, Acrylic 2018

Hoonaz Afaghi, Wood, Painting, Acrylic, 2018

Hoonaz Afaghi, Disturbed, Painting, Acrylic, 2018

Paola Santagostino. Psychic Abstraction

Paola Santagostino is a psychoanalyst specialized in psychosomatic medicine who in the last few years has decided to combine her profession with artistic production, to which she has systematically dedicated since her graduation in painting at the Academy of Fine Arts of Brera in 2017. Her interest is directed towards an abstract and expressionist research that makes physical automatism, intuition and emotion its inspiring principle with the aim of exploring the bonds between mind and body at the origin of physical and mental well-being. Passionate about art from a young age, she says she unexpectedly found painting again; thanks to the psychotherapy sessions with her patients: “As I hold a session, I follow the development of the session with drawing signs, I follow it by points and lines of connection and visualize it in an almost geometric way as a network of concepts. When the session is over, I throw away those sheets of paper, for me they have already served their function, but my patients ask to take them with them, they even go and retrieve them from the wastepaper basket, asking me to keep them to remember what we said and the thread of the session that we had”. Encouraged by these feedbacks, the artist decides to consider more seriously her natural predisposition for unconcious drawing and elaborates her personal expressive language starting from those signs born in an apparently so different context.

Initially, she extrapolates from her extemporaneous notes those elliptical circles which, repeated and superimposed, it becomes the minimum units of her compositions and that flowing on the canvas and intertwining each other, visualizes a real “flow of thoughts”, a succession of graphic ideas that manifest a state of mind. The speed of execution granted by the acrylic painting and the impetuousness of the pictorial action enhances the primary role of the free creative drawing, understood as an immediate taking of the reality released from any intervention of cognitive and rational type. Obviously the reality referred to is the inner one of the artist, which derives from a complex amalgam of perceptions, moods and reactions to life events. The succession of canvases forms a sort of intimate diary that the universality of the pictorial language adopted makes archetypal and therefore easily introjectable by the viewer whom unconsciously adapts it to his/her own experience. This spontaneous graphical writing, an instant projection of a mental state, is interesting for its oxymoronic nature, capable of bringing together maximum impulsiveness with an extremely rigorous creative process.

After choosing the color range to be used based on the chosen theme and the specific symbolism of each color, Paola Santagostino lets instinct guide the dance of the brush on the canvas, as if her hand were a seismograph capable of capturing her inner vibrations. The gestural and lyrical abstraction that derives from the total bodily and emotional involvement transfers into painting the images and mental associations that flow from the unconscious without any mediation of reason:  it is a physiological transmission that lays the foundations of empathy and subliminal understanding of the image. This method has many points of connection with the surrealist psychic automatism which, as André Breton explained in the 1924 Manifesto, sought to express the real functioning of thought outside of any aesthetic and logical concern. It is no coincidence that Paola Santagostino names Thoughts as the visual situations identified by the ellipses, but her intent is in opposite with the protagonists of the historical avant-garde; it is no longer an aim for exploring the mysterious mechanisms of the unconscious but of using their mastery to depict; in an engaging way, the infinite possibilities of existence.

The next step is to add together different Thoughts to sketch Discources, or compositions of primary and secondary abstract signs that fit together to form more articulated constellations of meaning. Here the execution takes on an even more markedly performative character: Paola Santagostino listens to connect with the deepest part of herself, then with her eyes closed she begins to trace the marks on the canvas with her left hand, whose movement is guided by the right hemisphere of the brain, most implicated in emotional processes. Despite the apparent randomness of the execution, the image is almost always structured starting from a central axis, then developing through orthogonal lines and semicircular curves pushed outwards by centrifugal forces. The most pronounced central line indicates “the thread of discourse” that connects the various concepts while the most subtle signs are the minor related topics and in the end, in very small but legible characters, the artist adds some words that stimulate the intellectual participation of the viewer.

Paola Santagostino, Thoughts of Green Hope, Painting, Acrylic

Paola Santagostino, Self Made, Painting, Mixed Media 2018

Clouds of signs gather in a cluster around an imaginary longitudinal line that constitutes the fulcrum of attraction of a kind of electromagnetic field in which each element finds its own orbit in relation to the others. The structure evokes a vortex movement,  but also the luxuriant growth of a plant or the joyful propagation of a music, all dynamic entities in constant tension between the synthesis and the dispersion that are well suited to visually embody the metamorphic identity of the human being. The purpose of not being conditioned by the formal result to prefer improvisation does not imply an absence of limit or sense of measure: like the calligraphy of the Far East, the painting of Paola Santagostino does not admit mistakes, second thoughts or uncertainties and requires a clear and confident gesture generated by an equally lucid proprioception. Her paintings, in an enigmatic equidistance between abstract expressionism and the conceptual map, instinct and methodicality, try to harmonize the multiple contradictions of being in the world and convey a positive feeling of enthusiasm and vitality.

Houda Bakkali. The colors of independent women

Houda Bakkali is a young Spanish visual designer of African descent who established her studio in Barcelona. Grown up in Madrid in the Lavapiés district, the most cosmopolitan and alternative area of ​​the Spanish capital, since childhood she has breathed the colors and atmospheres of a mestizo world in which tradition blends with the contemporary. And precisely this symbiosis between art and culture, together with her double cultural background, is the main source of inspiration for her works. Using the most up-to-date digital illustration techniques, the artist creates iconic images in which a lively pop color range blends with an elegant and essential design. Her digital collages tell us about our era with particular attention to the role of women, an emblem of beauty but also of dignity and strength. The Beautiful African Woman series, a tribute to her mother, has projected the artist on the international scene, winning prestigious awards such as The New Talent Award at the Festival International Artistes du Monde in Cannes (September 2018), the Silver Award at Graphis Advertising Annual 2019 in New York (October 2018), Excellence Award at Circle Foundation for the Arts in Lyon (France 2019) and Distinguished Artist in Art Ascent Magazine (Canada 2019). Intrigued by her talent, we interviewed her to learn a little more.

One of the most clear features of your images is a perfect balance between adherence to reality and idealization. What creative process has led you to define this style?
In the work Beautiful African Woman the creative process is inspired by the personality of my mother. A woman who transmitted me the perfect balance between reality and an enthusiastic, colorful and avant-garde idealization of the world. This series represents the colors of her soul, her pop style but sober, discreet but impressive. A style in perfect harmony with the imbalance of the world, which seeks to represent the optimism, energy and struggle of a woman who believes in herself, strong, motivated and capable of transmitting her immense vitality to the world but in harmony and in a serene way.

Your works can talk about the problems of our times with depth and lightness, always proposing positive models of thought and behavior. What do you think is the role of the artist in today’s society?
I think big crises make great generations of artists. My generation is led by young people extraordinarily well prepared but who have been forced to live with job insecurity, social injustice, in a digitized era where the human component is increasingly less protagonist. A situation full of uncertainties and with few opportunities. It is a generation that uses art as a tool of protest, as a medium to reinvent and reclaim its place in the world. A generation that has at its disposal new tools and new techniques put at the service of art. A generation that is not afraid, that does not believe in failure and that is capable of creating freely despite any limitation.

Africa represents the future, as it is evidenced by the growing interest of important galleries and institutions for African artistic production. Thanks to artists likes of Njideka Akunyli Crosby or James Marshall (which the British magazine ArtReview ranked second in the list of the most influential personalities of 2018) and their representation of a very similar universe (for better or for worse) to the western one it is finally erasing the idea that Black Art is just folklore and that Afro are always characters with a traumatic story behind them. Also in your works emerges a very contemporary interpretation of African culture, which starts from your personal experiences. Would you like to tell us something more about this aspect?
I think it is an exceptional reflection. Indeed, in the past there has been a tendency to represent a sad, poor Africa, characterized by the misery and tragedies of people separated from the world. Actually, Africa is also passion, color, rhythm, optimism, beauty and a lot of life. Africa is hope and hope is the future.

The Beautiful African Woman series, inspired by your mother’s commitment as an activist for the defense of women’s rights, is a tribute to the dignity of African woman, her strength and her ability to change the world. Even within the art system there would be much work to do to enhance female creativity. Have you ever had to deal with gender discrimination in your career?
I have to admit that I am a very lucky person. I have never suffered racial or gender discrimination in my career, but others, due to their sexual or religious condition, see their liberties in general and artistic creation in particular restricted. These situations are unacceptable. We have to fight against them. My mother was an Arab and Muslim woman. She anonymously struggled, day by day, for the freedom to decide on her own future, to choose her own path, to decide on her own choices. With freedom. Without fear. That is the best inheritance he has left me and that is the message I want to convey with Beautiful African Woman. I want to communicate that woman is the only owner of her own life with conviction and freedom.

Until now your works have been exhibited in Cannes, Paris, Barcelona and Madrid, we would like to see them also in Italy. Is there any project on the horizon?
Italy is a country I’ve known since I was a child. I have spent many summers there and currently I go there frequently because I believe that it’s one of the most complete and beautiful countries in the world. Undoubtedly, it is a very difficult challenge for an artist to exhibit his/her work in Italy for the great level of local and foreign artists there. I hope to present my work there very soon, I’m working on it.


Portrait of Houda Bakkali

Houda Bakkali, Beautiful African Woman, Serenity, 2018

Bakkali, Beautiful African Woman, Transgression, 2018

Bia Doria. Nature in motion

The exhibition Nature in motion brings to Palazzo Litta 15 sculptures realized by Bia Doria with woods coming from Brazilian forests with sustainable management. Inspired by the movement that she observes in the nature and in the curves of the tree branches, the artist gives a second life to the wood that would be destined to reject shaping new contemporary forms in dialogue with the baroque curves of the building that welcomes them. Resident in São Paulo, Bia Doria has repeatedly ventured into the Amazon Forest to look for logs recovered from fires, areas of deforestation, river funds and dams to raise international awareness on the topic of environmental protection and ecological disasters to which brings its excessive exploitation. Her works, in which the raw material is identified with the subject of the work, proposes a positive model of symbiosis and balance between humanity and nature. On the occasion of her personal exhibition in Milan, we interviewed her to deepen the background of her work.

Wooden sculpture is often seen as a purely male activity. How did you approach this discipline and why did you choose it as your main expressive vehicle?

I was born in the south of Brazil where the forests of araucaria were once abundant, then for a long time they suffered from deforestation. So art is for me an intuition that comes from the disgust I felt in seeing deforestation during my childhood. I saw the deforestation of Santa Catarina [province in the south of Brazil] where at that time cutting down the trees was necessary to delimit the lands. I saw large and ancient araucaria trees being killed and burned, which disturbed me a lot. Over time, I began to unite the nuisance for the felling of trees and the term “sustainability” and I began to put my ideas into practice through the sculptures. I collected residues of abandoned wood and began to process my works.

During your travels in search of wood you went to wild areas not frequented by man. What sensations are you inspired by immersion in untouched nature?

Going out in search of the raw material for my work gave me the opportunity to know fascinating places in Brazil, where I was able to know not only the fauna and the flora but, mainly, the people who live in the most distant places from the big urban centers. In these untouchable places we perceive how important it is to preserve and protect nature. And create peace and harmony between humanity and the forest.

Your sculptures are made of a living material, in constant settlement and change. What care do they need to last over time?

The older wood is better, in my conception. The only care my sculptures need is to avoid leaving them outdoors, under the sun or rain.

The forms you create combine a marked biomorphic suggestion with an elegant linear abstraction. How do your interior visions interact with the shapes of the raw wooden fragments?

Raw, natural wood is already fascinating in itself. The curves of my works are representations of the movements existing in nature and are born from the observation of the movement of men in the branches of the trees.

Is there anything in particular that binds you to Italy?

My distant roots are Italian and I think that from here come strength, perseverance and my predisposition for change and creation.


Bia Doria. Nature in motion
Palazzo Litta
Corso Magenta 24, Milan.
17 January – 3 February 2019.
Monday – Friday: 09h – 19h

A Really Good Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Art

Stefan Haus (1980, Slavonski Brod) is an author based in Zagreb (Croatia) whose philosophical, thought-provoking writings stimulate curiosity and encourage further inspection. His last work A Really Good Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Art, recently published by ;paranoia, is a racy dictionary in which art is described through 500 key words. The Dictionary uses both typical and atypical terms to demonstrate modern and contemporary art’s reproductive nature. From many different angles, the Dictionary speaks and shows how art of the last 130 years reproduces our nihilist misfortune in many forms: historical, political, scientific, cultural and others. Instead of that, Dictionary urges the reader to reject such bad reproduction and tell everyone that good art is not in succeeding in formal qualities of a work, but rather, it is in causing salvation in the viewer.

Where does the idea of this Dictionary come from and what was the first nucleus of words you thought about?
Several years ago, I was writing a blog about contemporary art, where on occasion I used unusual and even entertaining forms of writing, such as riddles, poems, fictitious interviews, titles of articles never written, court orders, etc. One of these blog posts was in a form of a dictionary, titled: A Teaser for a Really Great Dictionary (the letter C). The letter C was chosen randomly. The post consisted of 17 entries, from Capital to Cyber. Letter C in the book has 49 entries, from Camouflage to Cynic. Two years after writing that post, the idea came back to me in the form of an entire book on the subject. I checked few existing dictionaries on the subject, took from there some of the more general terms, and gathered others from the philosophical tradition but also from everyday life. I have basically chosen terms that would serve the purpose of the book in a provocative way. All the terms aim at one thing and one thing only: the turnover of art practice. Just like with everything else, terms, words, names and things are being taken all too lightly, too democratically and ignorantly, and the book wants to put some pressure on the terms we normally use while discussing, writing or thinking about modern and contemporary art.

Why do you say in the preface that the subject of the book is its enemy?
Subject of the book is modern and contemporary art’s reproductive nature. Even when criticizing the world and its horrors, art reproduces it, it conserves it, making its audience more and more used to it, more domesticated, more enslaved. This reproduction is the book’s enemy. The Dictionary wants to destroy this. When I say destroy, I don’t primarily or necessarily mean the actual destruction of artworks (although this is worth pondering about, considering how understanding of art has turned into a perverse adoration of objects, if not something even worse – isn’t real or true understanding of Malevich, Picasso or Pollock, once and for all times, enough to not get back to their paintings ever again?). The destruction I have in mind is the destruction of possibility of such an art. After reading the Dictionary, I hope that the reader will find the entire history of modern and contemporary art to be impossible. Factually, it may still be there, in museums or in books, but essentially, it would be gone – once the reader discovers, or actually, rediscovers that the essence of art is not reproduction of falseness and ugliness but production of truth and beauty. Regarding the enemy, it’s important to realize how art is not some force outside of a human being. It’s part of our human nature. Having said that, the book aims to destroy that part or that tendency of ours, which slaves to what’s in front of us. Just like Plato shows in the Republic, what we think is real, is not really real. So, the enemy is inside us, and we need to find that freedom in ourselves which is able to see over all history and leave it behind.

The book composes a fragmented storytelling of the art of the last 130 years, it mentions artists and movements of great success with a funny polemical verve. What are the positive examples for you to look at?
Van Gogh is obviously one such positive example. Although it remains questionable if he’s an artist, and if yes, if he is a modern one. Remember, he wanted to be a preacher, and he wrote to his brother how for him colors are sacred. Van Gogh was actually a theologian. But the only positive thing that is to be found in modern and contemporary art, are the masterpieces that have such a depth hidden in them, which allows us to really grasp all the weight that is on our backs. To take out the positivity, so to speak, out of all the negativity present there, is to understand the art, really understand it. Not feel it, not experience it, not buy it, not look at it – but understand it. Art is a great vehicle to a sphere where the whole of modern and contemporary life takes place. For instance, one of the most misunderstood or not-at-all-understood contemporary artists working today is Jeff Koons. People mostly think he is all expensive kitsch, decorative trash art without any substance. And yet, the lack of substance is paradoxically the substantial subject of his work. One needs to understand this. His Sacred Heart sculpture (from the Celebration series) shows a heart wrapped in cellophane. To understand this sculpture, to emancipate one’s self from the modern times is to realize what heart really is and what it is when a heart is denied air. I don’t mean medically, but philosophically. For ancient Greeks, heart was a central place in a human being, containing all our powers, from the lower bodily ones, to the highest intellectual ones. Also, wider and deeper than that, philosophers realized that everything alive (everything that is) has a heart, even Being itself. Not to mention the Christian aspect, with the sacred heart of Jesus. I mean, what is Jesus really, what is his heart? What is Christian mythology metaphysically telling us? Jesus Christ (“The Word Became Flesh”), is a mediator between an origin of life (“God”, “Father”) and history, and world. This means that Koons’ Sacred Heart is showing or reproducing how liveliness of everything alive (with all of its possibilities and forces) is trapped inside plastic, suffocating. Again, the only positive thing here is the richness of the material to work from. It would be fruitful for some art history student to do a dissertation on this sculpture, where all the preconditions and necessary consequences would be dealt with.

What do you think about the so called “art system” and in which way does it condition the practice of artists?
Art system is a part of a bigger system, that of an entire world or network that consists of science, technology and capital. This system, as the word itself says, puts things together in an organized whole, where each thing or being is scientifically known, technologically produced and serving capital. Art is a disciplined part of that system: it has its science (art history), it has its technology (art education system of art academies etc.), and everything in it is for sale, everything serves to enrich capital: both art-works and art-people. Therefore, this art system conditions the artists to behave nice: to do what others before them did (even if that sometimes looks like a revolution, breaking the mold, avant-garde, and so on), to do it well, and to sell it. Art as we have it in modern and contemporary art history, serves the system, it belongs to it. On the other hand, the Dictionary is trying to awaken art (and the humanity behind the art) which would have a system of its own, art that would produce something and not reproduce the empire of nothing, art that would have the know (science) and the how (technology) to produce wealth that is not wealth of capital, but wealth of the best of lives for all beings. Art system that the Dictionary has in mind would have all the members of the system (artists, writers, museum directors, collectors, etc.) serving this sort of wealth.

In this book I greatly appreciated the unusual and lateral point of view, the idea of ​​describing art through words usually not directly associated with it but intimately related to the reasons of the artistic production. Even if I do not fully agree with the basic thesis of the dictionary – that the exclusive mission of art is to provoke the redemption of the spectator – I think the text sensibly picks up the main instances of making art today. Would you define your writing as an artistic operation or a social criticism?
Well, it’s both, if you understand criticism as production. Criticism differentiates right from wrong, true from false, good from bad. It is an artistic operation because it artistically produces something (the need for other kind of art production and life production), and it is social criticism because it differentiates or divides the false in both individual and social art practices from the true. Speaking of redemption or salvation (not only of the spectator but of the artist as well, and also everyone else), I must note that, as the tradition from Pindar and Plato to Nietzsche knows it, it’s simply about being what one truly is – not about what one is not, as is shown in modern and contemporary art from Giacometti and Picasso to Prince and Baselitz: a disfigurement, a copy of a copy or turned upside down, or if you will, a servant to that system we mentioned. The writing of the Dictionary is a love letter to the future that has always been behind us.

A Really Good Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Art can be purchased here

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #21, 1978 Gelatin silver print, 8 x 10 inches, 20.3 x 25.4 cm, (MP# CS–21) Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

Jeff Koons, Sacred Heart (Red/Gold), 1994–2007, mirror-polished stainless steel with transparent color coating, 140 1/2 x 86 x 47 5/8 inches, 356.9 x 218.4 x 120.9 cm © Jeff Koons. Courtesy Gagosian

Santiago Sierra, NO, GLOBAL TOUR, Several locations. Starts Lucca, Italy. July 2009 Courtesy Studio Santiago Sierra

Tehching Hsieh, One Year Performance 1981-1982, Life image ©Tehching Hsieh Courtesy: the artist and Sean Kelly, New York

Paul McCarthy, Train, Mechanical, 2003-2009 Steel, platinum silicone, fiberglass, rope, electrical and mechanical components, 276.9 x 152.4 x 566.4 cm / 109 x 60 x 223 in © Paul McCarthy Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth Photo: Fredrik Nilsen