Article by Art Critic, Javad Mojabi

Allegory imparts a perception to the audience in an allusive and figurative way that has an extensive and profound application in Persian art and literature. In Persian literary allegories, brevity often inhibits the narrator or the listener from grasping multiple meanings. In art, painters who delve into their own mental imagery create spiritual images in which surface meanings are interpreted through what might be called an allegorical subjectivity.

In his works displayed in 1964 at the Iran Auditorium, Sadegh Tabrizi approached this allegorical abstraction. His work combines calligraphy and miniature painting, with elements derived from urban architecture, to produce an expressive blend of ancient and modern worlds. His abstract paintings symbolize our visual world through a black space spotted with colors painted on tanned rawhide instead of canvas. In addition to reminding one of ancient traditions of writing on rawhide, this type of canvas evokes tattoos inscribed on skin.

Tabrizi achieved a visual abundance in later exhibitions. This abundance can be observed in collages that included chain-link, semi-precious stones, mirrored-glass icons, and even cards and workbooks with surfaces covered with lines and crisscross patterns.

Later Tabrizi reverted to purity and visual restraint, and developed a symbolic iconography. This change is evident in abstract calligraphy-based paintings shown at Burgese Gallery in Teheran in 1970. In 1959, in the ceramic workshop of the Faculty of Fine Arts, he had experimented with calligraphy using ceramic panels and patterned urns and bowls. But now he made calligraphy a distinctive feature of his paintings. The exhibition of calligraphy-based paintings at Burgese Gallery was followed the next year with an exhibition at Sirous Gallery in Paris, partly as a result of the diligence of Michel Tapié.  This exhibition marked a high point of Tabrizi’s artistic career, as Tapié wrote in the catalogue to the exhibition: "These very modern and to the same degree immortal paintings cannot be described as anything but an artistic and truly ethical and extraordinarily aesthetic, hence belonging to a sublime art."  The critic for Le Monde describes this sublime art in an allusive way: "Lyrical painting, which actively defies any formulation and systematic structure, has assumed greater brevity and stronger charm in recent calligraphic forms." Reaching deep into the visual arts of our ancestors, Tabrizi has grasped one of the roots of historic Persian painting: the apparent power of visual allegories mystically manifest in the form of "signs and codes".

Tabrizi rediscovered the movement and visual music of Persian calligraphy, but not its literal inscription. He works with the spirit of Persian calligraphy, which resembles the movement of a melody, the flight of shadows and the acceleration of time. In this application he breathes life into the painted surface.  Dull and uneven beige rawhide with its natural patterns is a field for the parade of various tones of colored ink.  He creates these leaping calligraphic-like forms in a meditative spirit – similar to the way in Asian Zen painting a single movement of hand indicates the artist’s ecstatic mood.

Calligraphy is not a new tradition; nor is its application limited to our time and geography. Calligraphy is a universal river that yields fresh perspectives to different viewers. Among the prerequisites to being an excellent calligrapher is to be a painter who has fully explored one’s culture, and to engage with things that await discovery. This is not the whole story. How can a rediscovered tradition be translated into a different culture to yield a new but invaluable meaning? I think Tabrizi has been able to arrive at succinct forms through the energy of his black marks distributed in a rapid, dancing movement across the rawhide surface. This modern and original approach uses swift and succinct moves, which appear as shadows on the surface, help us enjoy and wonder at the realization of our immensity. This is the secret: Dream-like impressions of calligraphy are inscribed on the face of a colorless world.

Signs from the alphabet – including a broken Nasta’liq design, a Persian innovation in Arabic calligraphy – flow from the ink bottle to be tattooed on the rawhide like sharp, nervous, recurring shadows. Although it sometimes suggests the line of a desert caravan, dancing flowers in the zephyr wind, ruined columns and flying horses, or the twisted limbs of lovers and warriors, this quick and abstract delineation is nothing but the result of a blossoming mind guiding the rapid movements of a brush in a nimble game on the canvas.  Transcending the taste for the mediocre in this world of abstraction, Tabrizi imprints memorabilia so boldly and humorously as to appear both as modern and as the drawings of primitive man on the walls of a cave. What is important about his paintings is the harmonious rush of calligraphic signs that are released and fly beyond the frame.

--Javad Mojabi, 2007

All images copyright © 2018 by Tabrizi Galleries. All Rights Reserved.