Khosrow Hassanzadeh

Early Paintings

Khosrow Hassanzadeh’s early works, of which the British Museum has three in its collection, directly reflect his experiences as a basiii — one of the volunteers who fought in the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88) — and exemplify the subjects that concerned him at this time and the techniques he used in the paintings. His earliest works were painted in pastel on brown paper bags that he used to sell fruit: his way of making a living in the years after the war during his artistic training. Joined together to create vast sheets, these early works are for the most part portraits of himself or of members of his family. They are posed, unsmiling, their faces — particularly that of his mother — lined and etched with pain. In the manner of an old-fashioned photographic studio, they are set against backgrounds that evoke delicately patterned wallpaper. There is always a rectangular window or a picture.

It is easy to imagine these people as victims, suffering perhaps the agony of widowhood, the loss of a child or brother. However, the texts Hassanzadeh inscribes on some of these works in his light nasta’liq style of script add profound layers of meaning and complexity. In ‘I’m In Love’, a self-portrait of the artist kneeling in the manner of a Classical Persian miniature, the texts are an extraordinary mixture of poetry and philosophical musings on the human condition. It starts, however, in prose: ‘And this act of demolishing becomes a basis for another destruction, and each destruction follows a demolition after a construction. And when everything is destroyed, it is only the legend that seems real. Now if this world, which I am making or destroying — can be called a world — looks unfamiliar, irrational and ugly, it is not my fault. Our present world suffers from these unfamiliarities, from being torn apart and breaking into pieces of values, or at least my world suffers from this imagination and only storm can soothe my chaos.’

Hassanzadeh continues with a poem inspired by the fourteenth-century Persian poet Hafez:

I am in love


But what bearing

When the storm twists

The tent of loneliness

The torn rope of the tent

And my stormy destiny


The themes represented here are further expanded upon in his later paintings. Characteristic, however, of both his early work and his oeuvre as a whole, is the direct connection between his life, his experiences and his profound interest in Shi’i tradition that can be seen so dramatically in the Ashura series of paintings. As such, Hassanzadeh can be regarded as a direct inheritor of the Saqqakhaneh movement of Iranian Modernism, which began in the 1960s and in which past traditions were so well fused with a modern idiom.