Artist Abol Bahadori received the Evelyn Turner Award for Abstraction by March juror Liza Key Strelka for Paradox – “a very musical and contemporary” piece. We asked Abol to share some insight into his creative process and inspiration in this Q&A:
Why are you a painter?
My mom says I started scribbling before I started talking. So I guess it comes to me naturally as the most primary method of expressing myself. I’ve always felt an urge to paint. I truly believe that the need to create is even deeper than what defines us as human beings. It is the same primitive urge that makes the birds build nests or beavers dams. I am sure they each have a distinct style even among the same species that is ingrained in their genes. As for us homo-sapiens, we express our creativity in very different forms that don’t necessarily fall under the category of fine arts.
How did Paradox come to be? What was your goal with the painting?
As with most of my paintings, I did not have a clear goal in mind. I started this piece with a spontaneous approach applying acrylic medium on a very wet canvas letting paint expand and run into water. About 15 minutes into the process I already knew where the painting wants to take me. Our juror Liza Strelka was very observant, and I was thrilled, when she said, “it is very musical…” This painting led me into creating a whole new series—Music. I’ve done at least ten more paintings in my Music series, which is based on the concept of melody (organic forms) and rhythm (geometrical forms) running together and against one another. In the Music series I introduce the geometrical forms later on, which in this painting they are the vertical divisions. As for the title Paradox, the organic forms and the vertical stripes created a dichotomy or an odd sense of harmony. So I thought this title was a good one without being too suggestive.
What’s your creative process like, from an idea to a finished piece? How do you know when a piece is done?
My artistic process is a spiritual journey that exists outside of the sense of self and intellect. More than an artist I consider myself a medium or a tool to manifest my belief that beings in this and other realms want to appear to us in a form, shape, or color visible to us. They first engage our subconscious. So in the beginning of the process I intentionally disengage my mind and try to let it pour (literally) from a place of feeling and not thinking. That is why I prefer abstract art. Pollock stated, “I can control the flow of paint: there is no accident.” He truly had crafted that level of control. I start with “accident” a lot and enjoy doing that, but I continue with structure. I’ve also developed certain techniques of “accidents”, but my intention is opposite of control in the beginning of the process.
Do you listen to music while you paint?
I have listened to music while painting a lot. But recently (and even with the Music series) I make sure that I start in complete silence as I try to avoid any external input. Later on when I am continuing the work in a more conscious level, I may listen to some classical music. The other issue is that I have a certain level of anxiety that I find very productive. Music can calm me down or add a different type of energy and become counterproductive.
What’s your color strategy? How did pink come to dominate Paradox?
I don’t have a color strategy, but definitely a color palette which is generally colors that please my own eye. I’ve realized that I am more attracted to analogous and split-complimentary colors rather than direct complimentary colors. I also never understand why we teach children that primary colors are blue, red, and yellow. In reality primary colors are cyan (turquoise), magenta, and yellow as well known in the print industry. I make my best reds by mixing magenta and yellow. I also create amazing blues by mixing turquoise and magenta. I love magenta, especially quinacridone magenta for its purity and transparency. As for the variety of pink dominating Paradox, it was born out of wet-on-wet mixes of white with various purple, magenta, red, and oranges. Whether that was a cocious decision or not, I don’t remember. I think pink always looks fresh and unusual just because majority of artists avoid it.
What’s your earliest memory of wanting to be an artist?
I won the Best Young Artist award among the local schools in my home town Tabriz (capital city of Iranian Azerbaijan) when I was 9. Even before that I knew I am going to choose either music or visual arts as a profession. But I did not start music training until I was 14 and it was already too late. I had started painting much earlier—so early that I don’t remember when. My first art teacher at kindergarten had asked my parents to allow me develop my own style of painting and stay away from artisan schools such as miniature or calligraphy. I don’t necessarily agree with that idea—so popular all around the world in 60s. I could’ve gained many techniques I couldn’t possibly develop on my own.
What are you working on now?
I consider myself a colorist type of abstract expressionist. Helen Frankenthaler’s works definitely resonate with me more than any other artist from that era. I know nowadays you have to come up with a completely new technique or mix of mediums to be considered “modern.” That has never been my intention because I know for a fact that each artist has a unique style, almost like a genetic signature, which will make him or her stand out. I have also realized that, even though I am not crazy about surrealism, people see a lot familiar forms in my paintings. This is almost like reading coffee or tealeaves that each viewer interprets my visual content differently. So recently, I am doing a series I call Oracle where I focus more on that aspect of the composition. I am also always pushing myself to experiment with colors and surfaces that are not as familiar to me. What really works for me is painting several different series at the same time. This prevents boredom which to me is opposite of creativity.
Come see the March All-Media Exhibit through April 6!