Ghass was 15 years old when the revolution began. As for all young men at the time, war was unavoidable and he spent two years on the front line. One year later he decided to leave for Paris, where he hoped to exorcise the images of war that had pervaded so much of his early life. He never went back. That was in 1989.
Art History Doctor at the EHESS, art critic for Beaux Arts Magazine (lit. Fine Arts Magazine) and Director of Hartung-Bergman Foundation
Ghass’ creativity comes from a place of deep need. In his paintings, we can feel that sense of urgency to provide shapes of– but not necessarily to give shape to– his vision of the world.
Is there anything worse than finding ourselves confronted with a work and the realisation that the artist has nothing to say? We cannot feel more bitterly disappointed space – visual, literary or musical – is occupied by something and for nothing. And worse still, we often see that the creator of the catastrophe believes he is giving himse lf to us as part of the world of creativity. He is deluded. For he is only taking from the viewer – taking his time , energy, money – as he dupes him with trivia that are decorative, playful, entertaining, vague, and vaguely pleasing to the eye.
But Ghass has known war, violence and his painting too.
His aesthetic is viscerally suffused with the barbaric. For certain elegant spectres who haunt private views, this is doubtless no more than a detail, a mere trifle: who among them is capable of imaging the taste of blood in the throat? Yet what Ghass has become is a lanus who has moved from the spectacle of the madness of armed combat to that of the arts. And the spectacle he offers in return is eloquent.
This is no ordinary journey, even if it has become regrettably more common down the centuries, with conflict so often gaining ground at the expense of peace. Thus the first world war brought the blooming, like flowers on an ash-heap, of the greatest poems – those of Apollinaire – and of such great artists as Otto Dix, Marcel Gromaire, and Henry de Groux. This is but one of countless examples.
From death to life, from despair to the future, from destruction to creation; the transition from war to war is symbolised by Janus, the two-headed Roman god. To convey the terrifying echoes of violence with such economy of means – all is pared down to black, red and white – requires work that is unrelenting, dedicated, and constantly renewed. This is precisely – and rewardingly – what Ghass’s oeuvre brings us. There is no point in overstatement when your vision must fluctuate between the song of the bombs and the cries of the heart.
The tension between this simplicity and a multiplicity of meanings – sometimes in conflict, as in life itself – underlies the distinctiveness of Ghass’s painting. Beneath its apparent austerity, this tension also attests to a subterranean complexity in which truths exist only approximately, lines zigzag and, the invisible seeks to show itself as the visible seeks to disappear.
Ghass has much to say in his oeuvre, and listening to him is not easy; for where some believe that a moralising point of view is enough to settle an issue, he questions ceaselessly. His painting is, as Ronald Barthes once put it, “this very fragile language that men set between the violence of the question and the silence of the answer”.
Zahra Faridany- Akhavan holds a PhD and Masters Art and Culture from Harvard University, and a B.A in Modern Art from Wellesley College.
He paints in reverse and riddles. The visual language is symbolic and satirical; the shadow of traumatic memories of war and destruction ever present. Raw emotion refreshingly devoid of sentimentality. Charred, broken or bent into the work, the frames form an integral part of the whole. Above, a winged symbol of duality, one of the artist’s signatures, reflects the mood of the painting by its physical state.
22 years have passed since the horrific impact of the Iran-Iraq War and the terrifying visions of its death and devastation overwhelm much of his early work. The young artist struggled to make sense of Man’s assault upon himself by unleashing his internal psychological battles upon the canvas. Beneath the bold expanses of the limited palette the paintings bulge and rage. Undistinguishable chaos, wrought out of harsh construction materials, protrude from behind the mixed media, smothered beneath the shroud of violent red or debris encrusted black that covers many of his works. “Black represents the darkness that cloaks humanity,” he explains.
For Ghass it’s all about looking behind, beneath and beyond; about conscience and memory. “People today only remember the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is seen as a joyous occasion. They have forgotten its tragedy, its injustice, lives lost, families torn apart. I want to show that there are “Berlin Walls” all over the world today.”
Peace continues to consume the artist; not always in the form of hope, but the hypocrisy of Man. Geometric shapes, white on white, black on black speak to the irony of Man’s actions and the havoc he wreaks in the name of Peace.
“Everything is about communication. In today’s world a good artist is a communicator”, and a good communicator he is. Running his hand over a work he emphasizes those who cannot see and speak for themselves. In a world where one is expected to gush at the bizarre, the putrid and the kitsch as art, the ability to feel the ambiguous surface and reliefs is disarming. The paint crawls like lava beneath the hand, thick and menacing, yet oddly porous and penetrable; a cry back to times when art was meant to forge a connection with its viewer. Expressive and exuberant on the canvas and in person, Ghass animatedly discusses meaning in his art, but also wants people to draw their own conclusion. “ I love to hear their interpretations of the works,” he says.
Today the surges of angry red, and blankets of suffocating black have subsided. The Catharsis has calmed. A tenuous restraint pervades. The restricted palette has released a new color: yellow. “It represents a renaissance” smiles Ghass.
Torment evoked by excruciatingly slow seeping red is countered by lyrical bursts of dancing colors. Elsewhere, a benign eye depicts today’s world with wicked humor. Tall, skinny, shiny black plastic tubes sway seductively, pouting coy red lips at the superficial world of appearances they mirror.
The dynamic and dramatic such as “Tsunami” which crashes powerfully over the frame is balanced by works such as “ Midnight in Bam” where terrifying tension captures the tranquil innocence of the sleeping children moments before the earthquake.
A critical eye soothed by a poet’s soul, Ghass paints the surreality of a world suspended between past mayhem and future falsehood, where in the words of Wilfred Owen “death becomes absurd and life absurder”.