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  • 6/9/2007

Parviz Tanavoli

 (an Iranian sculptor, painter, art historian and collector) 

Parviz Tanavoli 

Parviz Tanavoli, (an Iranian sculptor, painter, art historian and collector) is undoubtedly an outstanding figure in Iran’s contemporary art circle and an unforgettable presence in our ancient nobility and national identity, while respecting the meaningful qualities of contemporary art.

   He was born in 1937, and studied sculpture at the College of Fine Arts at Tehran University, graduating in 1956, and then attended the Academia di Belle Arti in Carrara (1956 - 57) and the Academia di Belle Arti in Milan (1958-59), where he worked under Marino Marini. In 1960 he began to teach at the College of Decorative Arts in Tehran, and in 1961 he was invited to the Minneapolis College of Arts and Designs as a visiting artist, where he taught sculpture until 1964. In 1964 he returned to Tehran to teach sculpture at the College of Fine Arts. Primarily as a sculptor, he worked with a range of materials, including bronze, copper, brass, scrap metal and clay.

   Part of his works is named Saqqa- khanei (water- carrier house) based on people’s culture and folkloric beliefs. There was a time when he also made sculptures that were reminiscent of religious shrines and objects, like Persepolis, Pasargad, Bishapour and Islamic mosques and monuments. 

   Pairs of figures and fantastic birds were also common subjects. He was also influenced by themes from classical Iranian literature. He frequently used the word ‘Heech’ (i.e. nothing) as a sculpture in calligraphic form, using the word on a small scale for a ring and on a large scale for a sculpture in stainless steel (h. 3.35 m) on the campus of Hamline University, St. Paul, MN, where he was visiting artists in 1971.

   He exhibited his work widely and received commissions from all over the world. He taught at art colleges and universities in Iran and the U.S.A., retiring from his position of professor of sculpture at Tehran University in 1981. As an art historian, he wrote books and articles on Iranian arts, especially rugs and textiles. His writings, like his sculptures, demonstrate an awareness of the traditions of Iranian life gained from extensive travel to villages and tribal areas. Also he formed collections of Islamic rugs, tools, locks and native stonework.

The following is an extract of interview which Mahjubah Magazine conducted with the master:

Q:  Why do you create?

A:  Well, it is better to say, it can be a need, which motivates artists to create art. I believe it is like any other job, which ends in production and each art has it’s own product as well. Yet, it requires more attention, sensitivity and finesse. If I don’t create, I am not a happy man. I should go to my workshop every morning and work with plaster, mud and stone the whole day. It is my daily activity and making sculptures requires much activity and energy.

Q:  What motivates you to create artistic works?

 A:  My motives are quite varied. Sometimes, a piece may last a year and ends there, but the motive or the idea just passes through the mind only for a second.

Q:  How satisfied are you with your artistic activities in all these years?

A:  To be honest, I am not satisfied at all. If I were to gauge my own works, I would surely give it a zero. I have not yet done even a part of that which I have in my mind, in reaching my aims and goals. So, I would like to create more and more work.

Q:  How do you perceive art and its role in the society?

A:  A society with no art is a flat and spiritless one, and we are unfortunately, becoming distant from art. We didn’t live without art until 50 years ago. The daily life of Iranians was mixed with art. Beautiful hand woven carpets were under our feet, in our rooms, nice curtains were hanging over our doors and windows, tablecloths were beautifully woven and decorated with unique patterns. The bowls, dishes and pottery were hand-made, and everything was mixed with art. But today, industrial products are so quickly replacing the handmade ones that sometimes there is no sign of art. Even some of the carpets are no longer hand-woven. This isn’t a good sign and leads the society toward being artless.

Q:  What is the role of the artist in promoting art?

A:  Well, the artists are doing their jobs, but there must be intermediaries as art experts between the artists and the society. Our society lacks these intermediaries. The artists cannot themselves both create and find a market to present their works in the society, as well. This is the job of the intermediaries, and they should be more active in the country.

Q:  How do the common people and non-artists perceive your modern works?

A:  I have not had an exhibition in Iran for 25 years, and this is my first one, after a lapse of so many years. So, I had not directly observed the people’s perception of my works. But, in this exhibition, I was very amazed and surprised to see a very favorable reception, especially the youth; which is really a blessing and encouraging for me.  And I am quite glad that I have not been forgotten, and the interest of the people is of great importance to me.

Q:  Could you expound on “Nothing”, seen in your recent works and the various shapes it takes in your sculptures?

A:  It can mean the empty spaces of sculpture in the history of Iran when there was no sculpture.

   It points to my interest in Iran’s mysticism and poetry. It draws attention to mortality expressing that nothing is immortal and to its shapes in the Persian language which signifies man and his figure. There is nothing in everything and there is everything in nothing. Nothing embraces a wide range of meanings.

    Artist Nina Cichocki, about Tanavoli’s sculptures of “Nothing”, says: “Tanavoli’s nothingness conveys spirituality and its origin was the theme of subduing, cherished in Persian Sufi poetry. Adherents to Sufism pursue proximity to God through subduing the self. In order to exist and be one with God, one has to subdue oneself, one’s individuality. Thus, nothingness has a very positive connotation, since it leads to the loftiest spiritual achievement possible. This positive aspect is emphasized in Mathnavi of the famous mystic poet Mawlavi.”

Q:  What were you seeking by collecting ancient carpets, Gabbeh (kind of carpet woven by nomads), locks, keys and so many other things?

A:  I wasn’t after royal art, belonging to the kings and royal families. I like the art of the common people, nomads, and rural arts and their various handmade and hand-woven works.


Tanavoli’s works are among the collections of:

Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, Iran.

Museum of Modern Art, New York, U.S.A.

Sammlumg Ludwig, Museum Moderner Kunst, Vienna, Austria.

Forum Ludwig, Aachen, Germany, and numerous private and other public collections.

Tanavoli’s Publications:

1. Persian Flatweaves, The Antique Collector’s Club, London, 2002.

2. Kings, Heroes and Lovers: Pictorial Rugs from the Tribes and Villages of Iran, Scorpion Publications, London, 1994.

3. Shahsavan; Iranian Rugs and Textiles, Rizzoli, New York, 1985.


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