Photo: Masoud

Calligrapher & Painter
Yousef Rezaei

Yousef Rezaei
Born in 1952, Roudsar, Iran
Elementary and High School Educations in Roudsar and Tehran Darol-Fonoun
Exhibitions and Works

2000, Private Exhibition, Tehran, Iran
1998, Kunj Art Gallery, Karachi, Pakistan
1997, Selected as the Best Work of Calligraphy in the Islamic World Calligraphy Festival, Tehran, Iran
1997, Afarinesh Gallery, Tehran, Iran
1996, Mansoureh Hosseini Gallery, Tehran, Iran
Contemporary Arts Museum, Tehran, Iran
Sayhoun Gallery, Tehran, Iran
1995, Tehran Biennial, Iran
Sayhoon Gallery, Tehran, Iran
Group Exhibitions in Russia and Ukraine
1994, Waterscape of Tehran Historical Information Center (Candidate of Agha Khan Prize,  U.S.)
Tehran International Exhibition, Iran
Sculpture of Bahman Cultural Center of Arts, Tehran, Iran
1993, Nour Gallery, Tehran, Iran
Performance With a Group (Painting and Calligraphies on the Walls of an Old House    Before Destruction)
1992, Gollestan Gallery, Tehran, Iran
1991, Group Exhibition, London, England
First Iranian Painting Biennial in Tehran, Contemporary Arts Museum
1990, Niavaran Cultural Center, Collective Painting Exhibition, Tehran, Iran
1989, Tehran Contemporary Arts Museum, Iran
1988, Gollestan Gallery, Tehran, Iran
1987, Group Exhibition, Munich, Germany
1986, Group Exhibition, Athens, Greece
1985, Tehran Contemporary Arts Museum, Iran
1984, Gollestan Gallery, Tehran, Iran
1974, Tehran International Exhibition, Iran

Critical Studies and Essays on the Exhibitions

2000, Review “The Fire Dance”, Akbar Iran-doust
1998, Review “ Flying”, Akbar Iran-doust
A rewiew of Yousef Rezaei’s Calligraphies, The News Newspaper
“Dawn Magazine”, Pakistan
1997, A review of Yousef Rezaei’s Calligraphies, Rouzeh Haftom Weekly Magazine
1996, Introduction to Calligraphies of Yousef Rezaei, Akhbar Daily Newspaper
1995, A report from Moscow and Ukraine Exhibition, Kayhan Daily Newspaper
1994, An Introduction to Bahman Arts Center’s Sculpture, Akhbar Daily Newspaper
The Sculpture of Bahman Arts Center, Etela'at Daily Newspaper
Yousef Rezaei’s Sculpture of Bahman Arts Center, Kayhan Daily Newspaper
1993, A review of Yousef Rezaei’s Calligraphies, Donyayeh Sokhan Monthly Magazine
1991, A review of First Tehran Biennial, Adineh Monthly Magazine

The Fire Dance

By: Akbar Iran-doust, Criticizer & Author, 2000    

It is not longer a mystic dance. You cannot see a kind of introverting or glorifying effect. Anger and force appear in a strong and well- defined texture. Like a wounded snake, it twists and convulses.
As we have seen in Mr. Rezaei’s earlier work, there is a bitter humor, which is intensified by the use of the negative spaces of the canvass and combinations of tangible, real colors.
Seven Deadly Sins, the most recent work of Yousef Rezaei, just like his earlier series, are independent and yet complementary.

He explained:
“I have not approached calligraphy as a mere technique. Of course, I am familiar with all kinds of techniques. Just when I looked upon calligraphy as an independent art, I realized that
many possibilities are being opened up to me to express myself. I started to experiment. I found potentialities, which at first glance looked, impossible and troublesome. Calligraphy demands a certain disciplines, on one hand, and offers a kind of artistic excitement and spontaneity, on the other. Together, they develop and complement each other.

Then I encountered ‘he sacredness’ which has been instilled in calligraphy through centuries, which has alienated it from its inner dynamic nature.
Many people consider that calligraphy has fully exhausted its resources. But I think that, like any other form of art, it can be expressive and eloquent; provided that the element of time is properly captured. The start point of movement is here a movement, which is not in a closed circuit. Calligraphy has his own story. It can reflect the contemporary realities. Anyone who stands watching in front of these artworks, is forced to make an active observation and to analyze his sentiments.”

Yousef Rezaei maintains that contemporary man needs contemporary expression of art. He likes to be affected and to make his impression. He needs to come out of indifference.
Rezaei doesn’t like artworks to be immortal, rather he likes them to be born, make an impact and then die. But he tries to go beyond the traditional limits, even though his work sometimes reduces to mere abstraction. Anger, pain, sadness and passing joys are show in every corner of his work. They incite the observer to think.

Humor is another component, which he introduced in his work; “I would have never guessed that one day I could find humor in my art. But it easily found its way. Maybe it’s because the time has come when anger and force can no longer help to deplete mental energy. Here humor comes to the foreground and make a more lasting impact.

The first of the series were ‘Bechap Bechap’, ‘Sirab Shirdoun’,’Eshqi’, ‘Ay Wallah’, ‘Ki be Kieh’, ‘Havaye kolato dashte bash’, ‘Bendazo dar ro’. They are made of colloquial and even slang phrases, which no one imagined they could break down the sacred element in calligraphy. I have tried to apply all my techniques. I have never felt such excitement, even when I have been working on poems of Hafiz. These words were used in harmony with colors and composition.”

This kind of humor is reflected not only through words but also by contrast and color compositions. The seven deadly Sins series illustrate well this humor: Pride, Covetousness, Lust, Envy, Gluttony, Anger, and sloth (laziness), are serpentine into the light out of darkness. In an age when evil aspects of man’s characters become values in his social interaction, and lies take the place of truth, laziness or pride no longer seem ugly. They can offend no one: they are repulsive.

In this series, Mr Rezaei experiments with a new composition. The seven sins are drawn out of darkness; the bright colors, along with shades and tonality creating the necessary spaces, convey a sense of shame- shame of nudity. It seems as if a secret, or an unexpected nudity of a woman, is revealed.

All the colors and lines are involved in conveying this sense. The darkness of the work becomes the essential theme. The lines and the curves, like luminescent strips, are lost in the darkness, and suddenly reappear elsewhere. And this causes a slight pleasant tremor and encourage the eyes to pursue in all directions. In the Gluttony this characteristic reaches its climax. The Envy, with ochre and deep blue colors, fall down like inscriptions. As if they are taking down with themselves the black curtain of the end of a play. The equivalent words in French complement the scene with bright and joyful colors. The French equivalent of the Seven Sins series opens up the possibility of adding colors to the humour in the work and the artist did not mean to imitate the Western calligraphy.

Indeed, as it can be seen in Covetousness and Anger, they accompany and intensify the rhythmic dance of words.


By: Akbar Iran-doust, Criticizer & Author, 1998    

In the history of Iranian art, the combination of artistic taste and skill with abstract and imaginative thinking is evident especially in pottery, miniature, calligraphy and carpet weaving. Even though calligraphy was originally inspired by such styles as Mohaqaq, Reyhan, Thulth, Naskh, Roqaa and Ibn Moqlem (9 AD) Tawqi’, soon it became richer and more lively with the Iranian poetry and literature. In Taliq style, Khajeh Ekhtiar Monshi (15 AD), in Nastaliq Mir Ali Heravi (15 A.D), Mir Emad (16 A.D), Mirza Qolam Reza, Kalhor (19 AD), and in Broken style (Shekasteh) Dervish (17 AD) and scores of other calligraphers created innovative works. During the Safavid (15 AD) and Qajar (19 AD) eras, calligraphy reached its climax and maturity, and since then,  calligraphers were engaged in the repetitions of the original works. There was a prolonged delay in this art, which was associated with the stagnation in the realm of thought in our country. It was only in the 1950’s, when the cultural relations with other nations expanded, and Iranian artists familiarized themselves with the contemporary painting, and brought plastic arts first and calligraphy after (1960) out of the stagnation, which had long surrounded it.

Yousef Rezaei was born in Roudsar, Guilan, in 1952. He learned from the green nature of Guilan to introspect and purify his soul so that he can experience another birth. He learned calligraphy, illumination and miniature. He experienced colors and their artistic intuition in painting, and used graphics as a modern artistic tool. During the period of his artistic evolution, he tried to make calligraphy more familiar for his audience using painting and graphics. He did not confine himself to the events which had happened previously in calligraphy painting, and inclined to much expanded experiences. Calligraphy is a sort of art, which becomes alive from a moment’s spontaneous movement of hand. There is no pause. Even sorrow and non-existence are negotiating so as to inspire the harmony needed for creating an innovative work of art.

Rezaei obtains the experiences needed for a jump forward in calligraphy. He deeply reflects on Mirza Qolam Reza’s works (19AD).

“To me, everything has a touch of calligraphy: the mystical curves every motion of which bears a mythical meaning. Fabrics with nodes, which narrate fables like “The Thousand And One Nights”; you have to immerse yourself thoroughly in this magic fountain to get free and rest. It is all restlessness and excitement within.”
“I wish to make these inscription and sketches, with their blue color, more tangible and more accessible to people. I gain strength from the smell of soil. I have to add color and smell of soil to it, and express my feelings in the language of my time.”

At this time, he purifies his thoughts and feelings by changing the traditional colors and ideas, and using the ideas of contemporary poets. Then, totally freeing his works from the traditional sayings, he turns to popular word. The new content creates an appropriate form of its own, and this is a turning point in the works of Rezaei. Some consider his works in this period as the bravest Iranian calligraphy drawings, which open up gates to the future innovations in this art, and take a decisive departure from traditions.

“I am not deceived by what is now happening in the art of calligraphy. I have always learned from the nature to be frank. No tree bears false fruits. I deal with a sort of art, which is living and dynamic. Calligrapher’s look should change. I try and hope to be able to express all the feelings of my time. There is a difference between the artist and his created work. A white canvas has everything on it: Kufic, Naskh and Nastaliq writing styles, colors and colorlessness. What really matters is that I can look and choose one of the many designs, and perform it on the blank canvas. I should be able to break all the existing forms and create a new, desired frame for work. Words alone are not any more capable of expressing my feelings on canvas, when, in the traditional blue context, even the word “Crime” can be manifested as beautiful as the word “love”. I have to be involved in the meanings of words, and be able to communicate with my audience free form the still, motionless letters and words as they have so far been used by other calligraphers.”

Rezaei feels no need to engage in the superficial appearance of words. He gets closer and closer to the expression of visual feelings and thoughts, and borrows the needed tools from both painting and graphic. This is manifested best in his recent exhibition, where one can distinguish over two hundred separate colors, which demonstrate his vast knowledge of colors.

Calligraphy painting opens up a vast world to him, which deals with the contemporary man and his thought. But he does not confine himself merely to pure painting or graphics. Bravery is seen in his words of Solth, Reyhan and Mohaqaq styles, and strength and nobility in the Kufic calligraphy. Those traditional textures are not forgotten in his calligraphy painting, but they take a modern form with new content.

“For certain calligraphers, perhaps everything has been accomplished: they have reached maturity in their work; but for me, the art still has a lot of new inspirations and mysteries.”

The contemporary man’s alienation from the world and from himself, the obscure presence of people, and the fragmentation and contradictions which engulf him, draw Rezaei’s thoughts towards a reality which is intermingled with imagination, and thus create the calligraphy painting “Saye-ha” (Shadows). “Saye-ha”, the latest works of the artist, reflect his endowed imagination power, which he has developed in calligraphy.

Definitely, aesthetics changes from one epoch to another. Forms and designs are broken and reshaped. The empty spaces on canvas become meaningful. Letters in calligraphy, exactly like notes in contemporary music, become strong and weak, and, I always evolve in this conflict. I express myself in calligraphy which I have borrowed from my ancestors, but as I breathe in a new atmosphere, I resort to innovation so that I myself and my art remain alive and new.”

By: Media Kashi-gar, Criticizer & Translator, 1996    

The historical movement of writing is a move towards increasing abstraction: if once we drew the form or shape of cow in order to write the word cow, in some other times we wrote it with its composing sounds, c and o and w; and thus moved from icon gram to phonogram.

What made this further abstraction possible was the further trimming of the forms, i.e., stylization. In this way, in order to show a cow understandably we don’t have to draw the complete form of the cow, a silhouette may be enough, or maybe not even a complete silhouette but the drawing of a pear with two horns on top of it, or maybe even a bow and a line.

I suppose phonograph and the writing of characters are the most brilliant examples of stylization of form by man. Of particular importance is the first letter of every alphabet, Alif (A), through which Jorge Luis Borges viewed the world.
In a sense all a’s are further trimmed and stylized forms of a cow’s head in the course of history. Strangely enough, still the cow seems to be the most important and constructive livestock in man’s life.

In one case, in the Greek alphabet neither the pear that depicts the head, nor the horns have been stylized but the shape has been  rotated 90 degrees to create an a. In one more case, in the Latin alphabet there is more stylization so that the horns have been omitted and the bow on top has remained in a. In the third place, in the Arabic-Persian a more extensive trimming has left only a vertical line as the trace of the horns. In the fourth place…,

These are naturally sheer hypotheses that can not be proved. Things that can merely be seen or imagined. … But even if they are not true still one thing is certain and that is the fact that phonography is made of abstract forms. And the abstraction in these forms is to the extent that makes such assumptions defendable.
In such a context, working on writings is diving into the sea of capabilities of alphabets. A mysterious sea that is both infinite and limited. There are an infinite number of drops in it, which must be in a way limited. Only with 20 to 40 characters one can write everything that exist in the world.

In two ways this is a formal diving. In one way it is a search for more legible forms. This is evident in the development of printed and written characters. In another way it is a quest for poly-semi-cal forms that manifests itself in calligraphy.
What is the characteristic of our time, in this latter sense, is not merely the endeavor of today’s calligrapher for experiencing new forms of well-known old contents. Today’s calligrapher view calligraphy beyond ornamentation for words or blessing for painting. He is looking for a form of art that is perfect per se.

Only the future can tell if such an endeavor can be realized. However, this is what Yousef Rezaei is looking for and is materializing it in his work. In 1993 he looks for a composition of contents and forms at the service of an outer concept and examines the liberty of both of them. In 1995, he wants the content to have no value or rather to be anti-value in order to open the arena for a more liberal dance by form; so that the viewer would see the writing not merely as tools for the expression of good speeches but as forma that can be beautiful even they are devoid of a content.

Now, Youssef Rezaei who has managed to remain an experimenting searcher after a quarter of a century of experimenting and searching, gives only one content to his forms so that the forms would reveal other contents out of that form and lend them their meanings. This unique content is Allah, a content that is as vastly infinite as the form.
And the last point is that if for the Bible first there was the word and the word was God, the four Alif or vertical strokes in the word Allah are four returns to the origin of writing and alphabet.


Iranian Contemporary Calligraphers
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