I lived in Iran for a year in 1993, spending much of the time in the home of my in-laws in Tehran. I painted this as a gift for them. It stayed on the wall a short time, then started traveling from closet to closet, home to home. Eventually it was returned to me by my brother-in-law, none the better for wear. I had to restore it, partially due to abuse, and partially to some technical errors on my part (I learned to use damar varnish in painting mediums while in Vienna, but have since realized it is a horrible substance to use in paint mediums. Forget what Doerner or Meyer say! It stays sticky for years). So I cleaned off the dust, and hair, and carpet fibers, and fixed it up as best I could.
Most portraits of people bore me to tears, and I have no interest in painting such works. In this piece, I wanted a strong psychological charge, and I think it also captures something of their relationship. No, I couldn’t bring myself to flatter either of them, but more than fifteen years later no one complains anymore about how they look. My portraits are the opposite of Dorian Gray. The subjects start out looking ten years older, but inevitably the time comes when they no longer think they look so bad. This painting now hangs above my mother-in-law’s bed, with no complaints.
Even though it isn’t a good photo, it is such a touching image. The man looks so humble but dignified and the woman has an awareness to her. It is one of the greatest portraits I’ve seen, a portrait with meaning.
My father-in-law wasn’t happy because the portrait didn’t fit his conception of what a portrait should do; present the subject grandly, as befit a man in his position in his society. In this I only cared about him as a real human being, and the psychology between husband and wife.
I like how the light hits the Fathers right side and shades the Mothers right side at the same time. She’s slightly smiling and her eyes are fixed while the fathers are closed and his head is slightly bent to the side and forward. It almost looks as if she is going to whisper in his ear. As far as your Father in Law not appreciating it for its reality at first, I would venture to say, and you probably know this, that it was more a cultural issue of the Iranians; everything is about respect and dignity, rather than psychology and reality. Poor Iran has been scared into ignorance, and they have been censored from a lot modern Art. Luckily, that’s all changing now with the internet, the Persians and modernizing very quickly.
Gee, my closets are generally full, so I could hang it on a wall until I clean one out someday. Might take several years or more though. Just like the portrait of Ava, you do capture so much psychology! I immediately build a narrative in my mind looking at this, and again, respond viscerally. What a gem.
This is a bad photo of the painting. The surface is really rough, and a bit too shiny. It is hard to capture the darks, and they are a prominent part of the meaning of the image.