Ali Banisadr ‘At Once’: An Evening of Pure Magic At Blain Southern

If you’ve read my last post, you know I am completely enthralled with the Rubens retrospective at the Royal Academy of Arts and that on Tuesday February 10th, I left said exhibition practically scoffing at contemporary art. I cannot blame myself for temporarily renouncing my first love. I was touched by the Rubens. It is powerful and breathtaking and walking through those darkened RA halls can easily make one forget that anything exists outside. My heart was floating somewhere amongst Peter Paul’s jovial 19 Dancing Peasants and I was unsure if it would ever really return.

I also mentioned Tuesday as being the greatest Art Day of my life, and while it undoubtedly began under the spell of Rubens, it erupted into complete magic later in the evening, at the opening of Blain Southern’s new show, ‘At Once,’ a collection of oil paintings by Iranian-American artist, Ali Banisadr.

'Civilization,' Oil on Linen (2014)
‘Civilization,’ Oil on Linen (2014)

I had scrolled through Banisadr’s works on Google and definitely liked what I saw, but my iPhone screen didn’t even remotely prepare me for what I was to experience at the painter’s first UK solo show. Walking through the exhibition felt like getting a fresh start. Like a child seeing their first painting, I observed with new eyes, an airy sensation tingling through me, because this work was quite unlike anything I’d ever experienced.

Yes, I noted aspects of Matisse and Kandinsky and understood the influence of Persian miniaturists I’d been told about, but this art was still completely new, stunningly beautiful, even captivating.

Banisadr’s work is both abstract and figurative. You can tell that something massive is going on, but you can’t fully grasp what it is. The most amazing thing is that all but one of the paintings, Broken Land, are said to be inspired entirely by the artist’s own imagination. Yet the scenes feel as real and life-based as much of the work I’d seen earlier in the day. The paintings really move. Wildly colourful landscapes are brought to life with energy pumping crowd scenes, and though a viewer might not precisely comprehend the scene or recognize the hybrid creatures making up the crowd, he feels a part of it nonetheless.

'Broken Land,' Oil on Linen (2015) is said to be inspired by Brooklyn, which Banisadr now calls home
‘Broken Land,’ Oil on Linen (2015) is said to be inspired by Brooklyn, which Banisadr now calls home

Reading through the brochure, I learned that sound is a big part of Banisadr’s work. He explains, “When I begin a painting, it is always based on an internal sound. As soon as I apply the brush, the sound begins, and I am able to compose the work based on the sounds I hear as I’m painting. It is the force that drives the whole painting and helps me compose the work and pull everything together.”

This connection made sense immediately. The rich, purposeful brushstrokes do flow, jolt and crescendo like notes on a page, and like music, there are elements of both drama and ethereal peace present in each of his works, a spacious light-filled heaven above and loud, chaotic hell below, co-existing in harmony.

'Incubator,' Oil on Linen (2014)
‘Incubator,’ Oil on Linen (2014)
'The Lesser Lights,' Oil on Linen (2014)
‘The Lesser Lights,’ Oil on Linen (2014)

The larger canvases are my favourite, particularly Incubator and The Lesser Lights, but Banisadr’s smaller pieces are just as engaging and full of life as his brilliant 60×28 inch triptych, At Once, from which the exhibition deems its title.

'Chronos,' Oil on Linen (2014)
‘Chronos,’ Oil on Linen (2014)

“People are always afraid of what they don’t understand,” Banisadr says, “but artists have to step into the void – the unknown. The unknown territory is where it’s worth exploring.”

This show definitely explores the unknown. Oftentimes, I stared engrossed in a work, unable to turn away, though I could not truthfully say I quite knew what I was looking at. But even though I could not understand, I was not afraid. The beauty of the painting drew me in, the drips of paint flowing caressingly down the canvas lured me to calm like a lullaby, and so in Banisadr stepping into the void, he paved the way for me to follow. And follow I did, fearless and ready to explore.

'At Once,' Oil on Linen, 2015
‘At Once,’ Oil on Linen (2015)

– India Irving

Ali Banisadr ‘At Once’ is on view at Blain Southern until 21 March 2015; 4 Hanover Square, London W1S 1BP; Open Monday – Saturday 10AM – 6PM (5PM Saturdays); Admission: FREE

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