The Spirit of Drawing is Alive
The rock-face bas-reliefs of Lorestan, the
illustrated terra cotta wares of Sialk and Sush and other artifacts left behind from past
millennia attest to the fact that drawing has a time-honored past in Iran, just as in many
other places across the world. The mental universe of the first inhabitants of this land is
clearly reflected in these simple lines and shapes. In the course of time and the evolution
of living conditions, beliefs and needs also change, but the spirit of drawing remains
alive. Therefore, lines have ever been an important element in Iranian pictorial art.
Miniature painters of the Islamic period spent long years acquiring experience in the birang
(colorless) technique before achieving coloring skills. Birang patterns constituted the
initial draft of images upon which they later applied colors. In fact, the bese of the work
was laid in colorless patterns, and the final delineation only emphasized it. Thus, drawing
and painting were always linked together. When painting went beyond the limits of books,
drawing acquired relative independence as well.
Interestingly, the first examples of drawing independently from painting were created by
such illustrators as Mowlana Valiollah, Mohammad Siahqalam and Kamaleddin Behzad. These
artists mosts judiciously realized that drawing can constitute a domain for personal vision
and expression. Behzad focused his attention upon real man and the real world, and,
stressing upon the meanings underlying men's actions and ralationships between objects,
attempted to combine his realism with the expression of porfound concepts. His realistic
approach opened up a new path for painters and draftsmen.
A fundamental development in drafsmanship occurred in the 15th century, when the number of
art lovers increased among wealthy patrons outside the court. They fulfilled their aesthetic
needs with simple works by famous artists, because they could not afford to commission hefty
illustrated manuscripts. This situation motivated such painters as Mirza-'Ali,
Mozaffar-'Ali, Sheikh-Moammad, Siavash-Beig and Sadeq-Beig Afshar to devote part of their
activities to drawing. At the same time, Mohammadi Heravi emerged as an outstanding
draftsman. Perpetuating Behzad's realistc tradition, he put his precision and skill at the
service of recording genre scenes. Long thin lines drawn with the reed pen are
characteristic of his style.
The utilization of the expressive and descriptive capabilities of lines reached the peak of
perfection in the works of Reza 'Abbasi. He was an accomplished draftsman who could
masterfully render thickness and depth on a two-dimensional surface by varying the breadth
of the curves he drew with the reed pen. In terms of visual values, his drawing is
comparable to nasta'liq calligraphy. This "calliigraphic" style became more
mannered in the works of his followers. His most faithful disciple, Mo'in Mossavver,used
rhythmic curves more freely than others.
Sixteenth century drawing developed on the background of the ancient tradition of
stylization. Even if they concentrated on their surrounding environment, Reza 'Abbasi and
his followers were not intent upon imitating three-dimensional space, light and shade, or
color and from. When the generative force of this tradition had declined, acquaintance with
European art brought about the incentive for a new movement. Innovators such as
Mohammad-Zaman found the way of perpetuating the realism of past masters in implementing
devices of modeling and perspective. They contemplated the idea of combining Iranian and
European modes, but, in practice, they forwent, they forwent the values of pure lines in
This trend continued for two centuries and ended with Mohammad Ghaffari (Kamal-ol- Molk).
During this period although they more or less drew inspiration from the heritage left behind
from the past, Iranian painters were mainly interested in mastering the rules of naturalism.
They strove at depicting as exactly as possible living beings and objects just as they
appeared. One only needs to remember the 'Birds and Flowers' of Lotf-'Ali Suratgar or the
portraits of Abolhassan Ghaffari (Sani'-ol-Molk). No trace of the fluidity and spontaneity
of the 16th century's drawing can be found in their works; because the technique of
stippling precluded any opportunity for the line to manifest itself. Thus, meticulous
rendering led to drawing declining to the level of an action devoid of enthusiasm and
feeling. And from the viewpoint of a painter such as Kamal-ol-Molk, who devoted all his
efforts to verisimilitude, drawing could not be more than a preamble to the execution of a
Drawing as an independent and self-contained art acquired a new lease of life with the
emergence of the modernistic movement, but this happened with regard for the achievements of
Western master artists. In this course of events, the contemporary artist realized that
drawing is a particular process of discovering and expressing what has been seen, remembered
or imagined; that lines and areas of tone can be a denial of resamblance or a confirmation
of a presence. An artist as Sohrab Sepehri does not see nature from without, but rather
conceives it from within. With every line he draws and with every stroke of the brush, the
poet Sepehri reflects an aspect of a generality of which he has become aware by intuition.
Hooshang Pezeshknia's outlook and drawing style are quite different from those of Sepehri,
but his tense lines and distorted forms are also more related to his inner self than to the
exterior reality. And the coarse and quivering lines of Hannibal Alkhas, rather than
describing apparent situations and motions, utter the murmur of mythology and history. In
fact, the fundaments of modern draftsmanship were introduced in Iran by their efforts and
those of other pioneers such as Hossein Kazemi, Marco Grigorian, Mohsen Vaziri Moqadaddam
and Behrooz Golzari.
In the past few decades, drawing has developed abreast with painting and achieved a richer
language. The number of artists working specifically as draftsmen may not be large, but we
know many painters whose works are essentially akin to drawing. The common denominator
between these paintings and present-day drawing is that, in general terms, they display a
process, and not an "end". One can, therefore, say that the spirit of drawing is
well and alive.