The history of Persian art spans the centuries, stretching back to the time of Zoroastrianism and Mithraism, comprising of myriad cultural components, from the secular to the religious. Persian art is an amalgamation of Pre-Islamic mythology, Shia and Sunni Islam, ancient and contemporary philosophy, as well, ethnic groups from the Turks to the Caucasians have all had some influence over which direction Persian art has taken over the years.
It would take me far too long to breakdown every single influence and every single artist who has made a dramatic impact; here, I wish to talk about how Persian art history still manages to inspire and produce the most aesthetically rich creations, from book binding to fine art, speaking with a graphic designer who has found creative nourishment in it. At its roots, the influence that the Persian formula has, inevitably, helps foster the creation of beauty, in its most classical and transcendent form.
Since Naser al-Din Shah began cultivating a relationship with Europe during the 19th century, the world at large has looked to Persian art with fascination. The Qajar era which reigned unopposed from the late 18th century to the early 20th century, was one period, in-particular, where Persian arts and crafts convulsed with abandon, as artists began to experiment with European techniques, especially in the field of painting and drawing. From Kamal ol Molk to Fathallah Sani’zada, creative and curious minded men were numerous during the Qajar epoch, with each desiring to create something Persia had not seen before, embracing the new and paying homage to the old.
A Conversation with Kourosh Beigpour
Of the many artists and designers out there who have lifted inspiration from Persia, Kourosh Beigpour, a graphic designer, native of Kermanshah and now resident of L.A. is one such. He recently paid homage to the Qajar dynasty in a design project that focused on the humble playing card, for Vanghu Fedhri.
Kourosh, whose work blends an unambiguous Persian flavour, which pervades throughout his creative endevours, and essences of Western elements, brought something magical to an idea that was, at its inception, quite simple.
Before we begin talking about the project in hand, please tell me a little about your inspirations and favorite artistic movements. Well, I am always thinking about inspirations and favourite artists, but some moments make me wonder, do I really love art or is it simply just a medium or cause to achieve something so that I may get an idea about world, myself and others. To be honest, when I’m thinking about art, to me, it is mostly a solution to tolerate the burden of life. Specifically, to answer your question I have to say anything relevant to a piece art that somehow gives me awareness about myself and about the cosmos as a whole, I like. Sometimes, I’ll find it in a psychedelia inspired poster, a piece of video art or a masterpiece of Persian calligraphy. So basically, there are no specific artistic movements or individual artists, I find inspiration everywhere.
What are the origins of your Qajar playing cards project? I have to say: I would never work on the project which is not close to my heart or gives me a chance to explore something new. I have a client – a friend – that came to me and asked about this project. She told me, creating Qajar playing cards is the idea. Immediately, I said yes! As always, she left everything to me until the last sketch. I sent her some of the cards, she said yes and step-by-step, I went and delved into some research and explored the design process. The Qajar era is my bridge to pure Persian art. You can find the very distinct Persian static in each part of it. Music, calligraphy, photography, fashion, cinematography, architecture, carpet design, pating, book design et al. Trust me, just take a look at a simple pen box, spoon or anything from the Qajar era, and you will wonder how such intense detailing works for them. I have some items from that era and am always trying to add something new to my collection, just to educate myself. The truth is, that when we are talking about Persian art – or dynasty – we have something from each one. Architecture, sculpture and jewelry from the Achaemenid and Sassanian Empires. Carpet design and Persian painting from the Safavid era and so on, but we have no idea about people’s lives whatsoever. However, when we are talking about the Qajars, we know exactly the style of living, the people, their jobs, their food and the way they talk. Qajar is the first era in which we are gifted the knowledge about the finer details of peoples lives.
What was the design process? In the beginning, I did some sketches, designing clubs, diamonds, hearts and spades which were infused with Persian feeling and motifs. After that, I started work on the Jack, Queen an the King. When I finished them all, I conducted a redesign, adding some stuff to create a more Persian flavour, and in some parts make it less so, so as to create a harmonious balance in thedesign. For example, regarding the back of the card, my client told me about this specific design which is Nasser Al-Din Shah’s coat of arms. It’s so bizarre – a crown, two dragons, lion (with sword) and the sun, Persian ornaments, war helmet, flag and tent – probably relevant to Ashura – because of the colour and his devotion to Shia Islam, as well, his famous medallion is featured, at the bottom of the design. It’s a stunning piece of art in itself, you can find everything there, which renders it ultimately harmonious and beautiful.
Do you have a particular love for art of the Qajar era? Oh, I’m living with it, with each part of it! So most definitely yes.
I personally see Qajar art has having a great appeal across the world, perhaps more than any other, do you feel the same? Exactly! I think its because of the distinct details. Nothing but Qajar art would not give us this satisfaction, as it has such particular relation to the long running history of Persian arts and crafts. I believe it’s the same for the others as well, when they are thinking about Persian art, Qajar ornaments, painting and calligraphy would be the first to come to mind, as it is for us.
The Qajar epoch, which lasted just over a century, continues to strengthen Persian artistry well into the 21st century, a testament to those artists that were very well aware they were standing on the shoulders of giants, of those men who had enriched the Persian aesthetic during the Safavid era and before, taking their inspiration carefully and boldly enhancing it.