Interview with Farzad Kohan

Farzad Kohan’s sculptures and paintings explore themes such as love, migration, and identity, and often incorporate appropriated media and found objects. Partially inspired by his personal history and surroundings, Kohan places an emphasis on form, allowing the successive stages of art making to become analogous to diasporic experience, as diverse, sometimes opposing, elements are sampled, brought together, and accumulated. These visible stages are integral parts of each finalised work. Kohan’s formalistic process is revealed, for example, as he layers then strips his abstract works through painting, collage, décollage, and sanding, creating built-up yet weathered surfaces that are at once chaotic and methodical. Allusions to the passage of time, gradual transformations, and hidden narratives are found in the tactile details of his treated panels.

Alongside his sculptures and paintings, Kohan has experimented with installation, and also maintains a large body of works on paper that he expands on a daily basis. Although Kohan’s ink drawings reflect similar themes, their figures signal a representational departure for the artist, as the thin, black outline of a recurring man is delicately rendered and accentuated with Persian letters and numbers in addition to other enigmatic symbols.

Born in Tehran, Iran in 1967, Farzad Kohan lives and works in Los Angeles, California, where he first trained as a sculptor in the late 1990s. Kohan has held solo exhibitions at Ayyam Gallery Dubai, DIFC (2013) and Seyhoun Gallery, Los Angeles (2006). Selected group exhibitions for the artist include Ayyam Gallery, Beirut (2015); Francis Boeske Projects, Amsterdam (2015); ABRA Gallery, Los Angeles (2011); Human Rights Awareness Tour, USA (2008); J Ferrari Gallery, Los Angeles (2008); Eagle Rock Center for the Arts (2008); and Phantom Galleries, Los Angeles (2007).

FBB. Tell us your story Farzad.

I was born in Tehran and I lived and worked in several countries for many years before I settled down here in Los Angeles. I have been making art as long as I can remember, but somewhere over 20 years ago, I decided to become a full-time artist. My early works consist of sculptures made from discarded materials usually found on construction sites, and drawings made from motor oil, milk, coffee, and black paint and have made a few installations as well. Later on I decided to concentrate solely on painting. I carry a large body of works on paper which I add to on daily basis that I have been sharing and updating on social media.

FBB. What drives you as an artist?

I love life and how people react to it, human behavior is very fascinating to me so I observe everything around me, thus my art is naturally a reflection of my worldview. Also finding material and ways of creating is an important part of my daily practice of making art, it can be anything but I search on daily basis, I always look in the most uncommon places to find a clue, and also finding links between materials and ideas, it is a nonstop process going on and an important part of works.

FBB. Talk to us about your practices. 

My paintings are laborious works; they do take a long time to make as I add and remove layers of paint and recycled papers, and then take the piece through many changes using paint and power tools, I also incorporate words into my paintings which adds another level of complexity to my process. I lay the words out when I start and through out the process of my works they change to find a new form, sometimes I lose part of them and sometimes all of them, but that resembles life. My paintings and my life are very similar in so many ways. I use found objects and pretty much anything around me to make art, I think it is pretty brilliant to see a piece of paper that is recycled and see a painting made out of that. Things like that keep me moving and motivate my search for more materials and ways of making my works.

FBB. Your recent drawings have turned many heads in the French Riviera. Tell us about your inspiration behind the work.

I have been making these figures for more than 20 years, and just like me, they have gone through changes. I see life and I draw life, but I don’t draw from life. What I do is a very straightforward method of creating a link between me and the things I see or have seen. Sometimes it is a memory, sometimes it is part of a poem, and sometimes it is a house or a tree, but they all have something in common: life. All I am trying to say is that we go through this together, we have much more in common than our differences, and that is why I create those drawings. They have a common language that goes beyond many borders and that is why people find their own stories in those works, yes I am telling a story but I always find other people’s stories more fascinating than mine.

FBB. As an Iranian artist based in Los Angeles, what do you think of the Iranian art scene there?

There are many fantastic Iranian artists in the US and yes some of them live here in LA, however I don’t think we have an active Iranian art scene. We have individual artists doing their own thing and the occasional collaborations, but that is how LA is. It’s a melting pot, some people decide to keep their identity and some start looking for new ones, the same goes for artists living here, and to me that is a sign of human creativity. Los Angeles is the largest part of the world where Iranians live outside of Iran, what we need here in LA is more art from any background and Iran is no exception, I think Iranian artists in this city should do a lot more, I am doing my part and am very hopeful for what future is bringing as the landscape of this city is changing on daily basis.

FBB. Where can our audience look for your work?

It is very easy to find my works online along with my daily activities on social media to communicate with people who are interested in my works or want to know about my art. I share my daily drawings on Instagram and Facebook. My website is  where you can find some samples of my works.

FBB. Any exhibitions or auctions coming up?

I have two paintings in an auction coming up through April 30, benefitting Syrian refugee children, through UNICEF educational program.

I will also be participating Art Brief II, Iranian Contemporary North America, June 2nd – June 12th , Arena 1 Gallery, Los Angeles, curated by Roshi Rahnama and Talinn Grigor.

FBB. What would be your advice to Iranian artists today?

Stay in the studio and stay true to yourself. Finding yourself through art takes time, but it is well worth it, so practice patience.

FBB. We remember your skull works back in 2013 and loved it when we saw it on the cover of Ayyam gallery’s Young Collectors Auction. Tell us more about that body of work.

The blue skull painting titled Lost Promises was the first of my skulls which later on turned to a whole series of works based on commitments, my skulls are commitments, those very important ones that we keep, text has a presence in the skull works, they can be found in the eyes, nose and lips, it is like we see it and smell it and say it. Another thing that has a presence in the skull works is the tattoo feeling that the painting evokes, tattoos are to be kept and are very personal, so are these commitments and that is how I see them. 

FBB. Your Love Letters series has been an extremely successful body of works. Talk to us about the message behind the works.

Love Letters are an extension of my earlier works on wood panel, part of my process of work is to remove things from my paintings, I keep adding and removing as each painting goes through a very laborious and time consuming process, so I am used to this and removing is a tricky part, what to remove and how and when … so I thought to myself what if I actually remove the wood panel which is the base of my works, it was a difficult thing to do as working in layers of papers are not easy and also paper is a fragile material, so it took time but I am very happy with results, Love Letters are a series of work based on things Lovers say and mean to each other, sometimes it reflects back on a memory and sometimes it is a promise of a future, they are colorful, playful, and heartwarming.

FBB. What are you currently working on? Any interesting projects for the future?

I have started a few new projects already and am busy working and experimenting, new materials and ways of creating, I will be revisiting some of my older works with a new twist, my daily drawings have grown to a few thousands at this time so I am doing those as well, I have had a very great start into 2016 with so many new ideas and am very excited to bring them to life, good things are coming up.

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