|Mehdi Ghadyanloo in front of his mural in Shoreditch, London. Courtesy The Guardian.|
On a wall in east London, two giant crows loom over two young women who are swinging a rope. As a child jumps over the skipping rope, he approaches a hole in the ceiling above him. But if he finally jumps high enough to rise above the confines of the concrete ceiling, he will become prey for the waiting birds.
This is a mural by Mehdi Ghadyanloo, an Iranian artist who is about to have his first exhibition in Britain. It is an unexpected addition to the walls of Shoreditch; the neighbourhood famous for its street art rarely sees anything as subtle as this. As if to make the point, a car park nearby is plastered with ugly, third-rate graffiti. Ghadyanloo, by contrast, makes use of trompe l’oeil, the technique invented in the Renaissance of using perspective to create eye-fooling illusions. It is eerily arresting and poetic.
Ghadyanloo has more in common with the metaphysical painter Giorgio de Chirico than he does with Banksy. Yet in terms of success as a street artist, he is undoubtedly the Banksy of Tehran. Astonishingly, there are over 100 walls in Iran’s capital decorated by Ghadyanloo. His murals are so popular, he tells me, that there are even imitation Ghadyanloos: “Sometimes districts order my works to be painted by other people. There are many copies of my work in Tehran.”
His paintings are not illegal. On the contrary, he was commissioned by the city government to paint them. Nine years ago – in 2006, or by the Iranian calendar, 1384 – “the municipality published a call for artists”. Fresh out of an art course at Tehran University, he applied.
Tehran is a city of blank walls, he explains. “I heard Tehran still has 5,000 blank walls to be painted. They said: ‘You can find your wall and suggest your idea.’ The Beautification Organisation liked my works ...”
No wonder. Ghadyanloo’s murals in Tehran open windows in the sky. He sees them as a utopian protest against the city’s pollution and smog. “Sometimes you have only grey skies. I wanted to paint clear skies. I would like Tehran to be like my works.”
Using his mastery of trompe l’oeil, he paints huge walls with what he calls suggestive moments from unwritten short stories. His scenes are dream-like, ambiguous. Cars fly in space in a science-fiction city. Holes open to reveal blue skies. Fairies peep through the portals. People walk on roofs. “I want to give a smiling moment,” he says.