Monday, 8 June 2015


Yari Ostovany at Stanford Art Spaces
Chelleneshin #21, oil on canvas, 30 x 22 inches. Courtesy The Huffington Post.
Interview by John SeedThe Huffington Post

The paintings of Yari Ostovany, now on view at Stanford University's Paul G. Allen building, are stylistically related to works by second-generation American Abstract Expressionists -- for example Helen Frankenthaler and Jules Olitski -- but as curator DeWitt Cheng notes, they also are inspired by and refer to the artist's Iranian cultural background. For example, the title of Ostovany's painting Chelleneshin refers to a period of solitude:
Chelleneshin is a compound word in Persian consisting of the words Chelleh; which describes a period of forty days; and Neshin, which literally means sitting. It refers to a seeker going into solitude for a period of forty days and forty nights to pray and meditate. In several mystical traditions, The Cycle of Forty is a common duration needed for spiritual metamorphosis and transitions to another, transcendent dimension.

Ostovany's interest in and ability to reference culture strikes DeWitt Cheng, who organized the exhibition, as admirable:

"I find his seriousness about spirituality and his cultural heritage interesting and inspiring. I wish that more artists today took it upon themselves to attain a modicum of cultural literacy both inside and outside of their disciplines/professions. And Yari makes beautiful, gutsy paintings too."

I recently interviewed Yari Ostovany and asked him both about his background and his art.

What can you tell me about growing up in Iran? Were you always artistic?

My father's love of music (both western classical and Persian classical music) meant that music was always filing the air in our house when I was growing up.

My first love was poetry, modern Persian poetry to be precise. When I was 14 a friend of mine who had started taking painting classes encouraged me to do so as well saying that she thought it wold suit my temperament perfectly.

My first art class was a Tehran University extension class while I was still in high school (my sophomore year). I was hooked. Gallery hoping in Tehran became my favorite pastime and the newly built Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art my hangout.

The Third Script, #30, oil on canvas, 36 x 36 inches. Courtesy The Huffington Post.
Tell me about your studies in Nevada and San Francisco.

I did my undergraduate work in Northern Nevada (University of Nevada in Reno) and my graduate work at the San Francisco Art Institute. I was fortunate enough to cross paths with some wonderful teachers in both places. I think living in Northern Nevada instill a sense of space, a sense of vastness in ones work.

How did your art develop while you lived in Cologne?

I maintained a studio at first in Merten (halfway between Cologne and Bonn) and then in Cologne proper. I work on many pieces at the same time and so change manifests itself slowly in my work, so I can't quite put my finger on exactly how living there affected my work.

Have you had any important mentors?

I have been fortunate to have two outstanding mentors, both from the San Francisco Art Institute; the late Carlos Villa and Jeremy Morgan whom I continue to learn from still.

Tell me about some of the poetic sources that inspire your current work.

For me it is not about any specific poetic sources. I am interested in the non-linear and in general it is the lyrical and poetic quality in things that draws me towards them. I suspend myself in an atmosphere, a feeling and let it wash over me. True, occasionally a book or the oeuvre of an author or an artist kindles a creative spark (flow) as in the work of John Berger whose sensibility I connect with in a very direct way but for the most part it is the general atmosphere of a piece for example Attar's Conference of the Birds or Beethoven's Grosse Fuge.

Conference of the Birds #55, oil on canvas, 30 x 30 inches. Courtesy The Huffington Post.
Can you describe some of your working methods?

I approach my work in the studio with as much of a Zen beginner's mind as possible, quieting the mind, connecting to a greater energy and using the energy of the gravity of the earth to push and move paint. There is a lot of pushing and pulling of paint using traditional as well as non traditional tools.

I start with gestural marks (sometimes calligraphic-based), solid forms and shapes which then begin to disintegrate as the layers explode and implode, are added, rubbed out, re-applied, scoured into and scraped away and built back up, expanding and developing in a rhizome like, lateral structure until the distinction between the foreground and the background and the spatial hierarchy begin to dissolve - somewhat akin to layers of memory - and give way to another, ephemeral sense of form and visual phenomena.

Are there any living artists that you admire?

Too numerous to mention but to name a few Gerhard Richter, Pat Steir, Tony Magar, Anselm Keifer, ...

What are your interests outside of art?

Music (mostly classical, jazz and world music) philosophy, mysticism, literature and theater.

Yari Ostovany: photo by DeWitt Cheng. Courtesy The Huffington Post.


Another interview by Medea Mahmoudian & Ali Shahrokhi, ZH Magazine

ZH: Hello Yari, … it’s nice to have you here at ZH magazine.

YO: My pleasure, I love what you are doing.

ZH: Could you tell us about how you have commenced your art journey and in particular what made you choose “Abstract” as your style?

YO: I took my first drawing at the University of Tehran Extension program (taught by Arabali Sherveh) at the age of 15 while I was still in high school. At the beginning my work was figurative and rather surrealistic, abstraction is something that I arrived at with time.

ZH: Your pieces have a very strong musical and poetic rhythm. Some of those can be listened as a classical music, or be read as a poem. What is this rhythm and where does it come from?

YO: Poetry and music have always been a vital part of my life. In my work I have always tried to look for the underlying sense of the poetic and the musical. In essence I look at my work as musical compositions in paint and in a way these are paintings to be heard, through the eye (or the mind’s eye).  For me the lyrical touches upon the spiritual, they both have to do with a non-linear reading of existence.

ZH: Abstract is a non-representational style without recognizable shapes and figures, but your art works carry an additional layer. A layer that your audience can feel that there is a strong cultural characteristic residing into the piece. What is the secret of this layer?

YO: The dichotomy between the “real” and the “abstract” has always been a fragile one for me. To me it is a question of distance. For example how can one say that the Hubble Space Telescope photos are not realistic? Yet they exude “abstraction” in all its glory.

In my own work, I look for a sense of resonance; a sense of transcendence. I assume that is the layer you are referring to. The pieces start and develop as elements come into being in response to one another and this relationship gets more and more involved and deeper as the work becomes more and more layered but as long as the whole has not become larger than the sum of its parts, that’s where they stay. That synergy, that shift is what gives the paintings breath, and thus, life and that is what I am after.

ZH: Your pieces have strong story telling…  How long does it take you to paint the story?

YO: I work in a non-linear way and on many pieces at the same time. The pieces develop at different tempi and they learn from one another as they evolve. So they take any where from a few days to a few years. At any given time I am finishing some pieces, there are pieces that I am starting to work on and ones that I am in the middle of. This allows me to become involved not with A painting, but with the process of painting and when pieces are finished, they become records of this journey.

ZH: If you want to describe “ABSTRACT” to people who are not familiar with the core of the style, how would you define it?

YO: The invention of photography freed painters from the hold of mimesis to turn their gaze inwards towards an inner landscape and allowed them to focus on the inherent emotional and psychological properties of light, material and space. Abstraction is going to the essence of what is at hand, what you are looking at without all that can be called unnecessary or superfluous.

The dichotomy between the “real” and the “abstract” has always been a fragile one for me. To me it is a question of distance. For example how can one say that the Hubble telescope photos are not realistic? Yet they exude “abstraction” in all its glory.

ZH: Thank you for being with us at ZH.

YO: Thank you for having me and keep up the great job!

“Here Is Where We Meet (for John Berger)” by Yari Ostovany, Oil on Canvas, 2015. Courtesy ZH Magazine.


Exhibition Information:

Two concurrent solo exhibitions, Numinous, by Yari Ostovany and We Will Never Not Have Been by Jamie Bollenbach, will both be on view through July 10th in The Center for Integrated Systems of the Paul G. Allen Building, Stanford University. The exhibitions continue in the adjacent David W. Packard Electrical Engineering Building.

For a map and directions, visit the Stanford Art Spaces Facebook Page

About Stanford Art Spaces

Stanford Art Spaces is an exhibition program serving the Paul G. Allen Building, housing the Center for Integrated Systems, the program's longtime sponsor, and the David W. Packard Electrical Engineering Building, with smaller venues located throughout campus. All are open during normal weekday business hours. For further information, or to arrange a tour, please contact Curator DeWitt Cheng at 650-725-3622 or

Via The Huffington Post and ZH Magazine

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