Saturday, 16 September 2017

Exclusive Visit to the Studio of Iranian-American Artist Farzad Kohan

Located in the suburbs of Los Angeles, Farzad Kohan’s studio is filled with a mix of interesting fabrics and vibrant paints
Installation view of an artwork by Farzad Kohan. Photography by Stephen O'Bryan. Courtesy Harper's Bazaar Arabia.
by Maymanah Farhat, Harper's Bazaar Arabia

In the courtyard garden that leads to Farzad Kohan’s studio, small, contorted figures crouch and leap among citrus trees and pomegranate shrubs. As we walk across a concrete patio towards the converted cottage, Kohan confides that the ceramic sculptures remind him of the beginning of his career over 20 years ago.

It is a warm summer day in the Los Angeles suburb where the Iranian-American artist lives and works. The hot weather has withered a rose bush that grows taller than the roof of his studio. When I stop to admire it, he says, “It’s as old as Roz,” referring to his sunny teenage daughter, who grew up visiting his workspace. Kohan opens the door and motions me to step inside.

To the right of the entrance is a wall covered with the outlines of works that were once in progress as well as endless drips of paint. Today, the patinated surface displays a large piece containing vertical seams and fringe-like strips of canvas—an arrangement that is reminiscent of a Moroccan wedding blanket. The background is grey, painted in washes while the shredded canvas is left raw and attached with small knots, hanging loosely from the stitched base. These knots recall the scroll-like talismans that are inscribed with prayers or wishes and then placed in Muslim shrines. I notice a similar use of string in an abstract sculpture that sits among rolled canvases nearby and wonder if the artist is revisiting certain concepts in search of something new. Hanging on an adjacent wall are handwritten notes tied to wooden posts: makeshift amulets that hold self-reflective messages.

As we stand in front of the cut and assembled painting, I ask Kohan if it refers to something specific. ‘It’s not specific, it’s experimental, I am recycling old works,’ he responds. “The text of the painting says ‘Go Crazy,’” he explains. “I painted it six months ago but recently tore it apart and put it back together, and then added the knots. Now the text is unreadable since it has been cut and glued in a different way.” Looking closely, I see remnants of Farsi script, indicating the title of an earlier composition. As I examine its textures, Kohan adds, “I worked many hours to make the original painting, only to cut it into pieces. It’s all about letting go, and in the process I find things that I think are important to keep. For me, the work is getting closer to life itself.”

Detail of an artwork by Farzad Kohan. Photography by Stephen O'Bryan. Courtesy Harper's Bazaar Arabia.

Kohan removes the painting from the wall, and shows me another work that is structured in the same way. This time the canvas strips are twisted like loosely braided hair and create a sort of screen over a black and grey background that includes Persian numbers in vertical rows. “It is the nature of the immigrant to look outside and adapt, but we rarely look inside,” he says. “I am trying to connect both sides.” The resulting dimensionality, which suggests a hidden place, also appears in Kohan’s drawings. It’s as though he is animating the ink on paper works, bringing them to life as three-dimensional images. I mention this to Kohan and he invites me to sit on a white leather couch that would seem out of place if it weren’t for the expressive figures that he painted across it in black—yet another example of upcycling.

Drawings by Farzad Kohan. Photography by Stephen O'Bryan. Courtesy Harper's Bazaar Arabia.

He then places a stack of sketchbooks on the floor beside me and flips through one to find an equivalent drawing, revealing that the current stage of his work was there all along, developing among thousands of drawings over the course of several years. The drawings include solitary, otherworldly figures that sometimes turn into trees or crumble as falling rose petals and delicate gabled houses surrounded by rain drops or engulfed in billows of text. No image is the same yet prevailing themes include displacement, grief, love, desire, and recollection—all which fluctuate in intensity from one page to the next. Flipping through Kohan’s sketchbooks is like reading an epic poem.

Installation view of an artwork by Farzad Kohan. Photography by Stephen O'Bryan. Courtesy Harper's Bazaar Arabia.

On the opposite side of Kohan’s studio are recent works constructed from various found objects, such as thin boards, wood blocks, tin cans, and leftover canvas scraps. Built, painted, and installed on the wall, these hanging sculptures are informed by the long tradition of assemblage in Los Angeles, where artists have often used the medium to create nuanced and subversive imagery during politically uncertain times. Pointing to a particularly poignant piece, a small white house tilted to one side, Kohan says, “Things don’t make sense anymore. What do you do when things are out of your control? I guess we look for something that can give us that sense of stability. That’s what I am doing now because I don’t feel like I belong here, so it is a search for home, in a new format.”

To view more artworks by Farzad Kohan, visit and

Farzad Kohan's studio in LA. Courtesy Harper's Bazaar Arabia.
Farzad Kohan's studio in LA. Courtesy Harper's Bazaar Arabia.
Artist Farzad Kohan. Photography by Stephen O'Bryan. Courtesy Harper's Bazaar Arabia.

Via Harper's Bazaar Arabia

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