Interview With Iranian Born Book Artist Alireza Darvish

I first learned of the work of Alireza Darvish in an article by Stephen Gertz in Booktryst. As an avid reader and book collector, I have begun to collect art related to books and reading. I found Mr. Darvish’s work to be very intelligent and moving and wanted to share it with you. I also wanted to know a bit more about this artists relationship with books so I contacted him and asked if he would participate in an interview for this post. He graciously agreed and here is the interview:

1. Can you tell me who inspired your love of reading and books.

I was 11 years old when the Islamic Revolution happened and our childhood, quite involuntary, was mixed in with the chaotic games of the adults. Our dramas and fantasies became smeared with the immature desires of our brothers and fathers. The atmosphere was filled with heavy, complicated, but seductive words and phrases. Our toys all smelled of gunpowder or even worse, slogans.

I was born in Rasht, a city in northern Iran, in the Caspian Sea region. This part of Iran, being so close to Russia, has a longstanding leftist tradition. Communism was very fashionable those days among the young, and I was attracted to it as well.

I quite accidentally came across one their greatest libraries located nearby my residence. I became a member and also for two years I was active in their youth department until it was raided and set on fire like many other such libraries. It was where I connected to the world of books in a serious manner. There we had reading groups and I recall after reading each book that we would get together to discuss it.

2. How did your interest in reading and books effect your life?

Society’s post-revolutionary chaos and popular disunity over accepting one political force created a cozy open society.

There were thousands of questions needed to be answered. People had said no to the previous regime by their daily street demonstrations. Now after all this turmoil, they wanted to do something quite abnormal, something unaccustomed–thinking about fulfilling their demands and dreams!

Many felt themselves responsible to find the answers to these questions. Political parties and movements, religious groups, and intellectuals each tried to come up with an answer from their own standpoint and views. It was under these circumstances that books and book readings had become such an unbelievable and widespread necessity. The cities were filled with the rows of bookstores and book peddlers. We should also remember that the internet did not exist then and that books and other media still were the leading source of communications and consciousness-raising.

Book reading was becoming a culture in and of itself, though, unfortunately, a short-lived on. Shortly with the establishment of a religious totalitarian regime, book and book reading were also suppressed. The Islamic Cultural Revolution was the last nail in its coffin.

During this period I read miles of third rate leftist and communistic novels that were translated daily. They were all in connection with either the Russian Revolution or other revolutions in the world. I tried even to understand Marx’s Capital, and read Lenin’s collection works. I read Gorky, Solokhov, and Romain Rolland with considerable enthusiasm and absorb as much as I could.

This period of my book reading ended with that library’s incineration. Soon the Iran-Iraq was started; the dominant political atmosphere of the day was turning more and more violent, and its horror and pain was spreading to almost every corner of the country and affected all the citizens alike.

And one day, due to my arrest by the religious faction of the army, my brothers, fearing further repercussions, bagged all the books in our library and dumped them in the river. And that was the end of that!

As you see, my connection and disconnection with books both were inhumane. A beginning that neither found a chance to develop well, nor ran its course and left a habit or an experience behind. It just stayed in me as an unfinished affair that needs to be given more time, more thought and more nurturing.

I was only 14 when I left home in Rasht and went to Tehran to continue my education in painting in the only academy of art in the capital. Everyone in my family but my mother was against it. I think her faith and trust in me was the only thing that kept me from going astray. Tehran, with a population of ten million in those days, was a wild city, burning with war fever where the march of death was the only melody of those days I recall. But our Academy of Art was a safe, calm and quiet island in the middle of all this chaos and insecurity. There, I would learn new things everyday, while carried away with the artistic life.

Fortunatley, my art historian teacher, Mr. Samii, was a poet and a literary critic. He played an important role in the development of my thought and contributed to my transformation into who I became. He was the first one who taught me and encouraged me to free myself from the dogmas I had picked up in the early years of Revolution and was the one who thought me to be a free thinker. He introduced me to the contemporary as well as the classic Iranian and world culture and literature. He coached me to start my return to books, with a new perspective, albeit more vivid and more creative.

3. There are many book lovers and readers who cherish their relationship with books but you faced personal hardships we can only imagine. How did this inspire your art?

Few years later, as a young artist, I started working in the prestigious literary magazine “The World of Speech”. This magazine was among the rare literary and cultural publications that had survived and continued to survive with much effort. There, I found the opportunity to meet many of the great names in art and literature. Making a design for an article about book burning was quite shocking to me. It involved me in a subject which I had felt with all my heart and mind, a subject, so close to me emotionally that it became the subject matter of my works today, as you can see.

I wanted to demonstrate that we human beings are like moving and changing words and phrases, that we all are like books that are unwritten, or if written, read badly if at all; they should be read and read well. Of course, all changes occur in the course of time, contexts, circumstances, or new discourses. My painting is a reflection of the same interpretation of words. I have not drawn anything that I have not seen or heard, or read. All my works are my narratives of human being I have represented in my paintings as books. After all, I’m from a generation that has uniquely tasted the three phenomena of revolution: its inception, its turmoil, and finally its consequential loneliness and isolation. I found it quite natural to turn all these impressions into a visual monologue running in my head. However, as much as they are my concerns, they can become yours and even others’; and in this way, they echo and perpetuate themselves. Concepts such as love, loneliness, human rights and human destiny, censorship, uncertainties, our relations with ourselves as well as the world around us, our journeys, our being left out, our philosophical wandering to find an answer to the unanswerable, etc. all are those that we all have a taste of; we read them in books or in people, but I draw them. My drawing, in fact, is my paying respect to us, to my generation, to my children and to the generation to come; with my painting I remind all of us the role that books played in our life.

4. My readers are collectors. Can you tell us how we may purchase your art?

– Anyone interested in my painting could contact my wife, Ms. Carmen Perez Gonzalez at (or: or contact me via my website at: to receive more information about my paintings and instruction for ordering them.

5. Do you consider yourself a book collector? What genre do you prefer? What area of collecting? Who are your favorite authors? Favorite Books?

There certainly are plenty of good reasons to keep me from doing this, directly. The most important is that during these past years, we had to relocate several times to different countries because of my wife’s studies or job changes. We have moved from Germany to Spain to the Czech Republic, and back to Germany. But this time our re-location should more permanent. We have to anchor somewhere permanently for our children’s sake.

Yes, It is true that my paintings are about books, but it is my wife who collects books. She has an excellent collection of art history books about the history of photography. This is her field of study. She has recently finished her PhD in the history of early photography in Iran.

I myself am interested in poems and novels.

Many writers in various periods have captured my love and admiration. When younger, I was a very passionate reader of Dostoevsky, Chekhov, and Mayakovski. Later I turned to the magic realism of South American writers such as Borges and Octavio Paz. I spent some time reading Nietzsche, Camus, Sartre, and, a little later, Milan Kundera who all involved me in their philosophical thoughts and ideas. Arthur Miller, Salinger, Becket, Gunter Grass, and Saramago were all among my favorites. Among the poets, Lorca is even present in my painting. I love Khalil Gibran, Idris Shah, Rilke and Albert. Of the poets and the writers of my homeland, I love Hafez, Rumi, Farokhzad, and Hedayat, who have made a great impression on me that is well reflected in my paintings, but it is still the Little Prince of Saint Exupéry that makes my heart shiver!

6. Do you have any plans of visiting the United States? Are you currently working with any galleries or have exhibits planned?

– In September and October of 2011 there will be an exhibit of my paintings on books in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. This exhibit is sponsored by Ars Libri, Ltd, the largest rare and out of print book collector in the USA .

I have traveled to the United Sates before for the screening of one of my short animation films in the Brooklyn Film Festival, but this in the first time my paintings are on exhibit there.

I have had exhibits in various prestigious galleries in Europe such as Sale Rovira in Barcelona, Spain, and in the International Book Festival in Frankfurt in 2008. However in last few years, I have concentrated more on my animations. I have two short animations, “What if Spring Does Not Come?” and “Footsteps of Water” very much influenced by my paintings of books. Both of these animations have been presented in various film festivals and were received well, and received awards as well, including one Special Jury Award in 2008 from the Brooklyn Film Festival. My latest work has been my participation in making the film “Green Waves” as the main designer of its animation. But to tell the truth, these days I miss painting. I would like to go back to it and become active in painting again and hopefully find more opportunities to exhibit my works

7. Will your art be collected in a book? By what publisher? When?

A catalogue will be printed for the exhibition at Ars Libri.

8. Do you have anything else you’d like to say to fellow book lovers and readers?

For question 8 I have no more ideas… I have said everything that I wanted!

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  1. Ars Libri Ltd. 500 Harrison Avenue Boston, MA 02118

    Vision Bound Unbound: The Drawings of Alireza Darvish

    Opening Reception: 7 October 5:30-8pm Exhibition: 7 October – 29 November

    Alireza Darvish is a contemporary Iranian artist currently living in Germany. Some twenty years ago, he began a series of finished watercolors and drawings exploring the metaphorical meanings of the book in the modern world, particularly in the context of totalitarian politics. Darkly surreal, whimsical, and provocative, the series is a testimony of gratitude to the freedom and hope that books offer the imagination, and a commentary on the refuge they provide. The series now numbers more than eighty works, nearly all of which are included for sale in this exhibition.
    A catalogue to accompany the exhibition will be published and available from Ars Libri for $25. For more information, please email us: or telephone us: 617 357-5212.
    The artist will be present at the 7 October opening reception. tel 617.357.5212 fax 617.338.5763