PG (about their own practice):
My practice is an attempt to organize a disciplined image.
SS: Discovering the significance of your queer identity in your paintings is a relatively recent development in your practice, is it cathartic to use your art to explore this, or is it still untouched terrain?
PG: My practice is first and foremost concerned with ways of disciplining an image by relying on the histories and traditions of painting. My overwhelming concern is that painting is about perception and perceptual existentialist ways of experiencing life. I think it's not the best medium for exploring gender identity; it might be a bold way of manifesting it but it is definitely not the most suitable way of exploring it. I found studying academic materials, reflecting on my experiences through writing, and talking to a therapist better ways of exploring my gender and sexuality. There must be some qualities to qualify an object as art, and a person as the artist. I do identify myself as Bisexual and Queer but I never thought my gender and sexuality are at the center point of my identity, I would prefer it if these things were the least interesting thing about me, otherwise ‘who I am’ rather than ‘what I do’ takes priority, so my medium, examining and expanding it plays a pivotal role in defining myself. Sexuality and gender are given, not achieved. Discipline, skill, and knowledge are achievable.
SS: Your painting “Epic Statue of a Gay Horse” presents many connotations. Statues are often seen as strong and resilient emblems of the past - there’s been a great deal of contention around them in the news as of late. Is this piece a commentary on your relationship with your own history, or is this an unintentional link?
PG: This painting was created months before the current events and protests around BLM and taking down colonial statues. However, I think Capitalism is very predictable, studying ‘Capitalist Realism’ by Mark Fisher, you get this feeling that all disasters are scripted because Capitalism must produce disasters in order to survive.
The idea of a horse statue, besides being a motif for exploring the language of painting, was an idea to contemplate the queerness of public space. So, yes it is about articulating my relationship with my past in some ways, especially considering that I used to be a graffiti artist back in Iran and I was surrounded by many writers/artists who were from LGBTQ+ backgrounds who had to keep their identity secret.
SS: You explain in your artist statement that you have taken great inspiration from Caravaggio, Goya and Bouguereau. Could you elaborate on how these artists have inspired the work you make today?
PG: Oil painting has a long and identifiable train of traditions and histories, which are precisely the issues needing urgent attention, since these traditions have been largely and conveniently sidestepped, in favor of identity politics.. If you're not going to acknowledge this then why would you attempt to contribute to these traditions, but not refer to them? I have a great nostalgia and longing for the days when the academy had deeply rooted beliefs in the utility of philosophy and a commitment to the principles of geometry, when art was made collectively, not based on a cynical private relationship between the painter and external agencies. I am nostalgic for a time that produced disciplined artists. This is a nostalgia for objective discipline, after all “the sleep of reason produces monsters".
SS: You express an interest in the history and traditions of painting, a history which has largely excluded queer people. Do you feel it’s important that historical media like painting become more part of the lexicon of contemporary society?
PG: Not just it is important but it is necessary. Painting is a vital way of civilizing ourselves. Painting is a collective multi-layered civilized response to death as a species.
The exclusion of queer people from history must be looked at from a dogmatic form of evolutionary perspective. Society is this masculine hostile god that demands things from us, if you don't satisfy the demand it will try to eliminate you and if you do satisfy the demand it might just reward you. A big portion of society demands you have a family in order to reproduce so that we continue as a species and if you don't do as such it will be seen as a betrayal to our species. What this layer of human society fails to understand is that the LGBTQ+ “forms familial bonds through camp and community or that it relies on replication, recruitment, and righteousness rather than reproduction and assimilation” (Ulrika Dahl, 2014) which is absolutely beautiful. There are too many of us on earth anyway.
SS: Your paintings often seem to depict fictional worlds, impossible landscapes, and creatures whilst maintaining an interest in realism. Are these worlds an escape, or what do you hope a viewer will take away from seeing these depictions of space?
PG: Since I think painting is about perception, the objective mission is to engage the eyes as much as possible. I carry out this task by paying attention to the surface and employing painterly tools to create complex layers of paint to present a stretched spectrum of paradoxical qualities: soft and rough, thin and dense, immediate and distant, exanimate and fluid etc. This approach is employed to offer tension to the surface in order to oscillate between paradoxical poles, anticipating that the result would be an invitation to look and observe. So specifically talking about this painting I started with painting a soft and static sky, then I defined a shaky distant landscape. Then I introduced another antagonist, the stage at the foreground to host something. Another surface was introduced as a highly dynamic and unstable horse in black. Then another antagonist, the soft creamy forms on the horse in opposition to the stiffness of the black surface. Then another one… and this process goes on until I think there is enough information on the surface.
We would like to thank Parham for taking the time to answer our questions and for allowing us to share their work through our Queer Contemporaries Showcase!