Reza Shafahi is a self-taught artist who began his painterly career at the age of 72, prior to which he trained as a professional wrestler. This journeying into painting began with the encouragement of his son at the age of 72 with the encouragement of his son, Mamali who in 2012 invited his father to collaborate on the long-term art project, Daddy Sperm (2013-2015).
His influences are varied and include literature, Khayyam poems, cinema and world news past and present. A distinct drawing practice ensued and Shafahi has developed a signatory drawing style that brings together an otherworldly fascination capturing the fantastical and erotic. His work draws from the imagination and from beings that exist in the realm of dreams. It is no wonder then that his work is often labelled as part of the Outsider Art movement, a term that almost immediately signals that an artist has learnt their skill self-taught, and that their works exist as ‘raw’, ‘uncooked’ or ‘unadulterated’ by culture. We do however observe how the ‘outsider’ enters into the very culture that excludes them as exemplified by the prominence today one of the most celebrated artists of this genre, Henry Darger who was unknown throughout his life.
Shafahi’s works draw the viewer into a whimsical world of bodies that are drawn with simplicity but at the same time demonstrate confidence and it is this raw vision that is most appealing in his delicate drawings. Yes, he brings in recognisable Persian motifs that one can distinctly trace back to the times of miniature painting, but his works, with their cheeky interpretation of the past, are also thrilling to encounter. Bodies being naughty and hidden by the green shrubbery of thick forests, smiling severed heads that cross gender and race boundaries, antique vases with eyes that see, all examples of the artist’s free-association, the Freudian practice promoting sharing whatever comes to mind now rendered as drawings. What happens when we are confronted with really expressing our thoughts? What might be revealed through drawing our dreams? Shafahi seems to ask of these questions through these drawings? It is also important to note here how women feature extensively in these works as free and expressive beings in Shafahi’s world, which indeed should be a cause for celebration.
Having exhibited as part of Magic of Persia, Dubai, Marlborough Gallery, New York, and a solo show at the Erratum Galerie, Berlin, it seems that Shafahi’s presence will continue to flourish henceforth.
By Jareh Das