Sadegh Barirani: Designer of the “moment”

By: Roshanak Keyghobadi | June 1, 2013

آن خطاط سه گونه خط نوشتی ،
یکی او خواندی لاغیر ،
یکی را هم او خواندی هم غیر ،
یکی نه او خواندی نه غیر او ،
آن خط سوم منم .
شمس تبریزی

That calligrapher writes in three ways,
One, only he can read it and no other,
Another, he can read it and others,
The other, neither he nor others can read it,
I am that third way.[1]
Shams Tabrizi

For over forty years Sadegh Barirani has allowed “the letters find their way and form” on paper. Using his self-made paint brush and poetry of Rumi[2] Barirani has been visually capturing unique moments of meditation and excitement. Since his brush does not hold the paint for long and he has to write/paint fast, after a while his marks become illegible, abstract and independent. The result of this investigation is Barirani’s dynamic and rhythmic style of mark making which he describes as “a recorded cardiogram reflected on paper” that “registers his internal passion.”

Barirani is one of the pioneers of Iranian graphic design and well known for his distinctive poster designs. In1967 Barirani was commissioned by the newly established Roudaki Hall opera house in Tehran to design posters for their various performances as well as the Tehran Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra.  He was given total artistic freedom and also full access to the Graphic Arts Center’s workshop where he could create his silkscreen posters. Initially inspired by Polish posters, he created posters for ballets, folk dances, music recitals and operas and gradually incorporated his own expressionistic personal style as well as his signature black swift marks in his designs.

Sadegh Barirani was born on March 23, 1923 in Bandar Anzali, Gilan, Northern Province of Iran. He completed his elementary and high school in Bandar Anzali and Rasht and attended School of Fine Arts at Tehran University from 1948 to 1952[3]. In 1953 he attended classes on film and photography held by the audio-visual department of Syracuse University in Tehran and five years later he studied at Indiana University and received his M.S. in Audio Visual education. Upon his return to Iran he became the head of the graphic arts department at the Ministry of Culture and Arts in Tehran. In 1973, Milton Glazer invited him to the International Design Conference in Aspen Colorado as a distinguished modern international graphic designer and in the same year he traveled to Paris and worked and lived at the Cité Internationale des Arts.

After graduating from the university Barirani became interested in learning  more about “Western” contemporary and Avant-garde art movements[4] and traveled throughout Europe and visited museums and galleries in London, Paris and Munich.  But he soon turned to study of “Eastern” art and philosophy. He found inspiration in Sialk and Susa pottery, Persepolis reliefs, Persian miniatures, carpets and tiles and became fascinated with their meticulousness, simplicity, order and specifically the contour drawings.

Back in 1942 Barirani learned different techniques of painting in watercolor and oil painting under Amir Houshang Zarrin Kelk (Darvish) who was a student of Kamal-al Molk and also became familiar with mystical philosophy. In his interview with Saed Meshki (2006) Barirani explains

Iranian mystics are two groups. One group suppresses their excitements and has no movement …but the other believe that when the fervor and passion is boiling from the inside it has to be transferred to their bodies too; as you can see in the mystical dance of Rumi and also the dervishes of Kurdistan. Rumi also recited his poems in a state of passion and motion. The Iranian painters and calligraphers belong to the first group. The second group also engaged their bodies in their reciting and dance and movement. One day I thought of taking advantage of this motion and movement and express what we call “moment” and one feels onto paper and make it still.

One of the characteristics of Persian calligraphy is concentration and total mind/eye/hand coordination. A calligrapher is considers to be a mere instrument that is transferring the beauty of the divine into the paper and a perfect calligraphic piece is supposed to be produced painstakingly and with utter control. Persian calligraphy is not much of a kinesthetic art (as Barirani also hints) like Chinese calligraphy is. Dawn Delbanco[5] (2008) explains that in Chinese calligraphy: 

The brush becomes an extension of the writer’s arm, indeed, his entire body. But the physical gestures produced by the wielding of the brush reveal much more than physical motion; they reveal much of the writer himself-his impulsiveness, restraint, elegance, rebelliousness. Abstract as it appears, calligraphy more readily conveys emotion and something of the individual artist…

Barirani has been exploring traditional Iranian calligraphy as a medium and been inspired by two scripts of Nastaliq[6] and Shekateh-ye Nasataliq[7] that he uses in his Siyah Mashq (Black Exercise) and Siyah Neveshtan (Writing in Black). In Barirani’s writings/paintings one can easily notice his individual style, passion and spirituality. Like a Zen calligrapher Barirani creates swift marks that capture a moment in time which hold great power. This is the power of living at present and listening to the inner self which results in evolving at every moment. Barirani’s brush strokes possess such energy and sophistication that force the viewer pay attention to their movements, details, tonalities, variety and authority. This is an authority that is embedded in Barirani’s mind, body and brush.

© Roshanak Keyghobadi, 2013

Image: Poster by Sadegh Barirani, Graphic Art-The Movement toward Modernism, Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, October 22, 1977.

To see more of Sadegh Barirani’s art go to: http://www.qoqnoos.com/body/graphic/sadegh%20barirani/master.htm

[1] Translated by Roshanak Keyghobadi.

[2] Rumi was a 13th century Iranian poet and Sufi mystic. Shams Tabrizi was a devotee and close friend of Rumi.

[3] Sohrab Sepehri (poet and painter, b. 1928-1980) and Manouchehr Sheibani (poet and painter, b.1924-1991) were among Barirani’s classmates at Tehran University.

[4] In 1950 Barirani joined the Khorous Janghi (Fighting Rooster) an Iranian Avant-garde art group that was trying to break away from the conservative traditional art.

[5] Delbanco, Dawn. “Chinese Calligraphy”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/chcl/hd_chcl.htm (originally published April 2008, last revised November 2008)

[6] Nastaliq script is the principal style in Persian calligraphy.

[7] Shekateh-ye Nasataliq script is broken version of Nastaliq.