Garden Of The Soul

June 18 – September 3, 2021

A day and a night in the Garden of the Soul

by
Nick Hackworth

Every day on this earth is a miracle, but one so familiar and persistent that we mostly forget its wonder and mystery.

From our perspective, standing on Earth and looking up into the heavens, the Sun appears to rise each morning in the east and climb to its apogee at midday before sinking slowly through the afternoon sky to set in the west.

Of course, it is we who are moving, spinning ever eastwards at 1,600 km per hour around the Sun. Impossibly hot, massive and distant, it burns, at its core, at 15 million degrees Celsius, is 1.4 million km across and its light travels through 150 million km of cold, empty space to reach us in what scientists call the Goldilocks Zone – a thin band of space where the temperature is just right, neither too hot nor too cold, to support life.

By any possible metric, we and everything we know, are cosmically unlikely.

Standing on a summer’s day by the shore of the Mediterranean where civilization has flourished for so long, these brutally inhuman facts seem like fiction, abstract and unrelated to our existence rather than fundamental descriptions of it. It is precisely in the gap created by the incommensurability between what we know of the universe and our lived experience of it, that human culture grows with its myths and rituals, religious and artistic, and all their attendant meanings.

In this new body of vibrantly chromatic paintings, Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar presents works imagined in this essay as representing a journey through a day and a night in the Garden of the Soul.

Garden of the Soul by the Sea

Garden of the Soul by the Sea

165 x 275 cm
Mixed media on linen
2020

The Garden of the Soul is a metaphorical space in which we encounter our own soul, symbolised as a garden – an organic force to be cultivated and cherished through the various stages of our lives. It also reminds us of actual gardens designed for contemplation and spiritual connection.

In their extraordinary and various use of colour, these twelve paintings take us through the cardinal points of day and night; dawn, midday, dusk and midnight. Whether you are doing so onscreen or have the chance to do so in person I would encourage you to spend time looking closely at these paintings, from afar and then up close, immersing yourself in their microcosmic worlds.

Garden of the Soul by the Sea is an epic, expansive painting, full of myriad shades of blues and fiery flashes of contrasting colour.

The liberal use of sand in the paint mixture provides texture (seen in the detail shots) and serves to soak up light, giving the painting its powerful sense of depth and allowing for a subtle range of blue hues, among them; azure, navy, lapis and aquamarine.

Just above the centre, three patches of bright orange, flecked with yellow, seem to burst through from the depths onto the surface of the painting.

Elsewhere, close looking reveals passages of colour that go oddly unnoticed on casual inspection – purples, reds and greens – and intermittent streaks and striations of white.

Details

The studio

Whilst of course entirely abstract, let’s imagine the work as, in a sense, picturing the vista seen from Behnam-Bakhtiar’s studio in Cap Ferrat. We are looking out to see in the moments before sunrise. It’s still dark enough that the horizon line is invisible and sea and sky are still blended seamlessly into one another. But there is just enough light in the sky that we can see, or think we can see, an infinity of subtle shades and hues play in the shifting elements.

At Dawn and In Beauty, with their wonderful warmth and colour harmonies bring with them, the uplifting spirit of dawn. Joyous bright reds and blues give way to mellow pastel pinks and yellows. Tree of Hope, meanwhile, is a painting of balance and calm, with its gentle shift from deeper blues, purples and red on the left-hand side to the lighter shades of and beige right-hand side.

At Dawn

At Dawn

162 x 130 cm
Mixed media on linen
2020

In Beauty

In beauty

162 x 130 cm
Mixed media on linen
2020

Tree of Hope

Tree of hope

162 x 130 cm
Mixed media on linen
2020

Embodying, imaginatively speaking, with gorgeously vibrancy the intensity of the Mediterranean sun at midday when the heat haze can bend vision itself, are a pair of powerful paintings; In Colour and At Noon. Jazz-like in their riotous riffs through colour they exemplify Behnam-Bakhtiar’s signature peinture raclée style by which builds the surface of each work by scraping and blending together passages of bright-hued pigment into one another. The resulting paintings are simmering fields of immanence.

In Colour

In Colour

162 x 130 cm
Mixed media on linen
2021

At Noon

at noon

162 x 130 cm
Mixed media on linen
2021

Là, tout n'est qu'ordre et beauté, figure – Luxe, calme et volupté.

Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal

Luxe, Calme et Volupté

Henri Matisse

Starry Night

Vincent Van Gogh

In these twin aspects of colour and energy, Behnam-Bakhtiar’s paintings bring to mind two masterpieces also painted in the South of France: Henri Matisse’s Neo-Impressionist master work, Luxe, Calme et Volupté, painted in 1904 in St. Tropez and Van Gogh’s iconic Starry Night.

Conventional art historical narratives make much to say on the styles of each work. When I look at these works, alongside all those academic readings, I see two incredible depictions of energy. 

In Luxe, Calme et Volupté I see all those pixel-like brush strokes as comprising a field of chromatic energy from which the forms in the painting, the figures, the tree and the clouds, have temporarily emerged. In Van Gogh’s swirling skies I see a vision of the underlying energetic fabric of the universe.

When I look at Behnam-Bahkitar’s paintings I also see extraordinary manifestations of energy. For him the acts of both making and appreciating art are opportunities for connection with the deeper parts of ourselves. Creativity encourages the healing of the everyday alienation of modern life with its traumas, minor and major and its systemic sense of spiritual displacement.

At Peace

At Peace

162 x 130 cm
Oil on linen
2020

I remember the first time I felt connected to the source of absolute energy, I felt that I was moving towards order, light and love in a natural way.

Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar - Age of Energy

With Peace our soul’s journey enters its later phase.

The frenetic energy of the previous paintings has given way to smooth harmonies of warm colour with the streak of deep blue in the centre left of the painting giving a sense of depth and change to come.

In The Golden Hour

In the Golden Hour

162 x 130 cm
Mixed media on linen
2020

At Dusk

At Dusk

162 x 130 cm
Mixed media on linen
2020

Golden Hour takes its title from the period of daytime before sunset, when the sunlight softens and reddens, often bathing the world in a gentle glow. In Dusk the deeper shade of blue in the top left corner of the painting and the rich admixture of deep red and green in the bottom right hand corner of the painting bring a velvety depth to the work, framing the passages of still bright yellow and orange in the centre.

Nightfall

Nightfall

162 x 130 cm
Mixed media on linen
2020

The oncoming night brings us to the last stage of this particular journey. Garden of the Soul, Nightfall, is a counterpart to Garden of the Soul in the Golden Hour, with Behnam-Bakhtiar’s introduction of black, lightly scrapped over the otherwise still brightly coloured surface of the whole painting, expertly executing what is sometimes a difficult combination.

The oncoming night brings us to the last stage of this particular journey.

Nightfall is a beautiful counterpart to Golden Hour, with its passages of black, lightly scraped over the otherwise still brightly coloured surface of the whole painting. Night reveals an unfolding universe of blue hues that emanate outwards from the patches of deep azure along its spine, a picture, perhaps, of night falling and enveloping dusk.

At Night

At Night

162 x 130 cm
Mixed media on linen
2020

At Midnight

At Midnight

162 x 130 cm
Mixed media on linen
2020

Finally, with Midnight and its blue-black voids we reach the realm of deep night.

Its darkness is not to be regarded fearfully but as an integral part of existence with its particular beauty and qualities. In the calm and repose brought by the dark, we fold space and time and find, in the inner dimension of our soul, a connection and communality with the unity of existence, to which we will all eventually return.

In the immortal words of Kahlil Gibran…

In the stillness of the night I have walked in your streets, and my spirit has entered your houses, And your heart-beats were in my heart, and your breath was upon my face, and I knew you all.

Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

Written by Nick Hackworth

Enquire about the collection

Sculptures

Soul Lovers

Solid Bronze
40 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm
2020/2021

Soul Warrioress

Solid Bronze
40 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm
2020/2021

Dancing Souls

Solid Bronze
40 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm
2020/2021

Family Soul

Solid Bronze
40 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm
2020/2021

Soul Warrior

Solid Bronze
40 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm
2020/2021

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