Faramarz Zahedi at Belmacz
The opening line of Faramarz Zahedi's solo exhibition press release reads, simply, "an opportunity for contemplation". Without seeing the art, the more cynical among us may be thinking, surely this is the premise for every exhibition ever produced? But when the gallery itself is telling its audience that slowness and quiet is the key to unlocking the work, you take heed at such a luxurious invitation.
There is an instilled quietness to Zahedi's body of work; its title Untitled: Good / some specks of / purple needed / in the middle / set it dry first might sound a little on the erratic side, but its almost mumbling effect channels the self-taught nature of the artist's work. Zahedi was not legitimised by the art (school) institution, instead spending his life working as a bilingual clerk at the Iranian consulate in London while raising his family. It is the stories that lie amongst this canonically unglamorous life that make the best translations onto the canvas, and yet, Zahedi's painting and photography work was not recognised during his lifetime. Being seen as 'a worker' in society is to appear largely one-dimensional; conversationally, some occupations are worthy of being fawned over, others are simply means of survival. There is, of course, a space that exists in between, in all of us. Our labour sits within our daily lives but is rarely a marker of who we are: these works seem to have allowed the artist to leave his career outside the canvas.
It is reinforced that the artist was "un-schooled", and yet the paintings, referenced loosely to having been completed in "the 80s", have an expertly observed and textured aesthetic, where the artistic references aren't entirely clear, but they are there. Given that the artist has died, leaving his family, and notably his artist son Abbas Zahedi, as the voice of the work, these quiet moments of reflection, whereby the artist portrayed flowers and landscapes, give the evocation of pure leisure time. Zahedi may not have been a capitalised Artist, but these works beg to differ, challenging the dichotomy of 'trained' and 'un-trained'.
Belmacz is itself a quiet space, lending itself exquisitely to these unassuming but tender works. Aside from the paintings, the curator has made space for two photographic pieces. Due to the recent passing of the artist, and given that his works were neither known nor exhibited prior to this exhibition, everything is made to feel like an archive of a moment. That being said, this isn't an exhibition about grief or loss per se, but the classist notions of who is considered an artist within the institutional setting are arguably perpetuated here. Would these works be on display if Zahedi were alive? Would they be valued, emotionally and undoubtedly financially, in the same vain? The exhibition, conversely, is a beautiful means of sharing a gift for painting that may have been overlooked, but by being an artist in his leisure time, Zahedi produced work that was meaningful to him, without the need that career-artists have of having to be hyper-aware of audiences, markets, and collectors. You will struggle to find an exhibition with more heart this year.