The Artist
The Artist: Farrokh Legha Taheri Vahdat was born in 1919, in the city of Eshghabad, in the region of Turkmenistan. She had no training in art, but had always had a love for the rendering of human vision through artistic expression. She was born into one of the most turbulent times in history, in one of the most tumultuous parts of the world. She has seen more in her 82 years than most would hope to read about in history books, and she has miraculously been able to transcend what would be seen as a life filled with pain into one of love, beauty, and faith. She does not remember a time without art and painting in her mind, and some of her earliest memories are of being transfixed and mystified by the perfection of the human form. She recounts being in a public bath in Eshghabad as a youth, viewing the figure of a shapely nude woman. She still recalls the steam surrounding the woman?s figure, and she remembers staring, imagining the painting of the woman, the strokes of the brush on a fresh white canvas.

The story of her art is the story of her life. She began painting in fifth grade, and had an art teacher who encouraged her to follow her talent, and who taught her the fundamentals of color. She remembers that her love of painting began at that age. When she became older, she would go to stores that had painting displays, viewing the work through the glass from outside, analyzing the color usage, focusing on the use of shape and image for hours, teaching herself the basics. After the arrest and savage imprisonment of her father and the majority of her family by the Soviet Regime, she was forcibly repatriated to Iran. Before she left, though, she bought herself a box of oil paints. She was in Eshghabad, and she says that she had no idea where she was going, or what was going to happen to her family. It was a time of fear, and a time of flight. With the money that she had in her pocket, she went to an art store, and purchased the best set of Russian oil paints they sold. She remembers that she had no idea how one should use oil paints, but experimented (as is her way) until she was able to determine the best surface for use, the best formulas of paint, and the optimal mixture of color. After her marriage in Mashad, Iran in 1939, her husband and her purchased several canvases, and she began to paint based on postcards. These early works were given to an art dealer in Mashad, and the young family moved to Abadan. There, she painted upon request for friends and associates. After moving to Tehran, she remembers that there was a painting exhibit for youth. For this exhibition, she painted a portrait of a poverty stricken boy eating grapes by the side of the road. She has always been moved by the expression of a single human face, in a particularly human moment. She recalls that she owned those same Russian oil paints until she was self exiled to the United States in 1978 after the Iranian Revolution. She did not pick up a brush again until a decade ago, in Santa Rosa, California. Eight years ago, her eye was affected by an uncurable ailment, and her vision progressively worsened. However, as is her nature, Momani (as she is known to those who love her, which is to say those who have met her), continued to paint what she saw. If one views the progression of her work, it is clear that when the eye could no longer command the hand to depict detailed images or minute touches, her deeper emotions and thoughts began to reveal themselves.

When asked how she has maintained joy, how she has managed not to become disenchanted and embittered by what she has seen, she says that it is because of her faith. She is made happy when she realizes that ultimately, the world will find peace, it will achieve equality. She says, ?I do not see my life as one of pain or hardship. I truly see it as one of happiness and joy. I do not recall the difficult times, I remember the wonderful ones. When I think of my grandfather (who was imprisoned and tortured in Russia), I do not remember a man who experienced immense pain; I only remember being so filled with pride that this great man was my grandfather. Everything that he did was amazing to me, he showed me what it was to be human.?

She has always said that she paints what comes to her mind. Some who see her paintings today would perhaps disagree. They would likely say that she paints what comes from her heart. When asked what feeling she has when she paints, she says, ?I lose any sense of my surroundings, the weather, the time, the place. I am filled with peace, and a feeling of joy. Sometimes, I put on classical music, and I forget the entire world. I have a pleasure, a satisfaction, not of the body, not of the mind, but of my soul. I never feel like I really paint what is in my mind; I am never truly satisfied with what I paint. There is always the remnant of the perfect image that I can never replicate. I especially feel this way since my eyes have become worse. I can no longer paint the lines that I love, the tall proud buildings that I have admired since my youth (she has always had a passion for architecture). But I have realized that I can combine colors in new ways, blend lines into shapes that I would not have considered earlier. I have realized that the painting of a person must not be like a photograph. The painting of the face must show the feeling, the emotion in the human face. It must portray the feeling that is within that individual: not the dimensions of their nose, or their eyes.?

For those of us who have been privileged to have Momani touch our lives, her paintings are an insight into her life, her thoughts, and her memories. They show us a world of color, light, and joy. From purchasing a box of Russian oil paints at the age of seventeen in the early days of the Soviet Union, to depicting images of people and buildings in ever transforming Iran, to the abstract color compositions in Pacific Grove, California?we see the art of a woman who has truly lived, and who- ultimately- has shown us what it is to be human.

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