Self-isolation, quarantine and stay-at-home orders have upended the daily lives of countless millions around the world but it has also provided a chance for reflection and soul searching, especially to those artists whose creativity flourishes under duress. One such artist is Tehran-based Salman Khoshroo whose latest series of work, “Wool Portraits on Foam”, is inextricably linked to his experience of quarantine and recent trauma. Made from a soft material like wool, “the portraits are delicate and vulnerable”, the artist explains, “resonating with my own precarious situation”. Perhaps it’s shouldn’t be a surprise that Khoshroo has thrived during the ongoing pandemic: the last time he was stuck in his studio being in 2009 during the Iranian government’s crackdown on Green Movement protests, his artistic practice transitioned from photography to painting, opening a whole new chapter in his career.
Bridging abstraction and figuration, Khoshroo’s Wool Portraits are knotty yet fleshy, soft yet tense, hinting at conflicting emotions that viewers need to discern amid the convoluted handiwork. These ingrained juxtapositions are amplified by the depiction of male figures with a material traditionally associated with feminine attributes, an intentional gesture that is part of Khoshroo’s personal journey in re-interpreting the masculine condition. At the same time, the portraits are also a direct response to the precarious times we are going through, as he explains: “Wool brings warmth and intimacy to these portraits, and plays with provoking the nurture instinct”.
His painting style has evolved from realism to a mixture of abstract art, expressionism and fauvism, so his jump from oil paints to wool seems like a natural progression. “We live in fragile times, and I feel the need to find new materials and the mind-set to reinvent my practice”, Khoshroo explains. Although Khoshroo’s latest series is much smaller in scale than his previous work, not to mention very different in medium, they share the same figurative abstraction and expressive dynamism, as well as a similar directness in the way they were crafted. The broad swathes of wool echo the bold strokes of paint which he “sculpts” with a palette knife rather than a brush. “In my paintings”, the artist says, “I am inclined to make sweeping gestures and I find the wool to be a beautifully flowing material”. The use of wool also attests to the artist’s propensity for experimentation. “My practice involves alternating in different styles and mediums”, he says, “I find different approaches feed each other and every project adds something to the whole”. And with plans to create full volume sculptures in this material, it seems certain that Khoshroo’s practice will keep evolving well beyond the end of the current crisis.