Basharat Bashir

Featured Artist: Parviz Tanavoli

Decrease Font Size Increase Font Size Text Size Print This Page

Parviz Tanavoli, born on March 24, 1937 in Tehran, is a sculptor, collector, scholar, painter, educator, and art historian. He is a modern sculpting pioneer and one of the most prominent current Iranian artists. He is a founder member of the Saqqakhaneh school, a 1960s neo-traditionalist art movement. His work, in addition to sculpting, encompasses painting, sketching, weavings, and prints that are filled with a thorough knowledge of Iran’s rich visual, craft, religious, and literary traditions. He combines contemporary secular themes with Shi’a religious symbolism in his work. Tanavoli has also written extensively on the history of Persian art and crafts. Tanavoli has held dual citizenship since 1989 and has lived and worked in both Tehran and Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver, British Columbia.

Tanavoli initially started his education in 1952, at the Tehran School of Fine Arts (now part of the University of Tehran). Later in 1956 he went on to continue his studies in Italy at the Academy of Fine Arts in Carrara (Italian: Accademia di Belle Arti di Carrara); and in 1958 he joined Brera Academy (Italian: Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera) in Milan where he studied under sculptor Mariano Marini. Tanavoli taught sculpture for three years at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, as a guest of art collector Abby Grey. He then assumed the directorship of the sculpture department at the University of Tehran, a position he held for 18 years until 1979, when he retired from his teaching duties.

Tanavoli along with Kamran Diba, and Roxana Saba (the daughter of Abolhasan Saba) founded ‘The Rasht 29 Club established in 1967, on a street in the north close to the Amirkabir University of Technology (formerly the Tehran Polytechnic). The Rasht 29 Club, so named because of the street address, was a well-liked gathering place for artists of the era, including Marcos Grigorian, Hossein Zenderoudi, Sadegh Tabrizi, Faramarz Pilaram, Sohrab Sepehri, Massoud Arabshahi, Yadollah Royai, Nader Naderpour, Reza Baraheni, Esmail Shahroudi, Ahmadreza Ahmadi.

Tanavoli belongs to the Saqqakhaneh group of artists who, according to the scholar Karim Emami, share a common popular aesthetic.He has been influenced heavily by his country’s history and culture and traditions, and has always been fascinated with locksmithing. Tanavoli has been one of the most expensive Iranian artists and is known for his Heeches, three dimensional representations of the Persian word for ‘nothing’,.Heech is a series of sculpture work displayed in prestigious museums and public places, such as the British Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Hamline University, Aga Khan Museum, and as public art in the city of Vancouver.

Tanavoli is known for his deep connection with Iranian culture and traditions but he does not shy away from using his artistic approach to comment on the political issues around the world.  In 2003, he turned his Tehran house into the “Museum of Parviz Tanavoli” showcasing his personal art collection, which was only open for a few months due to political issues in Iran. His “Heech in a Cage” is a small piece of sculpture created in 2005 to protest the conditions of the American-held prisoners at Guantanamo Bay detainment camp and in 2006 he began to work on his piece to honour the victims of the Israeli-Lebanon war. “I found there is so much in the Heech, that Heech is not nothing, Heech is something. Then later, I realized that there is so much meaning behind it and so many poets have paid attention to this word and have used it and that is how it began.”

In 2016 Tanavoli was barred from travelling by authorities in Iran who confiscated his passport a day before he was due to speak at British museum.  He was accused of “disturbing the public peace”. However,Tanavoli explained that “I have not done anything wrong. I spent the whole day at the passport office but no one told me anything, nor did anyone at the airport. I’m not a political person, I’m merely an artist.”

Tanavoli’s work has been auctioned around the world, resulting in total sales of more than $9 million, making him the most expensive living Iranian artist. His work, The Wall (Oh Persepolis), a nearly 2-meter-tall bronze sculpture covered in incomprehensible hieroglyphs, garnered $2.84 million USD at a Dubai Christie’s sale in 2008, setting an auction record for an artist of Middle Eastern descent.

Tanavolis work has been shown in reputed art galleries and museums around the world. In 2019 he held a solo exhibition “Oh Nightingale” At the West Vancouver Art Museum. Prior to that, in 2017 he held a solo exhibition at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, which featured his collection of Lions artwork. In 2015 Davis Museum at Wellesley College mounted Tanavoli’s first solo exhibition in the US.

Tanavoli received animmense retrospective at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art in 2003. He had previously held acclaimed solo exhibitions in Austria, Italy, Germany, the United States, Britain and numerous other countries. Similarly, his group exhibitions have been held around the world. His work has been shown at the Tate Modern, British Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Grey Art Gallery – New York University, Isfahan City Center, Nelson Rockefeller Collection, New York, Olympic Park, Seoul, South Korea, Royal Museum of Jordan, Museum of Modern Art, Vienna, Museum of Modern Art, New York, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Hamline University, St. Paul, and Shiraz University, Iran.In 2015, the biographical documentary film was released, Parviz Tanavoli: Poetry in Bronze, directed by Terrence Turner and produced by Timothy Turner and Tandis Tanavoli.

In October 2020, the former Mina Street in the Niavaran neighborhood was renamed Parviz Tanavoli by the municipality of Tehran.


Etching is an intaglio printmaking process using metal plates made of copper, iron or zinc. The lines or areas are incised using acid in order to hold the ink. The word etch itself is a Germanic word for eat, where the acid would literally eat the metal.

Together with engraving, etching is the most essential method for old master prints, and it is still widely used today. The plate is initially polished to remove any scratches or defects from the surface before it is ready for etching. When the surface is entirely smooth, it is evenly covered with an acid-resistant varnish or wax layer known as the ground.

Printmaker uses etching needle to gently scratch away parts of the ground following the design and exposing the metal beneath. After the entire design is complete acid is poured over the plate or plate is dipped in acid. The acid eats the exposed areas of the plate creating recesses to retain ink. The longer the plate remains in acid the deeper and wider recesses are formed and depending on the design printmaker uses this option to create a nuanced tonal palette. To create darker tones, Certain portions can be washed in acid numerous times , while lighter areas are protected from further acid bite by covering them with ground. When the acid has sufficiently eaten the plate, the printer removes the ground.

After the ground is removed, the plate is ready for inking. A cloth ball, cardboard tab, or equivalent material is used to gently spread ink across the whole face of the plate; the same material is used to remove most of the excess ink from the surface. The plate is further cleaned using a tarlatan rag (heavily starched cheesecloth).

When the plate’s surface has been sufficiently cleaned, it is placed on the bed of a rolling printing press, ink side up. Although some early intaglio prints appear to have been made by just pressing the paper against the plate with one’s hands, the pressure required to drive the paper into the finely cut lines necessitated the use of a special press fitted with rollers in most cases.Before the plate is moved through the press, it is covered with a sheet of dampened paper and then printing blankets, often made of felt, to soften the pressure on the metal plate.

The design of the etching appears in reverse on the paper base. The press pressure not only presses the ink onto the damp paper, but it also creates an outline of the metal plate’s outer edges in the paper, known as a plate mark.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *