Rafa Nasiri's Profound Understanding of his Purpose and Place in Humanity is the Essence that Nurtures his Passion to Create Works in Earnest Beauty
The resurgence of printmaking among contemporary artists in the 1960s has revived a strong respect for the ‘print’ in its own value. The productive trend was marked by the unique and inexpensive forms of art created with fresh techniques. Because of the potentials of the medium, many artists turned to graphic arts andthe demand for editions, posters and multiples grew and consolidated the audience for contemporary lithographs and etchings.
Meanwhile, in Iraq, the medium was waiting for someone who would put the plate and paper into use. After graduating at the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad in 1959, RafaAl Nasiri’s fascination with the art of printmaking drew him explore the origins of medium. He enrolled at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijingand with illuminating ease; he went on to study in The Gravura in Lisbon. Upon his return to Iraq in 1969, he brings alive the excitement of printmaking from different cultures and dedicated himself to establish the first Graphic Arts department at his alma mater, the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad.
Today, Rafa Al Nasiri ranks among the most influential Arab artists of our time. He has explored the world of visual arts in numerous variations and art form. Yet for more than five decades, he has remained unflinchingly committed to printmaking where he gained early acclaim as the “Pioneer of Iraqi Graphic Arts.”
The interplay between east and west
From the start of his artistic career, Nasiri’s work appears entirely liberated from rhetorical obligations. He takes his cues from the emblems of the origin of civilization. He merged Iraqi poetry and literature with European social consciousness and Asian philosophy – a perfect fusion of the ancient and the new.
In great precision, his works are rendered with outstanding mastery and control of the print technique. Whatever his stylistic allegiances or politics are, his subjects are personal and directly responsive to the political, social and cultural conditions of his time. They are enigmatic in content, powerful cross cultural statements that express profound spirituality, majesty, dignity, strength and culture.
Many meanings coalesce in Nasiri’swork during the late 1970s. Observed in several prints is a dynamic yet tranquil circle like a microcosmic world that moves forward out of the planeover a dominant shade of blue – as if the horizon and the sea drift seamlessly into the sky like cosmic oceans stretching towards a sublime blankness. Ascribing mystical thinking and interest in the Arabic letter, Nasiri then prints complicated blocks on the plane infused with language and symbols like celestial readings that are psychological dimensions of myth and allegory.
The ambitious blending of forms, spaces, and their relationships – all the objects and elements – is undertaken with a dynamic working on the plate which, with mastery of the medium and impressive ability to embrace freedom and control, it could be said that Nasiri’s compositions in print is a display of his mental acuity.
He makes palpable the weight and pressure of his use of a ‘single’ color rendered in various hues combined with neutral tones. Color, in Nasiri’s prints is like a haze of whispered intensities that has the ability to trigger a shift from a spectatorial gaze to a transcendent encounter.
Jumping ahead to the 1980s, Nasiri's prints appear to be more structured. Like visual riddles that function on a cerebral level, he revels in form read like maneuvers of an artist who was going back to the future – the timeliness of being a Sumerian. The conglomeration of calligraphic forms resembling ancient symbols is like a well-integrated dramatic pictorial statement – a grand dialogue with the past – an evidence of the breadth of Nasiri's understanding of time.
Rich in technique, this kind of printmaking requires absolute control over the form and medium. These works encourage us to contemplate the meditative process by which these prints were created. Their meaning for us lies not only in their cultural, art-historical compression of chronology but also suggests that personal time can be layered for us to find a vision permeated with beauty, deliberate order and a search for quintessential elegance.
Looking into a barrier
The influence of Zen images has been made obvious in Nasiri's work of the 1990s. This formal methodology could be traced back to his early works from the 1970s and the distinct vocabulary of shapes reappears in different guises in all his work throughout the decade. This time he used free forms and symbols that seem to imply a spontaneous and instantaneous event that are not definable. They reveal how deep personal history could be embedded in abstraction.
In the midst of this creative resurgence, we find Nasiri consciously looking into a barrier that demarcates the temporal void between the present moment and the separation and alienation from the past.
Perfection within true spontaneity
As the impact of Zen continues to dominate his art in the new century, Nasiri has steadily honed and refined his command to form and technique in order to operate deeper artistic undertakings. And the intersections of gestural abstraction, symbolism and digital technology, politics and poetry, continue to fascinate him.
Looking at similar compositions from the beginning of the century, one will notice the proficient treading line between sentimentality and his spiritual contemplation of nature and mortality.
This period was marked by the tragic occupation of Iraq and many artists emphatically represented political themes. Nasiri’s sense of exile was no doubt heightened and time and again he would encode a cultural context in his metaphoric titles.
In his prints, hejuxtaposed pages from Iraqi poetry books and old photographs poised between its original and transcendent realities to sustain his need to re-create the place that bore him. Brushstroke seemed to take flight in whirling forms and calligraphic designs. Energy suddenly rises in a wild fume of brush gesture that breaks through the plane and asserts itself as fundamental energy endowing the artwork with an unexpected grandeur – perfection within true spontaneity.
He explored complex pattern in laconic color field like red or royal and teal blues on umber, ochre or sienna tinged with gold and black. A sense of layered depth emanates from these colors, and the dominant earth tones give the work an organic qualitycreating an earthy and elemental world.
Despite the dynamic tension in composition that governs the relationship between Zen and abstraction, Nasiri’s prints are endowed with exceptional grace and are inexhaustibly serene.
Purpose and passion
His solo exhibition in February 2013 at the Bahrain Financial Harbor entitled “Being in the Moment” is a testament that RafaAl Nasiri’s profound understanding of his purpose and place in humanity is the essence that nurtures his passion to create works in earnest beauty.
Over the decades, he has created a formidable body of editions and specialized topic of prints and multiples as well as artist’s books. His conscious, disciplined drive toward conceptual and visual clarity is a direct result of his intellectual rigor and moral outlook. Yet his abiding ability to evoke Zen comes from a more instinctive, more deeply transcendent source.
From the grandeur of the Iraqi civilization to Asian mysticism, Rafa Al Nasiri’s life experiences infused his formal development with a powerful spiritual quest.
In front of Nasiri’s work, time stands still, and we are free to make our own "abstract" transcendent relationship fashioned by contemporary interpretive modes that ultimately mirror our own subjective experience. These art works are never simply the expression of an idea. They are emotionally authentic and conceptually well-defined, simultaneously representing the reality of spirit and mattercapable of holding essential human passion.
The forms he sets free in a pictorial and symbolist universe are meant to guide us to the infinite fields of color that means everything and nothing. They could be peaceful or sad and sometimes they embrace the romantic and tragic. And, to link life and art, a magnificent or noble element assuages the senses that in a single experiential moment, we become part of the masterpiece.
One cannot embrace the fullness of Nasiri’s the extraordinary oeuvre of the last 50 years. Faithful to his purpose as he could be – Rafa Al Nasiri, the artist, the innovator – is the manwhose life accompanies art; and whoseartreflects the passage of life… inprints of timeless beauty –the emblem of his art and of his country.
Maria Vivero, 2013
Kingdom of Bahrain