Saed Meshki: Your generation counterparts entered graphic design through painting. They were all either painting graduates or learned it by experience.
Aydin Aghdashloo: Because graphic design major did not exist at that time.
SM: And it is only natural that the designers of that time were mostly inclined towards illustration. Let's further discuss this subject, whether we should regard you more as a painter or graphic designer or a critic or all of the above.
AA: All of them and many other capacities I have worked in my life. You are right. As I remember it about 50 years ago when I started, graphic design emerged based on
illustration and it lacked much significance then. The most prominent illustrators of that time were Mohammad Bahrami and Byook Ahmari. There were other illustrators as well. Much later, Kamran Katouzian was the first who brought forth the idea of graphic design in advertising. He was a painter himself and had won a prize in the Tehran biennial. In the 1960's when he came up with the idea of commercial graphic design, graphic design had no status then. It is not exaggerating if we say that commercial graphic design in Iran started with Kamran Katouzian. In the 1950's the advertisements were very simple and in the form of gravure and other types of illustrations belonged to poetry and story books. Illustration and painting were so blended together that it was impossible to separate. In the 60's, besides Katouzian's idea of commercial graphic design, there was another institute that belonged to the late Hormozi and he did some challenging and strange advertisements. I worked in Gaam advertising agency which later I became a partner in. Up to1991 a part of my financial support came from working as full time graphic designer. Generally, at that period our generation had some kind of confusion. We looked for places to work in. Places where you could have peace and work with professionals. With the expectations that existed from graphic designers clients placed all kinds of weird and strange orders with them. I remember once someone asked me to design the label of a chewing gum called Santa Claus. I thought that was easy and I could just draw a Santa Claus but the client wanted me to draw a Santa that looked like a rooster because of the famous Rooster brand chewing gum! This period was very complicated and at times terrifying. We were a very lonely and deserted generation. Most of my generation people look back to their past with joy and admiration but I don't have that feeling. I believe it was a hard period and somewhat humiliating compared to other world graphic designers situation. Cultural graphic design then was not as prevalent as today. Our generation was self-sufficient and found their path on their own.
SM: My purpose of the first question is also to discuss your perspectives. You said in an interview that you are more of an illustrator than a painter. In the last biennial in your speech you mentioned that those posters drew your attention that had an illustrative quality. This is a very important subject whether the graphic design outlook is more towards art or design and the difference between graphic art and graphic design...
AA: With all my dependence on illustration I have said it repeatedly that we will not in some sense have illustrators any more and painting will not be the foundation of teaching graphic design in our universities and I think that the era of illustration in its classical sense will end in the world. I think in graphic design the idea is carried out and design not only in graphic design but in all areas will find an extraordinary importance. Although in the 1920's we see the influence of design as Art Deco in every thing from poster design to designing of radios, cups, kettles, etc. but that's incomparable with the expansion of design in the contemporary era. Although computers are rejected by my generation counterparts who are also eminent designers today but that's only a memory-driven resistance. Truth is we have to accept that what is created as illustration with computer and when it develops even further, then design is an element of the visual world and without it, it would be impossible to imagine our time. We are living in the era of design not illustration. Illustration in its classical form becomes weak. Presently, if a person interested in graphic design is to name 20 important illustrators, they have certainly started their activity from the 70's. Not that they don't exist now but they lack the power, ability and versatility.
SM: Given our situation geographically and historically and the importance that illustration has had in Iran do you think we can use those past findings? Can illustration still be used by Iranian graphic designers?
AA: I think we can refer to the very prominent Iranian illustration since the most ancient times up until the era of litho printing. A smart generation of graphic designers utilized not just illustrations but many Iranian motifs. I have the same opinion on Iranian painting. We have to see how much tolerance this precedence has for modern world issues. Will referring to traditional music, calligraphy, painting...resolve and retell the issues of the past three decades? It has succeeded in some areas but not others. We cannot therefore, place heavy loads on the old and skilled shoulders. Reference can be made to some areas but not all. I don't see it necessary for contemporary graphic designers to refer topast motifs and drawings to be half way in between.
SM: I don't just mean the use of common elements in the works of graphic design. In any case what we see in Iranian illustration is the perspective existent in its precedence. In the works of a designer such as Farshid Mesghali, for example, although we do not see Iranian elements independently but we sense that the designer has understood the Iranian atmospheres.
AA: That's because Mesghali is a designer with that quality. The wide hachuring along the margins of Mesghali's works is somehow reminiscent of litho books illustrations. Morteza Momayez does not utilize Iranian motifs in this way. He places an element in his work and makes an adequate use of it. How an your generation designers who have no historic-visual connection refer to this precedence? I believe we have enough reserves to use at times but that does not build the graphic design of a country. We can use them but it can not be propagated to others.
SM: What is your bold opinion about the present generation of Iranian graphic designers?
AA: They are an honor. The works of this generation in the graphic design biennials is excellent and admirable. I believe their works are quite
presentable to the world but how high they will be able to fly is questionable. I think if they do not ascend, their flight will be incomplete. They must fly higher and higher. This depends on the academic system and the economic situation, etc. We have a broad arena ahead of us and it requires much effort to raise the altitude of this flight. Your generation is quite proper because on one hand it has the knowledge of previous generations to use and on the other it has a vision of the future.
SM: After the revolution, for some time we were witness to your extended activity with
regards to book and magazine cover designs; covers that contained detailed illustrations. Tell us about that period.
AA: I performed my real illustrations after the revolution. The painting galleries were closed down and many of my friends and colleagues had fled the country. I thought working was a way to answer why I did not leave and chose to stay in the country. I worked for various publishing companies. Without exaggeration I can claim that I made precise book cover design official. Even one of my works was a complete work of painting but in smaller dimensions. I wasn't really loyal to my subject of work. I thought since there were no painting exhibitions I could present my paintings on book covers. Once I designed a book cover for Shamloo's collection of poems which was a rose water sprinkler that was broken in the air. That design was refused and I kept it. Later on I was asked to design a cover for the poems of Borges and I presented that same design. This was a mistake from a graphic design stance. But it made no difference to me. I had a different intention by my works in that period. I wanted to say that I existed. Even now with regards to the relation between illustration and the subject, I believe that the illustrator is not required to visually make an exact translation of the subject, rather if he is skillful and possesses distinction and universal
vision he can absorb the subject in a more complex and indirect manner and become one with it and what he can then present is the product of a subject that the artist has visually redefined it.
SM: This is a philosophical look at the subject; it requires a deep and serious perspective and an interpretation in visual communication not explanation. If the illustrator honestly deals with the subject, every one will agree that the subject is in harmony with the design.
AA: It's better to call it artistically rather than honestly. If the illustrator is an artist that will happen.
SM: We can conclude that this is a still a popular perspective but since it is a rough
path and requires much tolerance as you said it the designers go after playing with computers.
AA: These playing with computers sometimes produce attractive works but I don't know of any designers who would play with computers
in long term. Playfulness has a period and it passes. All of this recent playing with letters and texts will be gone in less than a decade.
SM: So it is an excitement irrelative of art. It is creating amazement. It may fit in the limits of creativity. I believe that creativity is not the same as art. It's more industrial.
AA: I regard this issue with more kindness. I think it is an artistic genre that has been created in graphic design as the movies 'Star Wars' and 'Batman' are new genres in the world cinema.
SM: Do you regard them as cinematic art?
AA: They can become one. The more successful type can have its own language and communicate with that language. Naturally, you cannot compare the works of George Lucas with Bergman's. Bergman's works seem more artistic, deeper and serious but cinema is not about Bergman only. The issue that how long it will live, how far it can expand and as time passes how much of it will remain is yet to be judged. I am very autious in that kind of judgment.