Neshan Magazine-12-Winter 2007
Saed Meshki: You and your fellow college mates graduated from the university almost concurrent with the onset of the revolution when professional activities had naturally come to a halt. So, we somehow feel confused and don't know whether or not we should consider your generation as independent because the pre-requisite of the presence of a generation that influences the professional course is missing.
Mostafa Asadollahi: I became familiar with graphic design through the classified ads section of Keyhan daily in the summer of 1965 in the studio that advertising ads were designed. Three years later, I took the Fine Arts Academy exams and got accepted in that school. I took another exam after three fruitful years and went to the University of Tehran's Faculty of Fine Arts in 1971. In that year while studying I worked as graphic designer in Rueen Pakbaz's graphic design studio. He was one of my first teachers in graphic design. His studio had been in operation since 1961 and in 1971 that studio was transferred to Ghandriz Hall located across the University of Tehran where it actively served the community in introducing the plastic arts.
Different graphic design works were executed in that studio. Ghandriz publications was also published many books. During the time I was working in Ghandriz graphic design studio, for every exhibition a poster, an invitation card would be printed with a fixed format and there were one page brochures that contained a critique or analysis written by participating artists. In fact, my first teachers were among the second generation graphic designers in Iran. Of course, I had learned a lot from the first generation of designers in the 60's.
After three years in this studio I went to Pishro advertising agency. The agency then wanted to advance towards more modern designs than the prevalent mediocre methods. Actually, other studios especially the Avant-garde advertising agency at that time had brought forth major changes in advertising and others wanted to catch up. Pishro was then supposed to have an office in New York and because I was proficient in my work there was talk of hiring me in that office as graphic designer and in exchange have a designer from New York to work in Tehran office. After few years I was drafted for the military, which coincided with the revolution, and naturally all those plans were cancelled. Then the research trip to France came up and since 1981 when the market was picking up again I opened my own studio. The halt you mentioned pertains to 1979-1981 and this is more or less what happened to my peers in graphic design as well.
SM: Your college years coincided with the peak of modernism in Iranian art; in painting, sculpture, theatre and all other branches of art. How did that affect graphic design and you as a student?
MA: Modernist changes had started when I was a high school student in the Art Academy. In those highly productive years we had experienced Cézanne, Picasso and Futurism. Painting courses in the University of Tehran was nothing new to me. But working in Pakbaz's studio and getting to study the theories of an artist by the name of Gabo left a lot of impressions on me. Besides, in that period I was witness to the influence of Polish graphic design. Many artists' had probing tendencies towards Eastern European cultural graphic design and the West naming America in particular. At that time little was sought for leads to arrive at Iranian graphic design and it was only limited to a handful of people in the cultural sphere. The Center for Intellectual Education of Children and Youths (Kanoon) that had recruited capable designers was also effective.
SM: As you pointed out earlier, our commercial graphic design was influenced by American graphics. In painting, theatre, sculpture and music we also see less Eastern European influence. Why is our cultural graphic design inclined towards Eastern Europe and especially Poland, yet moves in a separate course? Was there a certain type of thinking among graphic designers or some kind of objection to the existing cultural conditions?
MA: Don't forget that in the 1970's liberal movements had speeded up and various inclinations were taking shape. The educational curriculum of the Faculty of Fine Arts underwent many major changes early in 1970. The swing from 'fine arts' thinking to 'applied arts' came with Bauhaus thinking and many masters of the profession who had studied in Europe and America. The commercial graphic design paid attention to American graphics and the cultural graphic design to Eastern European countries especially Poland. I remember the foreign films participating in Kanoon's annual festival exceeded those of Eastern Europe. The technique by which these animations films were made had a lot of effect on our illustration and design execution. In any case, I think the dominant intellectual thinking of those times preferred Eastern European liberal tendencies. School of Poland received a lot of attention and you could trace it in the works of renowned designers at that time such as Morteza Momayez and Farshid Mesghali.
SM: But Morteza Momayez who was one of the most influential graphic designers, however, had studied in France.
MA: Travel to and study in Eastern Europe was not easily possible in those days. When Momayez pursued his studies in France it coincided with the 1968 student movement in Paris. That movement was prelude to many changes in France and Western Europe.
It seems that the dominant atmosphere on the Iranian graphic design at that time was much inclined towards this direction. For example, Ghobad Shiva who was American educated and focused on cultural graphic design upon returning did not produce distinguishable works showing American influence and they easily stand by other Iranian works of that period.
Morteza Momayez, Farshid Mesghali and Ghobad Shiva were the three angles of the graphic design triangle in the mid 1970's that greatly influenced the dominant graphic design atmosphere in Iran and their professional relations with each other has certainly affected their work. The National Radio and Television in which Ghobad Shiva worked was also closer to European especially French than American models but in graphic design it was not as such. For example, Kamran Katouzian presented super modern works influenced by American style.
SM: How did the existing trend and movement affect your work vis-à-vis your peers?
MA: In the 1960's and 70's some eminent works were produced that taught me a lot. The illustrations and page designs of Momayez in Book of the Week, the collection of Iran posters by Kazemi for Tourism Organization, Sadegh Barirani's posters for Rudaki Hall and Ghobad Shiva's graphic designs for Shiraz Art Festival and Tamasha magazine. These were very attractive to my generation especially that the achievements were discussed and analysed in our classes. Momayez in his own classes would bring up and discuss photo montages of Roman Cieslewicz and Jan Lenica's working techniques. He was the art director for Tehran Film Festival and the new creative works that he published every year were very precious and worthy of study for us. Ghandriz Hall also held prominent exhibitions for introducing graphic design. Some of the most outstanding posters from Poland, Switzerland and France were exhibited in Ghandriz Hall by the efforts of Pakbaz and Momayez and brought about a new and positive atmosphere.
SM: Let's focus on your works now. In all of your works there's consistent tendency towards Constructivism. How this has appeared in your works?
MA: The three years I studied painting in the Art Academy were ideal and effective. From 1968 until 1971 the Academy was well organized by the late Hussein Kazemi. At that time with utmost passion and fervor my teachers discussed modern painting and the resulting changes in their classes with a scientific approach. Later, in the University of Tehran we had a good curriculum taught by some prominent professors in the group.
The Constructivist approach in my works, more than anything influenced by those classes especially the specific and precise exercises that we performed on the foundation of graphic design. Some of the exercises also involved pure graphic expressions in which we sought meanings. There, I became interested in simple graphic design; minimal use of fonts and hues for maximum expression. Of course, professional work outside university taught us many aspects of the work.
SM: Apparently, you emphasize on this same Constructivist method in the classes you teach in the university and pursue that.
MA: I use a lot of what I have learned. That's one thing but I always want this to be the beginning for the topics of content, meaning and creativity. The foundations can help a structure to be strong.
SM: Doesn't this make the designer conservative and deconstruction very difficult on the other hand? And when we assign specific rules, aren't we limiting the designer? Aren't we producing similar works?
MA: A Constructivist look alone cannot respond. To understand any kind of Deconstructive we have to well recognize the principles of Constructivism and study it. In my opinion the first steps in graphic design education are very important. We can then focus on the student's internal desires and talents. These points in my opinion are positive for creating order in the mind of the student. I have never taught a class with one fixed method and I have changed every term with change in the previous syllabus. Students in every term have their own special circumstances and I cannot treat it the same every term. Plus, graphic design is always changing. I have tried while doing exercises to pay attention to their individual inclinations. Every student must be pushed towards his own personal talent. I avoid making students into models of myself.
SM: How do these inclinations appear in your own works? For example, you use triangles a lot; how do you get along with the meaning of triangle in different works?
MA: I seek meaning a lot and have never been a mere formalist. For example, the 5th Biennial of Iranian Graphic Design poster is a tree with triangular shape fruits and its branches are masses of small and large pencils. I have used triangles in that work as an active and ostentatious symbol. I think graphic design is very close to a triangle. This dynamic shape moves from within towards and it is constantly imposing. A graphic design work is the same. It desires to attract the viewer and audience and leave a definite impression. In the poster for Cultural Exhibition of Iran in Kazakhstan poster, triangles complement the flag drawings and are inspired by Ghashghaee rug patterns.
SM: Do they mean the same in both posters?
MA: No, in the second poster the triangles mean movement and energy stemming from waving flags. Here, the triangles rise the happy atmosphere of colored flags. The client wished to have a happy and lively atmosphere in the poster. The face of the poster could have been associated with the face of the Iranian culture and society. I intended sort of a vault decorated with lights. In any case, the triangles had another role and meaning in Book of the Week poster that they are beams for the effects of publications through books and giving value to book reading.
SM: I wanted to use a geometrical shape for different meanings but apart from any conclusion it was my own personal interest to probe in the meaning of simple forms and tendency towards stability and strength in my works.
SM: I thank you for your time.