Neshan Magazine-13-Spring 2007
Few years ago Farshid Mesghali in an interview after the end of the 6th Graphic Design Biennial in Iran said: "There are always dreams and realities and dreams are always greater than realities. We are after dreams."
When my generation was spending childhood and adolescent years, Farshid Mesghali imbued the realities of our life with dreams and brought our dreams into reality. The stories of the Little Black Fish, the Little Wizard of My Room, the Blue Eyed Boy, Arash the Bower, the Champion, Moonlight Secretes and...'c9 were the frontiers of our dreams and realities.
Farshid Mesghali has never taught for long periods of time but he is one of the most influential graphic designers on the generations following him. He avoids clamor, refrains from usual pretensions and quietly and diligently works in his office in the first floor of his house. Nowadays, he creates his visual dreams as three-dimensional. He is surrounded with wires, paint and plaster.
Sometimes I wish to see a book behind the window of bookstores with illustrations dissimilar to today's repetitious images illustrated by Farshid Mesghali. He can still succeed at amazing us and bring our dreams into reality and reconcile us with our childhood.
Saed Meshki: If we review your works of the 1960's most of them are still new and modern. Although about 35 years have passed since their creation we can still consider many of them as the best graphic design works in Iran. What is the secret to this lasting?
Farshid Mesghali: It is hard and may be impossible to answer this question. When we create something there is no scale to measure whether it will last or not at the moment but the passage of time will be the judge of that. Instead of directly giving you an answer I can tell you how and under what conditions I worked.
At the time when I did my work there was general tendency and thirst for novelty. In the 1940's designers had appeared who originated new foundations especially in literature. After all, Iran means literature and poetry and vice versa. The next wave emerged in painting and later on in theatre and cinema and other areas. My contemporaries and I were the extension of that wave seeking modernism whose effects also reached us. I mean I was present in a period that the possibilities of growth and modern experiments existed. Naturally, talents under such conditions are able to do something different. On the other hand one of my personal traits is that I'm an explorer. I like to explore different things. I am also very much interested in technical experiments. For example, I like to experiment on different materials such as ordinary paper, cardboard and newsprint with an iron pen to obtain its various effects.
SM: Which becomes the technique for the book, Arash the Bower.
FM: Yes, when I designed for Negin magazine I was involved with such issues. For example, how to combine picture with design and what possibilities it would yield me. Exploring these possibilities excites me. My other concern was the subject. I have never worked with abstraction and still the starting point is my subject and I get involved with it before anything. The other most important point is to release my feelings. I mean the subject is there and the technique has been discovered but what utilizes these as tools, is my feelings. I am honest with my feelings. That's why when I draw I let my hands move freely so as to transfer my feelings to the tip of the pen or other tools. I let my feelings, the pen, the paper and the subject work together.
My excitement for technique, my interest in the subject and my honesty towards my feeling together create an event. That's why my works have been pretty versatile. Of course, a part of this diversity was the product of my involvement with different tools and techniques. For example, when I was involved with lithography I used all of its possibilities and did different works that although are unified in technique but they are different because the variety in the subjects prevented them from being repetitious.
To me, nothing lasts much. I get easily bored and get tired of repetition. I want to move on to the next. When digital possibilities evolved I worked with those for a while and experienced its capabilities. This process is like traveling. When I go someplace and explore it I don't like to go to that place again. Some like to explore one place many times over and travel there. Some can develop a subject and be busy with it for a long time. They can grow a flower with different colors and smells but I get bored and want to experience different flowers. Seeking novelty is my trait and it is inherent in me.
SM: This modernism is not much evident in your life. Besides, you are not much into commotion around your work.
FM: That's correct. I have been displaced a lot but not willingly. It is not so as far as my work. Even in the books such as the Little Black Fish and I, the Porcupine and My Doll which are the same in terms of technique but the presentation and fabric of design are different.
SM: I don't think technique is so apparent in your works. When we look at your works we see the work without thinking about the technique. In the poster for the 10th Anniversary of Kanoon where an angel is suspended in the sky or the chair on which colorful drops of rain pours, both are not unique works in terms of idea and thought but your execution in which there is complete harmony between subject, technique and feeling has given it value. The same is true about your illustrations. In My Room's Little Wizard while being inspired by Chagall the images seem dreamlike.
FM: Yes these have been my various experiments and search. I have used these searches in different cases such as animation, children's book illustration, poster, page illustration and adult illustration.
SM: These have been your personal probes and novelties. You mentioned at the beginning of the discussion about the period in which you did those works. In those years a great incidence took place. Something that left great impressions on the coming years and turned into a current that is the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults (Kanoon). What do you think of that?
FM: In our contemporary history whenever the possibility to work easily and freely has prevailed, immediately after many talents have appeared and worked. I did not accompany Kanoon since the day it was born but I joined it when it only had three rooms in a building. Kanoon was an exception because ambition was all about its activities. Kanoon's three rooms in a few years turned into hundred and fifty libraries plus mobile libraries for the constantly moving tribes. In addition, Kanoon's art and cultural productions were remarkable and exceptional. The main reason for this advancement and growth was its management that put cultural ambitions as its goals. Later on, Kanoon's cultural centers were formed in libraries. Theatre, cinema, sculpture and painting were taught in them. Instructors were trained for these centers with an integral method of teaching. The atmosphere and the conduct were unique in the world. Interested people were drawn to it and they created extraordinary works. In an atmosphere with not much amazing facilities, Ahmad Reza Ahmadi was recruited in the music division and the most brilliant works were created. He was an intellectual poet who may not have been much interested in accepting responsibility but with minimal facilities in Kanoon limited to a brief case, he produced excellent cassettes and LPs. He solely took on finding elite individuals and did the recording and production. He inspired all of us.
In animation production we did not even have celluloid punchers. We used to send them to Ministry of Art and Culture for punching. Of course, limited facilities were later provided but it wasn't important as on the other hand we had no restrictions and worked in total peace and liberty. I used to explain the film in a couple of written sentences and then I made it. We never showed the posters to the managers and they usually saw them after print. Many of the people today, who are regarded as most influential, originated from Kanoon because it was a healthy and positive environment and required healthy competition. Whoever desired to work did so without any conditions.
SM: Most of your works are illustrations. In fact, there is not much difference between your book illustrations and posters. Don't you think the lasting quality in your work is a result of your illustration method that makes your work more poetic and close to painting? The fact is your works do not stun but they communicate to the viewer in a way that they leave a lasting impression on the mind and their recall and repeated viewing makes this relationship even deeper.
FM: The point is that illustration has more power in our country than graphic design. In university illustration classes the number of successful illustrators exceeds the number of successful graphic designers. From a historical point of view too, illustration among us Iranians has always been very powerful. Naturally, we are more inclined towards it. Literature has always been very important in Iran, and naturally illustration that has always accompanied literature becomes very important too.
Graphic design however, is a new phenomenon and we have yet to digest it. Design is the basis of graphic design which is a rational, logical and creative mechanism. We tried like many other things to translate graphic design. We have become familiar with graphic design for 60 years but we have very few designers with brilliant ideas who have executed these thoughts in the best way possible. So I must say that yes I am an illustrator and have aimed to perform graphic design with illustration. Since illustration is close to painting then it has more lasting elements in it. Perhaps, aesthetic observations are more lasting.
SM: In any case when illustration is the work basis, we have an indirect look and pay attention to the next layers of the subject. As a result its finesse and poetic quality makes the work attractive.
FM: Perhaps subject is an excuse to make the work.
SM: Yes and you mentioned you experiment with different tools to reach a conclusion in complete harmony with the subject but if we rely on a not dynamic technique, our method of work may be in harmony with the subject in a few works but in many cases we go towards strange and stunning ideas and events to create attractiveness. In return, when there is a painterly look, technique is not so important. It is the designer's perception in various layers of his work that creates conformity between his work and the audience involving them in his poetic outlook.
FM: But these cases are not so obvious and evident like the apparent visual elements. Perhaps, more time and reflection is needed on these works. What I can state about myself is that the further I went the more I found myself as a painter and now I am doing sculpture. In the course of my work if I have to make a comparison between the Little Black Fish and I, the Porcupine and My Doll, their difference lies in being more artistic as a result of passage of time and maturity in my works. What still attracts me in graphic design is resolving problems. That how much of what should be in the work. Like cooking. It is the amount of each ingredient that makes it a delicious or edible food. I don't exactly remember who said that graphic design is something between art and necessity.
SM: The debate is over the designer's outlook and perception towards the work. There is a difference between the path we take to reach a special and extraordinary idea by use of elements or move the general idea in our mind so much to reach a correct and deep understanding of the subject. The difference between idea and creativity on one end and understanding the atmosphere of the subject is in the other end. I have seen the preliminary sketches of your Postman poster but you were not satisfied with them. Deep in your mind you have felt a disharmony between atmosphere and concept and ultimately reached the film's final poster. The work is both by Farshid Mesghali and quite harmonious with the film's atmosphere.
FM: It may be likened to the theory of passing from quantity and reaching quality. I personally believe in wrestling with one subject and finishing the work in a long period of time because the thinking scope becomes wider and more opportunity prevails for leaping. Sometimes after a long time of involvement with one work, a very small subject resolves the issue and the designer learns from that moment and uses it. Since the designer has dwelt with the issue for a long time and opportunity must be given for the conditions to prevail. This is not a mathematical rule that enables us to tell the time of the event. Time must be given for the subject to live.
SM: If you agree let's go back to lithography. How did you look at the subjects in the period when you used lithography in your extraordinary illustrations, posters and book covers?
FM: Lithography is worth the review from two aspects; structurally and conceptually. Structural review is important because we can find a link from old illustration to lithography. Structurally, lithography stands on miniature painting's shoulder and it is its extension. Meanwhile, it does have fundamental differences. Miniature painting emerged in a type of thinking where images are unearthly. Matter is not seen. Everything is exemplary and if the title suits well they are heavenly. The elements in miniature painting have earthly appearance but lack earthly essence. Trees, people, mountains have all been created with utmost beauty. On one hand the events are not important but every incident is an excuse for this beauty to be repeated. That's why aesthetically the battle scenes of Rustam and Demon are not different from love scenes of Khosrow and Shirin. Neither violence is felt in battle scenes nor do we see love in Khosrow and Shirin painting. They are both pretexts for display of beauty. In many war scenes that we have of miniature painting decapitated heads are drawn from which blood squirts out but they are beautiful and do not manifest a sense of violence. The decapitated heads are as pretty as Khosrow's face when he looks at Shirin in awe. Beauty is dominant and reveals a special perspective that has lasted for years on end.
But in lithography the surrounding details have been eliminated. There's not much of trees, sky and other elements. The characters have grown and found higher value as if aggrandizing a part of miniature painting. The events have found greater value yet not much feeling is seen in them. Because of being black and white and the dominance of writing and the primitiveness of the designers' works and more importantly the perspective that has happened in a newer and different time, lithography has lost the aesthetic characteristics of miniature painting and has become more real and earthly.
In terms of concept however, the most important point is that for the first time in Iran illustration has been performed for the public. Until then miniature paintings were done for the elite. A king or a high official hired the best of painters. Painters illustrated texts for them or their libraries. Their art served the individual's greatness and creation of something suitable with their rank or status.
The introduction of lithography in Iran is in fact the beginning of publication especially that the majority of illustrations are designed for popular stories. Also, reading that was prevalent among a special class became more widespread. On one hand perhaps these works can be considered as the first pop art works. Conceptually, miniature suits the elite and lithography the popular taste. Lithographic works are produced for the public and their producers are not necessarily expert designers but their products are very attractive to me. I have enjoyed these forms for years and use them.
Certain characteristic in some of our past artworks does not limit them to the attention and use of an elite class. For example, our rugs bring pleasure to all. It is not geared for the attention of a certain class. Perhaps, the materials used in weaving them such as silk make them expensive and special in that sense or they may be made of regular cotton and wool woven by a tribe and cheap and popular in that regard but the important point is that rugs are neither limited to the elite nor the common public.
In popular art it seems that only the necessary are present such as children's drawings. Children never draw anything other than the intended points - a house, a wall or an airplane. And almost there is no decorative details. They are very brief. The lithographic book paintings also follow such outlook. In lithographic print although the finesse and delicacy of rugs is absent but the popularity of the work and designers' lack of appropriate expertise gives the work a kind of innocence, and childish clarity and feeling that make it valuable.
In the era that we live in nobody makes efforts to make an excellent cultural work from materials that the common public deals with. We are all inclined towards a certain kind of abstraction and excellence that has nothing to do with the current popular culture. A while ago, the poster contest of monotheist religions was held. In the prize giving ceremony Rene Warner the Swiss designer had a brief speech and mentioned a point that was quite attractive and at the same time shocking to me. He said that in Iran there are a lot of popular religious posters that are abundantly used too. But none of them were used in this exhibition. In my view lithography did have this potential and it could be used in today's graphic design in a way that its elements can be popular but with a modern and new impression.
SM: You mentioned that lithography is the extension of miniature. Perhaps it could be the continuation of large curtain painting and teashop wall paintings.
FM: I agree. I regard curtain painting quite homologous with lithography. In both of them decorative details have been eliminated and more than anything they are focused on characters but there is a major difference between them. In lithography just like miniature all characters are one size but in curtain paintings it is an event that is painted in large size and other events happen in smaller scales. This is a great difference in designing. In fact, curtain paintings have a thematic perspective. Another point about lithography is that for the first time picture submits to concept meaning that sometimes the pictures become small and are presented along with the concept that has a greater volume. Such incidence does not happen in miniature.
SM: In your lithographic works, were you after creation of Iranian works? Can use of lithography give an Iranian taste to the works?
FM: We Iranians in the past century because of our leaps and jumps to reach modern civilization have not kept a continuous connection to our past. We are related to our past with sporadic, abstract and unclear memories. Lithography and its extent has not flowed in my life as a lively current. I have encountered it. It seems like an antique phenomenon. Someone has discovered and used it. This course is different from a subject such as rugs that has flowed in the lives of Iranians for centuries. The course of rugs has been a constant one with weaknesses and strengths in every period.
In some of my classes I try to make the students answer by their works the question of "what am I?" What they like and use. What they avoid. What their aspirations are, etc. In fact, I ask them to make a graphic picture of themselves. Make a portrait of what they are. I too in a period became interested in what I found of the past and tried to use them. Whether or not my work has turned out Iranian or not will be judged later. But I can frankly tell you that the works belonged to my time. I have used lithography as raw material towards which I have had distant feelings. I have neither admired it nor suppressed it. It is like the color red or blue or the shape of triangle or square that is used. Of course, I have felt a sense of primitiveness in lithography. A quality that attracts me in any work that possesses it. I still very much like Russo among painters.
At the present being Iranian is measured on the basis of reactions beyond the borders. Their reflections is also as such that if we use Farsi calligraphy it is branded as Iranian. Personally, I believe calligraphy has a very large scope in graphic design but with a different definition and perception than the prevalent fashions.
In summary, I believe in the designer's subjective perspective and its role on his identity. I mean the collection of everything that exists in every individual's subjective perspective. If the designer uses these reserves with honesty he will have identity.
SM: Thank you