Saed Meshki: In the past few years we've seen many of your works with regard to children and youths especially in Kanoon. What prompted you to work on these subjects?
Kourosh Parsanejad: My involvement with children and youth subjects started with an order about ten years ago. Maktabi had done the illustration on a book called 'Small Hands, Small Feet' which I took over for the book design. Prior to then my orders involved subjects for adults and I was working with Kian, Zanan, Roshd-e-Moalem and Kaman magazines. Kanoon authorities had trust in me and I too aimed at creating decent works for Kanoon along with other graphic design works I was doing then. When I'm treated like that I can't just take my work as the only source of income. There is more sensitivity and I get pickier in doing a good job. I was drawn to children's subjects because of the orders I was receiving that involved that age group. Perhaps, if a publisher with a different interest would've approached me back then, my work would take that direction too. There's another point as well. Little has been done on children's and youths' books. From the first order I tried not merely suffice to the positioning of the text on the page across rather I attempted to see the texts and images and their visual merit altogether. Most of the clients that order books and publications pay attention to the cover. The interiors are usually done by computer operators and non-specialists. Kanoon was interested in book making and I took advantage of the opportunity.
SM: To summarize your answer, I have to say that in fact the kind of order doesn't make a difference to you.
KP: That's right and let me say that this goes back to our professional nature but definitely every designer prefers some subjects to others. If someone orders a book to me on cinema or literature it would be very ideal to me. Also, there may be subjects that a designer may least be interested in and rejects them. The individuals or clients and the kind of relationship I have with them are very important to me. More clearly I don't limit myself to working on certain subjects but my orders are diverse and different given that the client cooperates with me in achieving the desired result. This is what happened in Kanoon. The first pages of a book were really important to me; the route that the reader takes to reach the main content. Something like film titles. It can be so impressive that the reader can sense he will be reading a good book. This kind of book making was possible in Kanoon. The Hekayat Nameh book is a good example. At first, the book was supposed to be printed in single color on regular paper. The primary intention was not to make a special book. When they asked me to do the book I realized it was capable to be maneuvered on. I chose a special paper and to obtain it I borrowed my colleague's bike and went to paper retailers. I designed the layout inspired by centuries of old bookmaking style but with contemporary design principles. I also chose a font that resembled Nastaliq but in a naive form-something similar to the writings in the Tea Shop Painting style and lithographic prints with a certain primitive style or primordial as modern day editors call it. The award that the book Hekayat Nameh received in Bologna was also because of these characteristics. In the jury's statement every detail even the location of page numbers had been noticed. Their impression was that the book was an adaptation of the past but not by a classical method. The meticulousness of the foreign jury and observation of so many details were very interesting to me.
SM: Let's talk about the direction of your works. There was a period where you used template colors and high contrasts together with images of the same flavor in your designs similar to Momayez's work. From a point on your style gradually shifted. There was less vividness. Your books on children and youth subjects started and although it is a combination of the two styles but it is not either one. Tell us about this change.
KP: What you refer to as being influenced by Momayez's works, I regard as using a certain visual aesthetics that was apparent before Momayez in the works of many foreign designers and used even after Momayez. Of course there's no doubt that the introduction and publication of this kind of visual style was initiated by the late Morteza Momayez and it numerously affected Iranian graphic designers both in Momayez's time and afterwards. If Momayez used contrasts and flat colors because of low quality print or to speed up finishing a project the results now are many lasting works with strong graphical impressions. Plus, I believe without years of professional experience and talent-as the public calls-it is impossible to quickly finish an artwork.
Personally since childhood and by seeing some foreign posters hanging on the walls in my brother's room, I became interested in this kind of graphical expression to the extent that I liked to lay the wax paper on a famous actor's face and create contrasts from that face with a thick marker. Getting to know the works of Momayez opened a new door for me and that was the masses of works that Momayez designed with his lovely style, of course with creative and artistic ideas too and then the university and working, etc.
In any case, the visual style that I started to love since childhood is sill a favorite and I use it because of the strong effects it leaves on the work and of course I employ it with contemporary mentality and design and through my personal filters.
The book covers of Ghoo publications is the continuation of this path taking into account that I wanted to make an effort to create a common feeling for the books of a certain publisher. Such events are the products of a long period of efforts before the occurrence. I was challenging myself; to design different and distinct works that were recognized as mine.
SM: The kind of work I mentioned, I mean the colors and contracts that you believe had turned to visual aesthetics in the 1970's, somehow indicated the style of political intellectualism.
KP: I agree with you and that was because of the social circumstances of those times. Of course, the second half of the 1960's up to mid 1970's was a very special era in all art fields including graphic design, painting, music and cinema. That period began from the late 70's and reached its peak in the 1980's. In Iran too, since the mid 60's, many brilliant works were created. The intellectual or the new wave of Iranian cinema also began in those years. The best pop music was also created during that time. Even the weakest singers produced a couple of lasting songs. Film scores became meaningful with Monfaredzadeh's works. Also, valuable graphic design works were created in that decade by Momayez, Mesghali, Shiva and Behzad Hatam. I mention Hatam because his works were very little seen by the next generations. I think he had a deep understanding of graphic design.
I want to point to another matter. I am personally a nostalgic person and think of the past memories and belong to them. The memory of a short moment in a trip, seeing a movie in childhood in one of Tehran's cinemas, a musical piece of a film or an old song played on the aged gramophone in my parent's home and the very large foreign film posters that flashed behind the cinema glass doors. Even my choice of films, songs and favorite musical pieces are among those in the 60's and 70's, not to indicate that I dislike recent works. I think this personal look which is a kind of nostalgia about the graphic design of the 1960's has affected my choice of visual expression.
SM: Don't you think this nostalgic feeling and your perception renders certain monotony and obsolescence in your works?
KP: I don't think nostalgic feelings makes the works look old. In the works of many artists like the post modernists, there is a certain retrospect however modern and contemporary. Besides, I too like other committed artists who are interested in creating healthy and lasting graphic works constantly aimed at going forward in my mental path and every now and then attempt to clean my route ahead. These events do not take place by force. They have to boil and spring from within. In this sense my work is like the works of poets. Although there is struggle and effort in coercion but it usually ends in pretense.
I suppose if everyone carries and controls his executive part of work with awareness which is what is seen he will never come to repetition. In the back of the mind there should always be a move forward. It is then that work periods of a designer will remain connected like a chain but through time their move forward can be felt.
Now, working in Kanoon on children's and youths' book illustration, when I look at some of Farshid Mesghali's works, I see their freshness and vigor. If we are told they were designed today, we would believe it.
SM: You mentioned Mesghali's works. Let's compare his works to other workings done in the same period, both from a children and youth illustration and graphic design stance.
KP: They are lasting works ahead of their time or one in which the designer's perception and mindset is dominant and other definitions alike. In my opinion though, a lasting work is one that imposes the least fatigue on the viewer eyes and ears. That is why Chaplin's Modern Times or works of Chagall or the music score of the Godfather or Reza Abbasi Museum logo are still spectacular and pleasing to see and listen to.
On the works of Farshid Mesghali however, I have to say that the positive characteristics of his brilliant works is that they are special and progressive especially his illustrations for some children's books which are so particular that some still believe the viewers cannot relate to the images. To put it simply, children do not like such pictures but I think Mesghali's works in those times are very special and artistic and have their own audience.
On the other hand, not as a comparison but as a review of the characteristics of another complete example which is Morteza Momayez, I have to say that the scope of Momayez's orders is much broader and his audience is also greater in number. Momayez, while working in different branches of graphic design, created many lasting and professional works such as the logo for the Reza Abbasi museum which I know you very much like it as well. The widespread works of Momayez in various graphic design branches at first look makes you think that more people relate to his works but what these two great masters of graphic design share is that they've left behind many lasting works. Sometimes the question pops in my mind that if there weren't an ingenious publishers such as Firooz Shirvanloo, would another publisher print Mesghali's works?
SM: If you assume that Kanoon is the same as what it was in the 70's and Shirvanloo as a client would another Mesghali appear?
KP: It is hard to answer. Perhaps, he may appear. Of course, the circumstances of time and place shouldn't be ignored. We have many top-notch illustrators now who in addition to executing their personal styles are very brilliant and have won many reputable prizes but we cannot compare it with that special period where many issues were founded.
SM: You previously pointed to an issue that I want to recall. The style you called as professional. One of its merits is to get results faster. In the Kaman biweekly magazine you had to do the cover, illustration and layout. Did you get to results faster by that method or by the method that took you to the optimal results through executing an indirect technique? In the first one it is important to do the work. Sometimes the result may turn out as brilliant and sometimes mediocre or weak. They are two different outlooks. The method that it must get done and the method in which you have to wait and struggle with until it comes out.
KP: I think the contents of Kaman magazine were harmonious with its graphic design. High contrast pictures and mixed textures on background, etc. are all a kind of graphic expression that were in tune with Kaman's war literature contents but the ideas were often expressed indirectly and in underlying layers.
If you mean that using a special technique like colorful surfaces or contrast pictures for graphic expression render quick results, I must say that this technique doesn't necessarily speed up the time. Sometimes to reach the optimal result you have to try hard and even for hours and days you have to leave the work and go back to it again because it is not just the style of expression that holds up the work but it is the idea and thought that must be reflected on. Sometimes you have to try hard to obtain a high contrast picture as you desire it. The process speeds up when you have a clear and vivid mind and are experienced and skilled in using technique. Plus, isn't it possible to execute a complex or as you put it indirect idea with any technique or method and achieve optimal results? I think a designer can be both professional and get quick results and have the second tendency which is achieving the ideal result through execution of an indirect method to convey the message.
The designer should set limits for creation of his works. I don't mean it should be black and white to make either uninteresting work or a masterpiece. A designer depending on the scope of his clients and audience creates works that range from mediocre to brilliant. In that case, certainly sometimes masterpieces are born too.