Meet a NYFA Artist: Ali Banisadr

Meet a NYFA Artist: Ali Banisadr

NYFA talks to Ali Banisadr (Fellowship, Painting, 2010) about drawing during air raids, the encyclopedic nature of his work, and his current exhibition, Motherboard,on view at the Sperone Westwater Gallery in New York City through April 19.

NYFA: Congratulations on your new exhibition, Motherboard. How long did the entire collection take to complete?

AB: The preparations for this exhibition began about a year ago, so it took about a year to complete. 

NYFA: One of the paintings in this exhibition, Aleph, 2013, is named after a short story by Jorge Luis Borges. Do you often draw inspiration from other artistic disciplines?

AB: Borges’ story Aleph fascinates me: it describes a point in a room where every point in the universe meets and can be seen from every angle simultaneously. That’s a suitable metaphor for the way I think about my paintings. The canvas, for me, is a place where I can visually reflect on everything that happens in my life.  The work doesn’t have a focal point. Every part of the painting is important. There’s no hierarchy. The imagery is inspired by so many things — a combination of what I’m reading, current events, artwork I see, films and music. As I work day after day, inspirations from different places go into the work. It’s a combination and a comparison.

NYFA: Your work has been described as a meeting of abstract and figurative painting. How do you define your style, and how has it developed over time?

AB: My work is very encyclopedic, and I think my means to comprise all the things that inspire me have matured. I think the body of work in the exhibition Motherboard really shows this.


NYFA: You were born in Iran in 1976, and lived there for twelve years, spanning the Islamic Revolution and the eight-year Iran-Iraq War. Was your interest in art apparent during this part of your childhood, and how did your experiences in a war-torn country influence you as an artist?

AB: For as long as I can remember, I always drew the things that were happening around me. My mom says that when the Eight Years’ War was happening, I would draw to create a visual understanding of the sounds I was hearing — the vibrations, explosions, and air raids. I think the war — the chaos and instability — had an impact on my work, although at the time I was so desensitized to it that I did not think it affected me. As I got older, though, elements of the war became evident in my art.

NYFA: You moved from Iran to Turkey to California, and finally to New York City. How did living in these very different places influence the artist (and person) you are today?

AB: More than living in different places, traveling has a huge impact on me. Seeing new places and experiencing new things is certainly one of the strongest inspirations for me. New York, however, is such an encyclopedic place and an amazing source of inspiration — all this history, the different cultures, the possibilities … 


NYFA: As a young artist, you have had an enviable career trajectory. In addition to having pieces at the Met and the British Museum, Motherboard is your sixth solo show since you completed your MFA in 2007. Do you have any advice for emerging artists looking to break into the gallery world?

AB: It is important to know galleries and their programs, because in the end the question should be, “Do I want to be a part of this specific dialogue?” However, I never thought about the resonance my work would get on the market. If the work is strong, it will find its way. I never thought about how I could break into the gallery world – this is actually nothing I want to think about when I am in the studio. 

NYFA: Describe a typical day in the studio for you. How do you get started?

AB: I usually wake up early and go for a run in the morning, then answer email and read the newspaper. Then I get to the studio and let the dialogue with the work begin. On a good day, time can totally disappear. 

NYFA: You were awarded a NYFA Fellowship in 2010. What did that recognition mean to you at that point in your career and life?

AB: The NYFA Fellowship was a great honor. To be chosen from so many talented young artists meant a lot to me. Thank you for what you are doing!


For more information, please visit Ali’s website.

— Interview conducted by Norm Havercroft

Images: At top, portrait of Ali Banisadr by Kristel Banisdr; installation views of Ali Banisadr: Motherboard courtesy of Sperone Westwater, New York.
Amy Aronoff
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