Ali Banisadr Biography

Iranian-born painter Ali Banisadr is known for his signature blend of abstraction and figuration. The Brooklyn-based artist's busy oil paintings offer turbulent, mythical worlds influenced by art historical precedents and personal life experiences. Resonant of the paintings by Early Netherlandish artist Hieronymus Bosch as well as illuminated Persian miniatures, his paintings present a jarring vision of a socially and politically fraught present.

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Early life

Born in Tehran, Ali Banisadr's early childhood was marked by the eight-year Iran-Iraq war. Synaesthesia—a condition in which the senses of sight and sound are often involuntarily intertwined—led Banisadr to make drawings in order to make visual sense of the sounds of war he heard around him.

At the end of the war in 1988, Banisadr and his family left Iran for California after living briefly in Turkey. Moving to San Diego and then San Francisco, Banisadr was exposed to Californian graffiti culture and became involved with San Francisco's Mission School of Graffiti. He later attended New York's School of Visual Arts, graduating with a BFA in 2005, followed by an MFA from the New York Academy of Art in 2007.


Ali Banisadr's paintings do not provide a narrative focal point or single protagonist. Instead, they present an intermingling multiplicity of figures that populate epic dramas playing out across earthly, celestial, and oceanic realms.

From a distance, Banisadr's paintings look like wide vistas of restless activity, full of intricate detail. Moving closer, however, the crowds of human and mythical figures vanish into a flurry of gestural brush marks. Vibrant colours and soothing warm hues offset the erratic composition of the images.

The relationship between figuration and abstraction in his paintings is indicated by Ali Bansidar's Instagram handle, simorgh3. It references the Persian poet Attar of Nishapur's The Conference of the Birds (c. 1177), in which a large flock of birds seeking the legendary Simorgh—the bird with all the answers—discover that they together make up that bird.

History and the Present

Similarly, Ali Banisadr's interview for Bomb Magazine reveals that the artist seeks to examine the world and its politics, history, and culture as a timeless totality: 'I've always been interested in creating not a landscape but a worldscape, some kind of a new stage where the world is seen in the way we see it: blurred and blended together.' The resultant images are like abstract history paintings.

This continuity between contemporary experience and historical events form the basis of Banisadr's practice. Synaesthetic connections between aural memory and visualisation, prevalent in Banisadr's childhood drawings, also run through his paintings. Resembling a stained glass window, the fractured background of _In the Name o_f (2008) is influenced by his childhood memory of hearing windows being shattered by bombs.

In addition to historical reference, his works capture the tensions and anxieties of the world today. Ali Banisadr's Benaki Museum show Ultramarinus - Beyond the Sea (2020) featured two paintings, The Rise of the Blond (2016) and SOS (2020), that bookend the fraught social atmosphere of the U.S. in the Trump era.

Influence of Art History

Art historical references abound in Ali Banisadr's subjects and style. One can find elements of the Persian miniature tradition, Venetian Renaissance painting, Dutch Masters, Abstract Expressionism, and Surrealism, among others. At Ali Banisadr's 2020 exhibition at the Wadsworth Athenium Museum of Art, Ali Banisadr/Matrix 185, the artist conveyed his approach to art historical source material in a video collage presented alongside his paintings. Zooming in on artworks held in the museum's collection, the video examines formal details that inspire Banisadr, though these are never directly referenced in his work.

Institutional Holdings

Ali Banisadr's paintings have featured in exhibitions and art events across the globe. His works can also be found in major institutional collections such as the British Museum, London; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; K11 Art Foundation, Hong Kong; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Solo Exhibitions

Ali Banisadr/Matrix 185, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford (2020); Ultramarinus - Beyond the Sea, Benaki Museum, Athens (2020); Foreign Lands: Ali Banisadr, Het Noordbrabants Museum, 's-Hertogenbosch (2019).

Group Exhibitions

Epic Iran, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, (2021); Chaos and Awe: Painting for the 21st Century, The Frist Art Museum, Nashville (2018); Iranian Voices: Recent Acquisitions of Works on Paper, the British Museum, London (2016); Love Me, Love Me Not, Contemporary Art from Azerbaijan and its Neighbors, Heydar Aliyev Center, Baku (2014); Contemporary Iranian Art from the Permanent Collection, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2012); XXSmall, Kunstmuseum den Haag, The Hague (2011); Hareng Saur: Ensor and Contemporary Art, Stedelijk Museum voor Actuelle Kunst (SMAK), Ghent (2010); Weaving The Common Thread, Queens Museum of Art, New York (2008).

Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2021

Ali Banisadr
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