Currently in her 90s and still working vitally, Monir Farmanfarmaian creates geometric artwork that combines the decorative traditions of her native Iran with the cutting-edge styles of the 1950s Western abstractionists. Coinciding with a New York museum celebration of Farmanfarmaian’s six-decade career, a local exhibition presents new and recent work by the Tehran-based artist.
On view at Haines Gallery in San Francisco, “Based on the Hexagon” contains more than a dozen works on paper and three-dimensional pieces featuring hexagons, other geometric elements and striking patterns by the artist, who recently was honored with a retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
David Spalding, executive director of Haines Gallery, describes Farmanfarmaian as unique in how she unites traditional Persian and Islamic styles with Western modernism. “It’s like a synthesis, not a juxtaposition,” he says.
Political events have made it necessary for Farmanfarmaian to leave Iran for long periods, and New York City has been her alternate base. In the 1950s, she spent time in its influential art scene, home to such notables as Frank Stella, Louise Nevelson, Milton Avery and Alexander Calder. Working as a fashion illustrator at Bonwit Teller, she met and became friends with Andy Warhol.
In the 1970s, Farmanfarmaian began combining elements of mirror mosaics and the Sufi symbolism of traditional Islamic design with lines and minimalist shapes of 20th-century geometric abstraction into works embracing and fusing the different artistic ideals.
“For me, everything starts with the hexagon,” Farmanfarmaian has said, referring to the six-sided symbol present in Islamic architecture, Persian textiles and religious paintings.
Using ink, colored pencil, glitter, cut mirrors and reverse glass painting, Farmanfarmaian creates ambitious, graceful, methodically rendered mixed-media drawings. Intersecting lines, interlocking and concentric circles and hexagons and other shapes form intricate and kaleidoscopic designs.
“[Frank] Stella has a square – I have a hexagon,” Spalding quotes Farmanfarmaian as saying.
In a 27.5-by-37.5-inch untitled 2015 piece, Farmanfarmaian uses a marker to highlight some of the hexagons that have formed on a grid of horizontal and diagonal lines. Inside them, she has drawn hexagonal blue shapes resembling starfish. A red and white floral image, also hexagonal, occupies the drawing’s center. The more you look, the more hexagons you see.
In other works, such dynamics give rise to six-pointed stars and snowflake- and pinwheel-like forms. Also on display are three-dimensional mirror mosaics, including “First Family: Hexagon” (2010), a shimmering 41-by-47-by-5-inch work of mirror and plaster on acrylic and wood.
Farmanfarmaian’s works belong to collections in institutions including Tate Modern, London, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.
IF YOU GO
Based on the Hexagon: The Recent Drawings of Monir Farmanfarmaian
Where: Haines Gallery, 49 Geary St., Suite 540, S.F.
When: Tuesdays-Saturdays; closes June 27
Contact: (415) 397-8114, www.hainesgallery.com