There is a wide range of different languages in our world. But I think that exploring the “modern visual language" is the highlight of this age. Modern visual language can influence people's minds and emotions, or even somehow change or form opinions in some ways ...

Lyric & Religious Design

Following you will find the abstract of Vazirian’s lecture at AgIdeas 2010 Melbourne .
His speech at this international design event emphasizes on Ali’s Inspiration, experience, artistic attitudes and personal inclinations ; also indicates the formation of his artworks in the world of art .

Photo by Simon Bonny


Allow me to begin my speech with some questions regarding the relations between Art, Design and Beauty. Have you ever imagined life without the arts, and the circumstances that would arise? What if, there were no poems, novels, music, paintings or movies …? What would happen if there was no design ?  What would be the result of a design with no difference or diversity? Can we even imagine Art & Design without any diversity and variety in many different ways? Is it really possible? Is it possible to live without art & design? There is no doubt that the lack of art and beauty in our life makes it intolerable. While I was contemplating these questions, a verse from the Holy Quran crossed my mind. In this verse God tells us that “One of his signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and colors”. Obviously there is a wide range of different languages in our world. But I think that exploring the “modern visual language” is the highlight of this age. Modern visual language can influence people’s minds and emotions, or even somehow change or form opinions in some ways ; using words, sounds, forms, colors and so on. Modern visual language is a language which projects visually transmitted content , concepts and ideas via a new powerful Medium which can be easily accessed. This kind of language can be easily understood and felt by most people in the world from different denominations and with diversified tastes. It also depends on the cultures, customs , and traditions in each region. The more we know about other cultures, the better we can understand each other.
For instance, the Japanese would like to have a world that is as simple as possible which is in contrast to Indians who are interested in a diversified world. If you take a look at Japanese graphic design you can find some poetic simplicity in many of their works. The simplicity in Japanese culture, which has been blended into their lives, also has a big impact on their architecture, painting and poetry .There is a presence of empty spaces in their architecture and in their graphic design, and there are many moments of silence in their dialogues as well.
I intend to talk about the Iranian graphic taste and the types of aesthetics in my works that depend on religion intertwining with Iranian culture. I would like to tell you about my creative process and talk a bit about my favourite, motives and other things that express themselves in my graphic works.
My first artistic activity was painting. I began the first part of my professional life as a painter & Illustrator in 1982 just a few years after the Islamic revolution in Iran; it was also a time when Iran was invaded by Iraq in an unjust war. I remember painting a piece about the war that was rejected by my colleagues. They believed it was not about the war and that absolutely was not a painting.
I was inspired to use the traditional Iranian painting style using oil on canvas, but in contrast to the traditional Iranian style known as “miniature” I made it very large. Also, my goal was to portray the never ending conflict between the Truth & Falsehood. This work reflected not only the essence of war between two countries but also a war between good & evil, white & black, beauty & the beast …
I always loved painting but I quickly realized that the audience for this kind of art was limited and insignificant. I became interested in graphic design as a main profession and I made many works on a variety subjects. I made numerous posters for movies, theatres, exhibitions, political events and art events, logo & logotype, cover design, Etc. My primary reason for choosing graphic design as my main activity was its ability to facilitate communication with a much greater audience. I believe “Graphic design belongs to the public,” “Not to the elites”, “Not for galleries and museums”. Graphic design is an objective Art form and it is a serious one. In fact, a graphic work is created once, but it can be seen numerous times, and each time there will be a new understanding and a new inspiration from its content. These kinds of works can broaden our horizons. 
Graphic design has the power and ability to renovate and show a new face from the past with a different explanation, which is rooted in our culture and our civilization. This is exactly what I figure out and understand well. I have never tried to make my work purely Iranian or Islamic; but apparently it has happened beyond my control. I think it must have to do with my upbringing and also my favourite thoughts and traditions. I’ve grown up with Iranian traditions and customs, and I’ve also known western culture and learned from it as well. I know how to keep my visual culture alive and update it using graphic design.  I can therefore choose an effective medium for expressing my ideas and share them with so many people. I have learned how to present my cultural identity to others.
Let’s just say that I did not give up painting at all, but continued working in the field of art on a different path with a link to graphics; “Digital paintings” the source and roots of which I will tell you about  ; Touching on this topic is necessary as it is a part of my work which has helped me pass through a period of finding my new vision in graphic design.
When I was young, something seemed so weird and exciting to me ; the way that some artists reached the modern or post modern view from the past. what was happening in their minds? For example, how could someone proceed from figurative painting, to abstract? And so forth? I thought about this issue a lot, and perhaps you want to know about this process as well.
Well, it began, with the holy texts on the walls of Iranian mosques.
At first, some simple letters and words that are used as a decorative form in Iranian – Islamic architecture took my attention ; they are called Kufic Architect or Angular Kufic. Kufic means belonging to Kufa; in fact , this name is derived from the name of the city of Kufa, in Iraq. Kufic calligraphy was founded in that city for the first time many centuries ago. It is one of the most famous and oldest calligraphic forms used in various scripts in the Islamic world. Later, the angular style of script would be revived by calligraphers and artisans looking back to the austerity of the past and exploring Kufic’s potential to become more ornamental and abstract. The overall design of these letters evolved and changed while being used in ornamentals. The letters were modified into numeric and geometric figures as part of the decorative styles on walls; which were far from any Arabic aesthetics.
When I started painting with those letters and used them as a base, I thought to myself, these letters are only archaic letters which were known for the specific function of decorating buildings such as shrines or mosques; so if I select these letters to create my works, I must add something to them or change them somehow. At the same time, I explored another simple shape called “Square” which was used in Islamic Iranian architecture.
So I did research concerning the construction of patterns and tiles from the traditional architecture on the monumental buildings in my country.
I recognized the Square shape as an independent and ancient archetype. That was the time I decided to mix my experience in plastic arts to some extent with my traditional visual arts skills.First, I made strong textures on the canvas and then painted them with a roller instead of brush. I used checker square forms with thick layers of brilliant colors, and at the end I added words in “Angular Kufic” letters.
During that period I made some posters with this format of letters. For example, here I will show you a poster which I made for an annual poster exhibition in Tehran titled “Attributes of God”. While designing this poster I chose some sentences from the holy Quran which explain the Attributes of God with the “Angular Kufic” style. Wherever it pointed to one of the names of Allah, I picked one color; and I assigned grey scale for the parts that had descriptions about the attributes.
Ok. I have created a lot of paintings using this unique style and most of them were purchased by museums and art organizations and other such institutions.
In the meantime I realized that although on one hand, I didn’t believe in creating art works for elites and on the other hand there were none of my works in the hands of ordinary people; so I became determined to find a new way to accomplish this.
I realized that “digital art” or “digital painting” was the key to resolve this problem.
By using this medium my works would be more accessible and affordable to many people. Using this approach helped me ease up to that process.
At first I made many textures on paper and scanned them, then using Photoshop I made some improvements to them; Then, I added some words in “Angular Kufic”, and lastly I finished them with some striping and hatching with pure colors.
After a while I found that this kind of work was abstract, arid, unpractical and somehow far from the public view. In my opinion, artists have to maintain some personal touch towards cultural evolution instead of just following it. I think an artist should not take a superficial approach towards the dreadful popular choice, and the observance of the public taste should not lead him to produce anything they want; an artist should open up a new gate to a new world.
So in this regard I tried to find other elements among my favourites, like calligraphy, which could be used in my works. In addition, the words and scripts found in several fields including editorial design, cultural posters, and so on, helped me.
Well, I founded new ways and to some extent succeeded, but it was not enough to satisfy me. Why? Perhaps because of the characteristics of all artists who are looking for ideal perfectionism in their works! And I am not exception to this.
In my opinion, succeeding in the art of design depends on many things; for example, being aware of social knowledge and making compatible design works based on requests, creating a noble imaginative artistic work with simple forms of poetic expression, being able to acquire new visions through different designs, and also to explore a new form of beauty. Besides those mentioned above, one more thing has to be taken into consideration which in my opinion is the most important fact, that is, the mass circulation of the work. When I say “mass circulation” I mean a great connection with people and a great impact on them is the key. I figured out why I was not content with this part of my works. I intended to improve and have an impact on the contemporary culture in my country. I decided to focus on a subject with a mass audience. I have witnessed a decline in public visual taste towards the matters that they believed in and loved. For instance there is a religious mourning ceremony called “Ashura “.
Ashura is a religious ceremony in which Shiat Muslims commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hossain, the grandson of the prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him). The Day of Ashura falls on the 10th day of Muharram in the Islamic calendar. Him and many of his family members, including some children and his followers were brutally massacred in the Battle of Karbala more than 1300 years ago.
These are some paintings about the Ashura epic that were created nearly one hundred years ago by popular Iranian painters. This type of painting is known as the Coffee House Style or Popular painting. It was at the beginning of the 19th Century that naïve mural paintings appeared in Iran. Coffee House paintings have contributed to the public as much as today’s movies and cinema. These painters created a rich and dynamic art and they inspired by spiritual traditions and focusing on the Karbala disaster were trying to bring out their innermost feelings, while presenting the beauty of the art.
Naturally, this period ended when modernism came to Iran and this type of painting gradually disappeared from the public. However, people required these kind of images regarding this religious epic for their ceremonies that take place each year.
In fact, Iranians believe that these ceremonies can help the remembrance of the event, and can keep Ashura alive. But over the past few decades the authentic narrative works were replaced by ones with wrong narration and unrealistic representations of the Ashura epic hanging in the coffee-houses. These kinds of posters were really inartistic and far from Persian culture. It was an obvious cultural deviance that reached its highest point around ten years ago.
At first I wrote an article against such unacceptable and superstitious images that was published in a daily newspaper with wide circulation, and I explained why those posters were awful, wrong and causing damage to Iranian culture. Soon after that, other artists followed this idea and fortunately some articles were written by other critics and researchers explaining their disappointments.  
I then established and organized an independent exhibition about Ashura posters . Many designers , especially ones from the new generation were in attendance and participated in that exhibition; At the same time I started to create a series of posters in this field using letters and Persian typography . But why did I choose Persian typography that was rooted on calligraphy and letters instead of images to create these kinds of posters? There is an old idiom in our culture that says calligraphy or script is the tongue of the spirit. In this period of my work, I intended to explain the Spirit of the Faith in Ashura’s culture according to Iranian belief. Therefore, the best way was to use this idiom in a practical way and apply it to these concepts.
In addition , Iranian culture is basically rooted in the religion and in the miracle of the prophet Muhammad. “Quran” means God speaks to humans through words. The Quran is the foundation of Islam, so calligraphy serves many purposes in Islamic art, from conveying meanings to acting as a decoration. So it occurred to me that using letters and typography could help me express my ideas about many subjects, especially on religious matters. Although I believe that using words gives a unique native personality to my works, it may also cause some ambiguity for an audience who doesn’t know Farsi, but they can understand the mystical atmosphere presented through these attractive , different and poetic forms of lettering . Thus Persian typography and calligraphy became patterns in my works. These posters are designed based on holy prayers which pilgrims whisper during the pilgrimage to Imam Hossein’s Shrine.
The composition, rhythm, structure and aesthetics of each poster differs depending on each sentence and each meaning. Part of the ideas, used in these posters was a result of my development obtained during my past experiences in graphic design and digital arts. Another part came from my inspiration from several other areas. For example in some posters you can find geometrical forms in the background that I chose from decorative forms used in traditional windowpanes in Islamic buildings.