Salman Khoshroo In Conversation With Verity Babbs

Salman Khoshroo’s work “plays with the expectations and peceptions of the human image”. The blurring of his portraits from material build up, be it paint or fibre, do not dull the “human spark” that his characters possess.

Khoshroo’s work has been met with viral popularity dozens of times over the last few years, perhaps owing to their vibrant colour palette, or the facial ambiguity of his figures that make them relatable to viewers worldwide. What his figures possess is a joyous emotional vibration:

Salman Khoshroo

It is an obsession to take inanimate materials such as paint, and shape it into a face that embodies a human soul … I feel I am portraying an energy, a kind of pent up force of movement. A sweeping emotional gesture, an unease in ones [sic] own skin.

In this Art Plugged interview, Khoshroo speaks about his artist’s education, using wool and foam to soothe anxiety, and the popularist appeal of “cheap gimmicks”.

Q: First things First, introduce yourself! What do you make, how do you work?

A: Hi! Im Salman, 37, based in Tehran.

My art plays with the expectations and perceptions of the human image. It is an obsession to take inanimate materials such as paint, and shape it into a face that embodies a human soul. By soul I don’t mean a religious or spiritual notion, the idea is more about emotions, intelligence and character. It is about a human spark, a presence that engages with empathy.

Q: What is your artistic background?

A: I have always been deeply engaged in creating art, I got my bachelors in Digital Art from Australia. I’ve had a few photography exhibitions, but transitioned towards painting in 2009. As a self- taught painter my biggest gamble was to spend all my time and resources learning and developing the very difficult craft of painting. After many years of financial hardship, I received my first solo exhibition in Tehran 2013 and sold out on the opening night. Ever since I have had 4 more solo exhibitions that have been received widely. The art has also had a relatively successful online presence, going on significant viral stints, with some pieces being shared and overshared on many platforms and many articles being written.

Q: You work across various media, which is your favourite to work with?

A: My practice involves alternating in different styles and mediums, I find different approaches feed each other and every project adds something to the whole. I guess some materials are more intuitive and there is a shorter route to achieving flow and getting in the zone. Paint and wool are like this and they are for me most enjoyable to work with.

Q: Regardless of medium, your portraits all share a warped quality, can you tell us how this style came to be? What drew you to this style?

A: I feel I am portraying an energy, a kind of pent up force of movement. A sweeping emotional gesture, an unease in ones own skin. I am chasing this essence that manifests itself in different medium. Its like I’m trying to surround a central idea in as many forms and material as possible. Its not clear at all what it exactly is, perhaps this is how I’m trying to figure it out.

Q: Both texture and colour seem important to your work, why do you think this is?

A: My work is very tactile, and I rely greatly on my hands in the art making process. Even when I see with my eyes, I am enjoying with my hands.  In some styles I have reduced the paint to a single color, basically painting in light, shadow and texture.

Q: Social Media as a tool for artists – pro or anti?

A: As an introvert I am definitely pro social media. There is a great feeling to be able to show your art to thousands of people in a matter of hours. Coming from Iran, I would have had an enormous amount of difficulty showing my art to the world. But the internet really levels the playing field and good art can find a way through, regardless of the artist’s social and relational abilities.

It is a good feeling to go viral, but it should be taken with a grain of salt. When you consider that cheap gimmicks can go viral many times greater than any art could, you start to wonder.  

Q: Why is your practice mostly focused on portraits?

A: I started out painting portraits of my friends and I think this really had to do with my social anxieties. Its like I preferred to spend hours and days on a still portrait of someone in a controlled environment rather than interact with a moving unpredictable person.

I think faces are also an interface that you can plug into, and get all kinds of emotional and mental information. Once you start to create faces it becomes a very obsessive pursuit to have the ability to effect moods and emotions at the tip of a brush or palette knife.

How has the quarantine effected your art?

The Wool on Foam portraits are tied to my experience of quarantine and recent trauma. Weaving inanimate fibers into faces brings me comfort and helps deal with the issues. These portraits are delicate and vulnerable and resonate with my own precarious situation. Wool brings warmth and intimacy to these portraits, and plays with provoking the nurture instinct.

©2020 Salman Khoshroo

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