The Distance between two points is my painting but in words

24 December 2016

The interview with Iran Darroudi

“The Distance between two points is my painting but in words

Although we have always believed in and have become accustomed to witnessing the love of life in Ms. Darroudi, this year was one of the most exciting years of her life. On the 2nd of September, the 47 year dream of one of Iran’s most celebrated painters became a reality on her 80th birthday: the “Iran Darroudi Museum” construction project began in the Yusef-abad district of Tehran. It is the museum that she had thought about many years ago when she was only 33, as her works were being published in the most prestigious art journals in the world. She thought: “With a name like ‘Iran,’ I should probably try to make a lasting impact on my country’s culture.” And therefore, years later she donated all her precious works, including195 tableaus, to her compatriots, to be kept and displayed in a museum named after her. On the museum’s opening day, she was energetic and passionate, and delivered an interesting and impressive speech to the audience gathered for the occasion. It was a memorable event for everybody, including herself. In her own words, “To be an artist, you have to be in love.” She painted with love, and wrote her autobiography with that same love. She tried to capture the same themes as her paintings by substituting colors with words. She wrote her biography with this perspective, which is why she said, In the distance between two points…! is one of my books where I replaced colors with words.” The book was much-loved by readers, as Darroudi’s love for others is clearly reciprocated.

The 18th edition of the book was a good reason to have an interview with her. She has written the book with her unique and pleasant style, given that: “Persian prose is detailed; the book’s sentences are very short and at the same time cohesive and intelligible.” Of course her creativity, courage and honesty in expressing what she had in mind when painting or writing are the main attributes of her work. “Nowadays, I believe courage is another definition of creativity. Courage to show what one thinks and feels, and to be honest and say exactly what one needs to say.” On her 80th birthday at the start of the museum’s opening ceremony, she said, “I have a saying that I love and that I repeated a few times in my book, In the distance between two points…!: ‘One’s good fortune is equal to the love one has for others .’ That’s how I have been blessed with such good fortune.” With this outlook of love and care, Iran Darroudi, the lady of light and culture, ended the interview.

Q: Your autobiography reached its 18th edition; I think, at least in Iran, that is a very rare event. Before you continue, tell me how you feel about this?

A: I feel love and gratitude toward my people, and deeply value a mutual love and attention with them.

Q: Do you know of any other book in Europe that has been printed 18 times?

A: I was thinking about Jean Paul Sartre’s biography, which has been translated into almost every language, but I know his book The Words has not been printed 18 times in French language.

Q: Let’s go back many years, to when you made the decision to write an autobiography. Were you going to write only an autobiography or was there a different purpose?

A: My arms had been badly strained while carrying paintings after the closing of the United Nation’s Exhibition in New York, so much so that I could not paint. So, I was idle, and I started to write the book just to keep busy. I wrote a letter of complaint to myself on behalf of my hands and arms, which I imagined to be buried in a grave. The letter said that it wasn’t fair to treat them this way! My hands and arms, whom I’d hurt and forced to do hard labor, had been painting for me all these years and had promoted me to this position!

At that time, my beloved sister arrived from Iran. I showed her a few of the works I had written. She was deeply moved and cried when reading a piece I had written about the death of our younger sister, Farfar Thereafter, she refused to read the book. I started to write In the Distance Between Two Points…! after my sister returned to Iran. It took me exactly three months to finish. The form and its content now is the same as the book at the beginning. In other words, the chapters and story narration are the same as they were in the first three months and never changed. The only difference is that I edited the number of pages from 620 to 240. Those who are familiar with my style know one of the secrets of my work is brevity, both in painting and writing! In this book, I tried to convey my point of view and personal life experience to reader, and not just the biography of a painter with some professional challenges. You will figure out the writer is a painter within the first few pages. But the author goes on to describe her beliefs and also the experiences of her life. The story of my life is so ordinary, but my views of the world and my circumstances are personal, and at the same time somewhat different.


Q: What was your expected outcome of writing your autobiography? Did you expect that someday the 18th edition of the book would be published?

A: I was interested in the experience of writing it. In general, the challenge of a new experience in life has always been more important to me than the result. This is my attitude in creation of my paintings, too. In fact, In the Distance between two points…! is, in a way, another painting of mine in which colors and forms have been replaced with words. As it happened, the writing experience brought me a lot of rewards, pride and success; I am really satisfied. Now, I know that to have courage is another manifestation of creativity. Courage to show what I think and feel, and to be honest in narrating exactly what I need to express.


Q: Since you have finished the book how long did it take to be published?

A: Three years or may be less. It would be better if I said that editing the book required more deliberation and time.


Q: Judging by what we see in this book and the notes published later, your writings are very good. Have you ever considered the idea of being an author and publishing a novel, for instance?

A: Isn’t what you see anything but writing? As far as I know, the writing profession is not limited to novel writing. The art of writing, similar to other arts, has its own special evaluation criteria. Apart from my own point of view, the feedback I get from the readers seems to suggest the success of the book is due to its style. Over years, all the reviewers who have been critiquing the book considered this method of writing to be a new style in Persian language. I have no authoritative claim in the writing profession or even as a painter, which I’ve been known to be for the past 62 years. But without being boastful, I have to confess, In the Distance Between Two Points…! has beautiful prose. It is modern and ideal, because Persian prose has an ornate style, and yet the sentences in the book are very short and at the same time coherent and abstract. The advantage of this style is its space. In fact my inclination in writing was to try and replace colors with words. Overall, the style of both my writing and paintings are very similar. Anyway that was a sweet and exciting experience. However, for me painting is more attractive than writing because the meanings of words are limited, while from the viewer’s point of view the feeling and influence of colors is absolutely unlimited and endless.


Q: Before your book was printed, who read it?                      

A: I gave the book to 10 people to read, but only one person had negative feedback and thought I shouldn’t publish it. A few years later I ran into that gentleman and happily mentioned the publication of its 9th edition. He said, “The more vulgar the book, the greater the number of editions.” I’m used to criticism, and whether right or wrong, I replied, “Fortunately, people’s tastes vary. How much more pleasant would life be if people didn’t suffer from jealousy?


Q: When did you start feeling the consequences of the book’s popularity?

A: From the very first edition, the book was censored in eight places. During Mr. Khatami’s presidency, the censors suggested I delete the offending sections for following editions. I believe that destiny makes better decisions than I do, so I didn’t consent to the removals. Today I feel validated in having made that choice.


Q: Which parts of the book do you like the most? If you were to write the book today, what would you omit?

A: I accept my mistakes and learn from them, but I don’t have any regrets. There would be too many changes and enough time to make them!


Q: Which of the characters in the book do you miss?

A: I miss every single person I’ve known, whether they’re named in the book or not. I miss my past life so dearly, because it has been filled with love. But my affection for my sister Pouran was a love that crossed all known boundaries of attachment. I miss hearing the sound of her piano playing, which inspired my painting, and observing her stonework designs. My lifelong love of my sister was formative to who I’ve become today.


Q: One important section of this book describes your experiences meeting some the world’s greatest artists — a dream for many art lovers. How did it affect you, what did you learn from them, and how did it change your attitudes and shape your perspectives?

A: My experience was simply that of observing different people with different perspectives. It may seem strange, but those great artists had little in common other than their genius. I was more impressed studying their work than meeting them in personal. The in-person encounters only affirmed what I had already learned from the understanding of their works.

I believe one key human quality is that people become similar to the things they love. For instance, I was astonished by Orson Wells. He had such force of personality and self-confidence that others inevitably followed him. It had no effect on me personally, but it certainly had the effect of enhancing my own self-confidence to some extent. But André Malraux had the greatest influence on me. First of all, because of an exceptional interview I had with him. According to French literary critics, it was one of his best interviews in late life, even if it wasn’t his most concise. Second, because of his interest in, and knowledge of, Iranian art. So great was that knowledge that he inaugurated the exhibition of 7000 Years of Iranian Art in Paris. And third, because I read almost all of his books and articles during the three months before I interviewed with him, and they had an outsized influence on my own thinking.


Q: Something that stands out when reading the book is how your personality is reflected in your paintings. Do you think your personality comes through more clearly in your artworks or your writing?

A: Honestly, in my opinion, I express the exact same things, but in two different format.


Q: Many years have passed since you wrote this book. Have you thought of writing a second volume?

A: Never. I have my own reasons.


Q: You are the only Iranian artist fortunate enough to have been involved in the groundbreaking ceremony of your own museum. Hopefully you will cut the opening ribbon as well. How does that make you feel?

A: I am really proud and feel that I have fulfilled my duty as an Iranian to my country and its people. For 47 years, I have dreamed of building a non-governmental museum. As I approached turning eighty, I began to doubt that dream. Those doubts festered until out of nowhere the mayor, Mr. Qalibaf, granted a perfect piece of land in a suitable place for building the museum. The wonderful Iranian architect Dr. Dervish gifted me some stunning architectural plans. So I transferred ownership of 195 of my paintings to the museum, and will pay the construction costs myself. The groundbreaking ceremony was marvelous, and I am full of enthusiasm and hope. It is very rare for people to achieve their dreams before leaving this world. Here again, destiny has been very kind to me.


Q: What would you like to say to the people who love you so much and helped your autobiography reach its 18th edition?

A: I have always said that one’s good fortune is equal to the love one shares with others. Love rewards its followers.


Printed in Sharq newspaper 24 December 2016