Mother and Child, 1967
Stylized women, from odalisques to brides, appear frequently in Ovissi’s work, often in a reclining position, as in Mother and Child. Although the subject may derive from Christian iconography the artist encountered in Rome, Persian elements are also present, such as the traditional hand-painted cloth technique referenced in the background. Ovissi further embellished the canvas with calligraphy, isolating one verse of poetry from its original context and repeating it throughout the work. Mrs. Grey met Ovissi during one of her many visits to Iran and purchased works by him. Mother and Child was a gift from the artist.
Ovissi studied law and political science at the University of Tehran before moving to Rome in 1954 to attend the Accademia di Belle Arti. After graduating, he served as a cultural attaché for the Iranian embassies in Rome and Madrid, introducing Europe to Iran’s rich visual culture. During his years as a diplomat, Ovissi began to develop his artistic style, integrating Persian pictorial traditions with modern expression. Not until after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, however, did Ovissi, living abroad in the United States, become a full-time artist.
Ovissi was greatly influenced by Persian miniature painting, which flourished from the 13th to the 16th centuries. Employing modern forms and colors, he reinterprets the tales and characters from those small, vivid manuscript paintings in works that often feature oversize, abstracted human figures or animals with exaggerated features and that are embellished with geometric patterns and lyrical script. He currently lives in Virginia and is still making work.