Devrim, Nejad Melih
This work, from Nejad’s series Les Polonaises, combines two threads in his artistic development: Chinese ink painting and the symmetrical, floral paper cutouts of Polish folk tradition. He took a greater interest in working on paper after a 1962 visit to China, where his brushwork became looser; in turn, he lightened his palette after a visit to Poland, where he made his home after 1968.
Son of the painter Fahrelnissa Zeid and the writer Izzet Melih Devrim, Nejad (who is known by his first name only) belongs to the second wave of Turkish artists who traveled to Paris after the end of World War II, and he was among the first to adopt an abstract idiom. Unlike his peers, Nejad did not receive a state scholarship and thus was not required to return and serve his country. His entrée to the Parisian art world was a letter of introduction to Alice B. Toklas, which—along with his francophone education and intellectual pedigree as a member of the Ottoman elite—gained him access to the famous weekly discussions at the home Toklas shared with Gertrude Stein.
Trained at the Academy of Fine Arts, Istanbul, by Nurullah Berk, Bedri Rahmi Eyüboglu, and French artist Léopold Lévy, Nejad was well versed in the artistic debates of the Istanbul intelligentsia. He spent much of his career in Paris, however, where critics portrayed him as a skillful synthesizer of East and West and pigeonholed him as the francophone Turk whose artistic formation owed as much to Ottoman calligraphy and Byzantine influences as to French art. But Nejad was equally influenced by his travels to Italy, China, Poland, Uzbekistan, and the United States. Unlike Lévy’s paintings, which verge on chromophobic, the strength of Nejad’s work lies in his exhilarating use of color and light.
Beginning with a solo show at Galerie Allard a year after he arrived in Paris, in 1946, Nejad exhibited widely. In 1950 he was included in Leo Castelli’s Young Painters in U.S. and France at the Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, and from the mid-1950s until the early 1960s he was often included in shows of the School of Paris painters. In 1952 Nejad wrote a personal manifesto, titled “Oust” (which means “scram”) for the catalogue of the first Salon d’Octobre, which he founded with critic Charles Estienne. It announced—with Nejad’s characteristically shrewd word play and tongue-in-cheek humor—the arrival of a new dynasty of “French Chivalry and Kirghiz Cavalry,” hinting at a new avant-garde painting rooted as much in French artistic genealogy as in myriad other sources and influences.