ABOUT 1001 NIGHTS
1001 Nights is where I post, in succession, the 1001 drawings from my 1001 Nights project with my baby boy (see Preface and Introduction for more info). It’s also where I write on things that inform my work, such as painting, oil painting, Persian and Mughal miniature painting, islands, carpets, carpet pages, Islamic illumination/arabesque, Orientalism revisited, the Book Arts, bookbinding, libraries, Islamic art, contemporary art, traditional art, children’s books, fractals, frames and margins, birth, childhood, roots, tapestry, weaving, stories, spirituality, fairytales, myth and legend, ancient and modern, east and west…
EAST AND WEST & ANCIENT AND MODERN
Geography – Space
As a child I used to think all islands floated, bobbing along in the sea and remaining in more or less the same place because they wanted to – the childlike worldview can only be self-centred. Older, I understood that all islands are mountaintops connected deeply within the old earth, standing firm in the sea with only their peaks visibly hinting at hidden depths beneath. Later even this illusion was shattered; zooming out further these lands are fragments of the slow-moving earth crust, itself floating over unstable molten lava, and finally, further still, we are a tiny planet floating in deep space. A story within a story within a story, like the Arabian Nights. The constant shattering of illusions to finally surrendering to the comforting mystery of never being able to know everything. My childhood in Hong Kong was a mixture of Blade Runner east and west, night and day, ancient and modern and growing up island-hopping formed an early blueprint metaphor for my life.
History – Biography
Having Chinese, Indian with Persian ancestry and living in London is like having a gold mine, a diamond mine and a silver mine within a cave of wonders from which to pick and choose the various elements which make up a piece. It extends beyond paint and the painting’s frame to create dialogues with other harmonious materials. This cultural richness has a historical tradition dating back to the Silk Road and it is epitomized in Islamic miniature paintings, which embody a fineness of line from China and vibrancy of colours and pigments from India and Central Asia to be synthesized into beautiful miniatures in the royal courts of Safavid Persia and the Moghul Empire, which in turn influenced and was influenced by the equal magnificence of Renaissance Europe. No art is made in isolation yet all artworks are islands that stand alone within their own archipelagoes. I see myself as a part of a continuum in this tradition of incorporating elements in a contemporary way from various cultures by which I am inspired on my own travels as well as the privilege of living in London, a city where if one is tired then they are tired of life (I am not tired!).
Synthesis – Time
All men are islands, thus are unique yet connected primordially, and building bridges between them does not threaten their inherent traditions. Tradition can coexist peacefully alongside modernity and I feel it is something worth repeating today; it also serves as the grit in the oyster shell that produces my work. Taking the master tea blender as a model I carefully select different yet naturally sympathetic elements to create new blends. The slow application of paint in layers can be likened to the constant blending of cultures over time where these elements become crystallized and localized. Truth settles into fiction the way that myths become consolidated into a culture over centuries and the earth erodes and builds up map contour lines over millenia. Unique content is created via a process of layering and crystallization. What was once contemporary becomes traditional. All that is solid melts into air. How many years does this take? I find the best vehicle for this transmission is paint, which naturally lends itself to blending separate colours to create unusual fabulous new ones. The apparent simplicity of painting disguises the breathtaking alchemy of creating something rich and strange from the humblest of materials. Paint is coloured mud. The process of blending is a form of meditation. A pleasureable, repetitive and relaxing activity. I believe art should be a mix of the sensuous and intellectual, a harmonious blend of both intelligences that speaks to both the head and the heart. I have been painting ever since I could get my chubby hands on a brush. I have since expanded into other materials and processes which include tapestry and carpet weaving, Chinese and Celtic knotting, lacquer, the book arts, 16mm film, digital media and more. All of the myriad ways in which I make work, however, are seen through the lens of my first and constant love – painting. Once a painter, always a painter.