- Manoucher Yektai
- signed and dated Yektai '68
- oil on canvas
Like his friend Sohrab Sepehri, he too was reclusive and a gifted poet with little concern for convention, however unlike Sepehri and Bahman Mohasses, his self-sufficiency was not borne out of disappointment, bitterness or other negative emotions - rather, it was a statement of independence and a pioneering spirit to forge his own path. His paintings reflect exactly this pioneering spirit; they are a testament to the power of colour and visual brilliance. They show a boldness which breaks frontiers, moving with zest and directness, giving life to still life as never before. He mixes styles by remaining within figurative art yet imbuing it with all the power and impact of action painting, with thick layers of impasto and strong, dazzling colours.
Even in his early days in Iran, Yektai was exposed to the works of Van Gogh and the avant garde thinking of artists and writers such as Sepehri, Sadegh Hedayat and Shokuh Riazi. He learned that shadows could be purple, or trees red. It was then that he painted the world's first red cucumber, breaking a mould that had for so long dominated Iranian fine arts. Yektai did not produce much work before his 30s, travelling from New York to Paris and back. But in New York the Abstract Expressionist movement and Action Painting left a strong impression on him. For the first time, artists were moving towards the properties of paint and their relationship on the canvas instead of solely addressing volume, perspective and space. For Yektai, it was colour that determined whether a flower declared its existence - he had cast aside lines and definitions.
Yektai was the first Iranian artist to utilise layered paint and impasto in the way that he did. He moved from the shackles of Kamal al Mulk's fine paintbrush and minute strokes, to the speed and building power of the spatula or mallet. He used four types of spatula, using a narrow one for leaves or stems (which were often made abstract), a flat one for his white backgrounds, a lozenge-tipped one to harmonise the composition, and a spoon-like one for drip painting. His main aim was to give paint tangibility, almost treating it as a sculptor would, building his layers like clay. He has been known to substitute the builder's spatula for a painter's one because it had a more flexible end than the other allowing for a different manipulation of paint in constructing layers.
Another particularity of Yektai's work was his Sufi-like appreciation of colour - large expanses of white, an almost sacred ground on which to splash the deep yellows or reds, all of which have been described by critics as having a symbolic meaning for the artist. A fine example is Untitled from 1968, a particular painting that highlights these key features of the artist's finest accomplishment. Painted at a key moment in America's art history, the influence and dialogue of such key figures as Philip Gaston and Willem De Kooning is rooted. Yektai nevertheless left his own mark on these artists; it is said that Rothko developed a love of the East through his exposure to Yektai's work. On the other hand, Yektai - despite his immersion in the Abstract Expressionist movement, never abandoned his figurative roots. Looking at his canvases, one realises that his paintings were not executed on an easel but on the floor. Like Pollock, he was an action painter but of a different persuasion. To build his layers and give them a bas-relief-style tangibility, the thick impasto for which he is famous for his technique was to approach them from the four corners of the flat plane, giving them a unique dimensionality. With a deeply poetic soul, his paintings have been described by one Iranian critic as 'sculptured poems' - indeed a profound lyricism runs through his work.
Handsome and pleasant, Yektai's cigar-chomping persona was endearing for many. Giving new life and definition to paint, his work still remains rooted in Eastern philosophy and the beauty of what he perceives to be his heritage. From representational art to action painting, Yektai remains 'yekta' (unique). He executed a bold body of work for which he is deeply appreciated by both Iranian and Western audiences.