Color is a power which directly influences the soul.Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art
Written by Gary Brewer
Creativity is a form of spirituality. The practice of an artist can be a search for freedom, a deep journey of self-discovery and an effort to touch the ever-unfolding flower of this mystery of life. It does not need to align itself with any particular belief, as the very act of creation is a reflection of the life force that animates the universe.
Haleh Mashian is on a path of self-discovery. She seeks to open herself up to all of the possibilities through which she can express her creativity. For her, art is not just making a painting alone in her studio, but the experience of connecting with other people through her paintings, music and her fashion line. Mash Gallery, which she opened four years ago, is an extension of her artistic output. It aligns itself with what she sees as the social and spiritual aspects of creativity: art as a way to give of herself and to create a conduit through which she can connect with others and build community. All of these various endeavors are a reflection of her belief in art as a circular system of giving and connecting with the world.
She told me about the moment in which she first imagined opening a gallery. “I was at a spiritual retreat, a 30-day silent meditation. One day, during my meditation practice, I saw myself alone, holed up in my studio surrounded by my work, as the years pass. I realized that working alone in my studio and not having a way to be in contact with others as a form of creativity, was not something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. In that moment, I imagined opening a gallery where I could show other artists’ work and create a space where my need to be socially engaged and to bring people together was realized. When I came back from the retreat, I immediately got started, and soon afterward opened Mash Gallery.”
Haleh was born in Tehran, the capital of Iran. Seven years after the revolution, because of religious persecution and the serious threat that her family faced, Haleh and her younger brother escaped. Using false names and passports they made their way through the border and into Turkey. She sought religious asylum in the United States and started her new journey in America, which she called ‘Freedom Home’. “When I left Iran and moved to the US, my past was over. I focused completely on my future, and on creating for myself all of the opportunities that were now available to me. I spoke English, which was a great advantage. I immediately enrolled in college and fortune was good to me. I was able to create a new life for myself that would not have been possible in Iran.”
She paints in a variety of styles and approaches: she believes that ‘more is more’, and her paintings reflect this. They are filled with rich layers of resin, paint, costume jewelry, glitter, and plaster to build up their surfaces. She paints on canvas, wood panels, plexiglass and uses LED lights to backlight some of her paintings: the transparent plexiglass letting the colored light shine through where the paint is thin or where it has not been applied. Her images of women, forests and tears are often related to her spiritual practice.
In the painting Silver Trickle, she has created a dense thick texture of metallic silver paint, its physicality creating a rich sculptural relief. Drips of off-white and various shades of gray spill down the surface, cascading over its ridges and bulges. She has created flat teardrop shapes using molding paste and paint crackle to build up a ridge around each of the shapes and to create smaller teardrops, that bulge and protrude, adding more relief to this complex surface. There is humor and glamour; the rich crags and drips have a funky, engaging charm. There is pathos in just how far the artist went to discover this strange mix of beauty and the beast. The painting is a glittering, funkadelic, disco mash-up; shedding tears under a bright full moon. It expresses in equal parts: humor, joy, play and seriousness, in its ambition to find this unique blend of the masculine and feminine.
Haleh mentioned that this painting came to her during a retreat, where she was engaged in a meditation of tears. “ This is a spiritual practice where one sheds tears to release oneself from the trauma and pain that we carry in our body. It is a way to free you from painful experiences and to find a deeper connection to yourself. During the meditation, the image of a painting of tears came to me, so when I returned home, I created these works.”
Monahissa is a portrait of a woman: she exudes a powerful presence emerging from a rich surface made of faux snakeskin on a wooden panel. The hissing of a thousand snakes issues forth, conjuring the myth of Medusa, whose unparalleled beauty enticed Poseidon to seduce and rape her. In contemporary feminist thought, the idea that Athena had cursed Medusa has been reinterpreted, so that in transforming her into a monster, Athena instead granted Medusa the power to never feel helpless again when faced with any similar aggression. The face of Monahissa has a strong defiant look. Her figure is painted in a loose painterly approach; the brushstrokes and the small pieces of faux snakeskin blend together. Her arms look like red fiery wings, as though she is a goddess. It is an image of female power, an archetype in a world where women are too often not allowed to express their full potential.
Intertwined is a smaller work from her forest/trees series; jewel-like in its shimmering verdant greens. It suggests a rainforest; the greens feel like they are wet, as though it could be a forest floor in some tropical paradise. Green glitter gives the piece a joyful countenance; this is a garden of earthly delights, the land of fairies and forest spirits.
There are several works that will be included in an upcoming show that will be backlit with LED lighting. A large painting of trees was in process in her studio. Painted on canvas with plaster to create a physical sculptural relief of each tree, she has cut out the negative spaces between each tree and placed a transparent material that will allow the illuminating LED lights to come through. Another painting in her exhibition is the large work Jewel Tone Tears. It is a wonderful piece, full of thick rich surface incidents, and covered in teardrop shapes. However, this version of the teardrop work is painted on plexiglass. The paint is opaque on all of the background, but each teardrop is painted in thinner washes, allowing the shifting colors of the LED light, from red to green to blue, to come through the tears. This is a wonderful piece filled with an eccentric humor and physical power.
All of these paintings will be a part of her solo exhibition Mash Muse, opening at Mash Gallery on September 10, 2022. It is a full representation of the many approaches to creating the work that she makes in pursuit of the freedom her path as an artist has taken her.
Haleh Mashian is fearless in her search for spiritual growth. Each aspect of her creative life is an effort to explore the range of possibilities that we have as human beings. She seeks to free herself from the restraints that society can impose upon the limitless possibilities of the spirit.
A solo exhibition of Haleh Mashian
September 10 – November 12, 2022
812 N La Cienega Blvd Los Angeles