Layers Behind Layers: We Find Out what Resonates with Iranian born Artist Riaz Sanatian

How did you start your art practice?

I started a few years back with calligraphic shapes, not to convey any meaning through the marks, just to explore the shapes. As time went by I reduced them and I became more interested in certain elements. These elements, you see them repeating from work to work, these lines and curves intertwining. Playing with tones and colours, light and dark are all characteristics of my work at the moment

I like to always have some element of the beyond.

What is your creative process from start to finish?

Well usually my artwork starts with a preconceived idea or feeling, sometimes halfway through they don’t seem to work, but I have a tendency to rescue work, so they can start with one idea and go in a different direction. I never sketch anything beforehand. 

I do a lot of work with photographic paper with ink; the quality of the paper is almost as important as the ink. You can see the luminosity underneath, as well as the number of layers. It gives the ability to superimpose layer upon layer of ink and have all the layers visible. You can only get this with photographic paper. Normal paper tends to absorb the ink so there is a limit when layering.

What do you use to apply the ink?

I use a number of methods: calligraphic pens in some cases, ordinary brushes, and then for certain finishes I use wide foam brushes which allow you to get really clean lines.

I like to go for monochromes, at the moment I am concentrating on blacks, yellows, and reds; so my palette is relatively limited.

When did you first realise that you wanted to be an artist?

Well, I don’t know when exactly as I was not trained as an artist, I trained as a scientist and an engineer. About three years ago I stopped working, I had had enough of that field. I had always been interested in art, and always felt something inside which wanted to create or convey feelings in one form or another. When I stopped working I started experimenting with what was in my head. As an artist what is in your head and what materialises is not always the same, so I started trying to convey things in abstract form, and it developed from there.

I wouldn’t have called myself an artist until about one and half years ago because this was the early stages, but now I think I can call myself an artist.

What do you think the main difference in now?

I think that what I imagine and what I convey on paper now matches. I consider my feelings are being conveyed, for me anyway, how it resonates with other people is another matter, but at least I am now convinced of my own work.

That’s a good place to be.

Yes, I suppose, absolutely.

Who would you say is the most influential artist to you?

It's hard to say one. Some of them are Spanish artists like Antoni Tàpies, Manolo Millares, Antonio Saura, Miro, a lot of abstract modern artists, but also classics like Rothko and Velázquez, some of my images are homages to Rothko.

Do you consider yourself an abstract expressionist?

Abstract yes, expressionist I am not sure, but it certainly is abstract because there are things I want to convey that you cannot materialise. I don’t want to draw an apple or whatever, the feelings I portray are the concepts of time, mortality, movement, change, dimensionality, things behind things. Ideas we can only convey in abstract form, at least for me.

I am originally from Iran, I came to England in 1975 to study, I studied engineering and I did a PHD in specialised tech; I have been living and working here ever since. I live part of the year in London and part of the year in Spain, where I have a space. I do a lot of artwork in Spain, a lot of the work I do there is three dimensional, again abstract. I don’t know why, but I feel like doing that there because of the open space.

Have you exhibited there as well?

It started in Cuenca, La Mancha, between Madrid and Valencia, a medieval city and world heritage site; a wonderful city. Some of my works are exhibited there now and I am looking to do a bit more. It’s a lovely place for artists and the quality of light is great. The type of work I do in London is different from the work I do there.

So it’s a different head space?


How much do you think London influences you work?

It does in the sense that certain elements that I convey in my work like movement and the dynamics of layering manifests itself in many aspects of London; culturally, the speed of living, and the busyness of the city. You ask me the question and I am not conscious of it, but it must permeate into what I do. Rushing from here to there.

Maybe feelings like this would not be produced in a small town in Spain. So, it affects your mood and affects your feelings which translates into colours and motions in your work. It’s a big and dynamic city.

Where do you hope to be artistically in ten years’ time?

I don’t know, I am not a very young man, I am now 56, so I’ll be 66. I would like to be in a position that a fair number of people have seen my work by then and not only seen it but have been moved by it. My interest is mostly for the work to be seen and to resonate with people. Otherwise I don’t have any particular ambitions.

They say that sometimes art tries to give you an answer, but the best art asks a question.

I think it’s absolutely true, I don’t think art is there to give an answer, art is there to (I use this word again and again) resonate with you, the way it resonates with you, it moves you and raises questions, raises feelings in you, but I don’t think it is there to answer any questions. It doesn’t even need to ask one. It needs to resonate and move you in someway or another, even if it frightens you or revolts you, but it has to touch your soul.

Riaz Sanatian will be exhibiting his ink works in Focus LDN's Winter Exhibition this December 13-17th at The Menier Gallery, in London Bridge.