Davood Roostaei stood as an artist and human being at a place in which no man should be forced to stand.
As a young man starting his career as an artist in the late 70s, his art studies were violently disrupted in 1979 by the Iranian revolution.
Instead of some years contemplatively learning art from masters in the country of Iran, in which he was born and raised, he was thrown in jail for two years for art which was deemed to be subversive by the regime.
What he had seen and experienced made him realize that his artistic route could not be that of the standard realistic way of depicting the world.
Thus he had to discover another way to tell us of what he had seen, imagined, and experienced.
Cryptorealism was the method of painting which he created to do this.
It was perhaps the only way as an artist in which he was able to both render his experiences and tell of his world both past, present, and future.
Roostaei could not avow a clear path to truth - then or now - as either an artist or a person. His life could only tell of the non-avowed and non- declared.
Roostaei realized that his new vision needed a dramatically new technique.
He fulfilled this realization by painting with his fingers rather than using the conventional brush. As "reality" could not speak to the complexities of the modern world, the brush could not do what he needed it to do.
The connection needed to be visceral, cutting out the conventions both intellectually and technically.
But he also always knew the importance of how reality effects life- and how that also had to be told- indeed perhaps more than many, given his life experience.
Born in 1959 in Iran he was pushed into a world of both privilege and fragility.
While he was raised in a regime, rich in ancient traditions - many of which his family was steeped in ancestral privilege - he also knew it was a world crumbling before his eyes.
He was to see this same phenomenon again.
It occurred in Germany, the country he sought refuge in when he fled Iran and was there adopted into in 1984; a country he lived in for 20 years of his life and developed as an artist.
He saw Germany’s old regime collapsing as he had seen Iran’s under the Shah collapse.
In Germany it was more direct for him now as a mature artist.
His paintings from 1984 referenced the events that occurred in Germany -both East and West- as well as the turmoil of the now defunct Soviet Union, in many ways predicting what was to happen.
These key moments of deconstruction are reflected in his work.
For him the centre does not hold.
His work thus holds fragments referencing the past, present, and the future.
This is evident in all his work from the mid 1980’s until now. Images appear in a kaleidoscope of colour, emotion, and commitment.
While his art education was largely in Iran, and which included a program at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Tehran, he also studied in Germany’s Cologne and there got to know his first western role model Salvador Dali .
While still in Iran in 1981 Roostaei’s work was exhibited in Egypt, India, and the Soviet Union, part of a cultural tour; in the same year he was prosecuted politically and placed in detention in Iran.
His first solo exhibitions came with his move to Germany. These occurred in 1988 in Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Hanover and Cologne.
It was in these exhibitions that he introduced his vision of Cryptorealism, a revolutionary method of painting he founded in 1987, ahead of these exhibitions.
It is both a technique and mode in the creative rendering of images that he remains committed to over 30 years later.
A collection of writings on Cryptorealism are brought together in “ The Manifesto of Cryptorealism”, a book published in 2007.
This practise is apparent in all of his international exhibitions which followed from 1994 to 2012 and included exhibitions in Berlin, Hamburg, Bonn, Frankfurt, Dubai, China, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York, Miami, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Paris, Monaco, Rome and Nîmes, France.
In 2000 Roostaei moved to Los Angeles where he has lived and worked for the past 18 years. This move has given his work an additional edge as it absorbs the frenetic and transitional nature of North America’s third largest city; a city to which many come in the hope of satisfying their dreams.
His work has also been recognized and bought by renowned institutions and collectors across the world. Institutions such as the MOCA in Beijing, China, exhibited at MOMA in New York, the Vatican collection, Händel-Haus. Halle (Saale) Museum in Halle, Germany, Élysée Palace collection, Hammerschmidt Villa collection in Germany, Bundeskanzleramt in Berlin, Germany, and the Los Angeles City Hall. And other private collections such as Hillary Clinton’s private collection, Empress Farah Pahlavi’s, Paul McCartney’s, Floyd Mayweather’s, The Jackson’s Family collection, Hugh Hefner’s, Muhammad Ali’s family collection, The 14th Dalai Lama’s collection, Hans Dietrich Genscher’s, and The Oonie of Ife’s art collection in Africa.
His work clearly has been informed not only by the artistic world but also by the political world.
His young life in the 1970’s in Iran was full of political turmoil, given his imprisonment in 1981 for those two years which forced him after his release to seek asylum in Germany when life began again as an artist in 1984.
The time isolated in jail remains important to him as both a man and an artist.
He learned to look inside as an artist and outside as a human being.
Thus he remains political to this day. This stance informs his work with images as well as his everyday life.
As he is committed to rendering images in ethical ways of being in the world, he donates a part of the proceeds of his artistic output to various causes internationally.
His artistic oeuvre include sculpture as well as the Cryptorealistic paintings. Roostaei seems likely to live on in his work and his deeds.
The author would like to express gratitude to Dr. S Fuller for time and ideas given. Her expertise - gained as a journalist and foreign correspondent over a decade; followed by a decade and half in the academic world, also obtaining her PHD, and culminating in a decade of work writing about and coaching successful artists as well as writing for art catalogues and galleries- is clearly evident in her contribution here.
Written October 15, 2018.