Mohsen Vaziri (Persian: محسن وزیری مقدم, born 27 July 1924 in Tehran) is an Iranian painter and a professor of art.
In 1943, after obtaining his diploma at the Agricultural Institute, he applied to the Faculty of Fine Arts in Tehran and attended for three years. During this period, as the artist himself said later on, "I learned how to nurture my drawing skills from Heidarian [his painting teacher] and I did the rest myself; I painted portraits and landscapes that didn’t go beyond study patterns". During his years at the Academy, he felt the influence of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, especially Van Gogh, in terms of both subject matter and expressive forms.
In 1952, his first solo exhibition was held at the Iran-America Society in Teheran.
In 1955 Vaziri left for Rome, where he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts until 1958. His time at the academy coincided with the establishment of European Informalism and the American action painting. After "studying and analysing new modern art movements", Vaziri reached the conclusion that "painting is not a reconstruction of objective reality, but the artist has to create something that never existed before".
In April 1956, Vaziri opened his first Italian exhibition, displaying his figurative paintings at the Portonovo Art Gallery in Rome. In the same year, he exhibited in Düsseldorf and Munich, in Germany.
In 1957, a landmark year and turning point in his artistic career, he attended Toti Scialoja’s classes at the Academy for six months and started experimenting with abstract art. Vaziri later stated that this was when he learned "how to conceive abstract painting and how to create visual spaces". His first abstract works date back to 1958-1959 and they fit in perfectly with the search for materials and brushstrokes happening in contemporary movements.
Between 1959 and 1960, he developed a vision of abstract art through experiments that were highly focused on materials. This eventually lead to the creation of some of his most powerful works: the sand paintings. These paintings were conceived in a playful moment in the spring of 1959, and Vaziri kept trying his hand at them for three years following, until 1963. Different types of sand were applied to the canvas in their natural state or mixed with colour. This original concept grabbed the attention of some of the most prominent Italian art critics of the time, including Giulio Carlo Argan and Palma Bucarelli.
In 1964, Vaziri was at the peak of his artistic career, marked by the purchase of one of his paintings by the Modern Art Museum (MoMA) in New York. He left Italy for a long time and returned to Iran where he taught for several years (until 1975) at the Faculty of Decorative Arts (the current University of Art) and the Faculty of Fine Arts in Tehran. In those years, he started writing several art methodology textbooks, and in 1981, he published Drawing Method and Painting Guide. To this day, his textbooks are studied by Iranian art students. His return to Iran and heavy teaching commitments kept Vaziri away from painting for almost three years.
Between 1967 and 1968, he started working on a series of reliefs made of aluminium and iron sheets. At this time, he was still anchored to a mono-dimensional approach. Shortly after, from 1969, the reliefs lead him to the creation of tri-dimensional works in the form of wood sculptures. From 1970, he created the next step in the evolution of still works:e a series of articulated, mobile sculptures whose wood pieces were joined together by nuts and bolts so that – in Vaziri’s own words – "they would open and close just like human joints". During the 1970s, these sculptures inspired a series of paintings that marked a return to the well-defined shapes (both pointed and rounded) of his tri-dimensional works and developed them further. Alberto Moravia and Pierre Restany are among the eminent figures who have written about his work.
In his chosen field, whether directed to painting or sculpture, there was a constant and essential theme of space which brought him acclaim from critics (Argan, Moravia, Bevilacqua, Menna, Pensabene), recognition by the City of Rome (1958) and from Prime Minister Segni (International Art Competition, Ravenna 1959), and the Senate Gold Medal (Sassoferrato 1962).
His works have been shown in numerous solo exhibitions in Italy (Rome, Milan, Florence), Germany (Düsseldorf, Munich), and Iran, at the Venice Biennial (1958, 1960, 1962, 1964), at the Tehran Biennial (1960, 1962 ), at the Rome Quadriennale (1960), at the São Paulo Biennial in Brazil (1962), at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1964) and at the Shiraz Art Festival, Iran (1969).
In 1985, Vaziri moved to Italy permanently with his wife and two children.
In the 1990s, the artist worked on Persian calligraphy shapes, trying to point out the minimalism of its lines. He also continued to test himself with abstract compositions that were all different from each other and characterised by either highly defined shapes and intense colours or vague silhouettes and soft pastel colours.
In 1999, his translation of The Mind and Work of Paul Klee by W. Hahtmann was published.
In 2000, he resumed contact with Iranian universities and held several lectures.
In 2003, Vaziri was affected by an eye disease that will considerably reduced his eyesight, but his verve as an artist was unaffected. He invented a new way of expressing himself: a series of acrylic paintings, where large splashes of colour reflected his vision of reality.
In May 2004, he exhibited at the Contemporary Art Museum in Tehran with Gerhard Richter and was hailed as the best Iranian artist of the century. In 2013, one of his sculptures (Forms in Movement) and the sand painting that belonged to the MoMA collection were exhibited at the Asia Society Museum in New York at the “Iran Modern” exhibition.
In the summer of 2014, the same sculpture was exhibited at the contemporary art exhibition “Artevida corpo” at the Fundação Casa França-Brasil, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Vaziri is still creatively active today and he continues his quest for shapes and colours.