The walls of his home are covered with many faces. Eyes glaring, they are those of criminals, victims, activists, rulers. Their skin is made up of words, elegant typefaces, watermarks, currencies and documents of history. These are the faces ingrained in the mind of artist Jason Noushin.
Immediately, Noushin’s demeanor exudes kindness, enthusiasm and excitement about his work. But when you observe his art closely, you see a different side of him. They are the creations of a man who has seen the world and has experienced conflict. They are documentations of what he has seen, heard and felt needed to be changed. The faces are simply the main characters of his re-telling of history.
THE EXPERIENCE OF REVOLUTION
Born in England, Noushin was sent as an infant to Tehran, Iran to live with his grandparents and aunt. His early childhood memories are engulfed by images of the Iranian Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War.
“The experience of seeing a revolution at the age of 9 and seeing the beginning of the war at age 10 and curfews, nightly bombings and just the whole experience of war has definitely affected me and my work. It’s something that’s always with me,” he explains.
Although the experience of war was unsettling, living in Iran provided Noushin with his first encounters with art. His aunt opened the first privately owned art gallery in Tehran in the mid ’70s. As an artist herself, she was key force in encouraging Noushin’s creativity and pushed him to draw and make things from an early age.
Noushin himself recounts constantly being in an environment where he was surrounded by what he describes as “some of the best Iranian artists of the 20th century.”
“I knew them by first name,” says Noushin. Inspired by his unique location, he was drawn to Shiite Muslim iconography and some of the first portraits he ever drew were of Shiite imams.
Noushin left Tehran soon after the start of the Iran-Iraq War began in 1980. He pursued a modeling career for 4 years where he travelled all over the world to countries as diverse as Japan and Italy. He finally settled in Paris where he met his wife. They then moved to New Haven in the early ’90s and they still reside here today.
Noushin never went to a formal art school. He was always interested in studying art, but as captain of his soccer team and a promising tennis player, it did not trump his other aspirations.
“I never actually imagined that I would one day want to be an artist, so to speak, to make a living from my art. That was never at the forefront of my mind.”
He says he kept his work private until about two years ago when a friend encouraged him to take it more seriously. Since then, he has experienced relative success including a solo show at The Hammond Museum in North Salem, NY.
BEAUTY IN PAPER
While living in the United States, Noushin developed an interest in antiquated books. He became an antiquarian bookseller and buys from auctions and dealers to add to his collection of books. But most significantly, these texts have become the center point of his art. Their pages and binding form impromptu canvases where Noushin draws and paints his subjects.
Now Noushin is going through his collections.
“I enjoy the past. I love history,” exclaims Noushin. “I find an inspiration in the paper and in the typeface and in the material that went into making the binding. All of that is inspiration. I integrate a lot of that into my work.”
Frenetically, he cycles though his collection of torn U.S. government treasury bonds used to pay for the War of 1812 against Great Britain. The sheets were discarded and were later used in a print shop to bulk up the bindings of books. Noushin emphasizes that they have been folded and forgotten for almost 200 years; one sheet even has the writing of a young indentured servant who may have been practicing his handwriting.
“This really inspires me. When I’m working, a lot of times I just prefer to leave large swaths of the panel blank and not draw on it because I just love the paper. The quality of the paper, when you look at it, you can see watermarks, you can see the lines, you can see the fibers of cotton that were in it. The paper itself is beautiful.”
With his use of pages from aged and forgotten books in his art, Noushin is essentially recycling history. In his most recent work, what he calls his “Bosnian series,” he uses outdated Yugoslavian money as the backdrop for drawings of Bosnian war criminals.
“It’s money that was used by these people. It was in their pockets. Whether they were criminals or whether they were victims, they still needed this money to survive. And now I have this money and I’m drawing the faces of the criminals on it so that we remember who they are and can hopefully find the two men who are still fugitives.”
The series was greatly inspired by Noushin’s own experiences in Tehran during the Iranian Revolution. He feels a deep connection with the victims of the Bosnian war — rather than glorify the war criminals, his series is a reminder that the conflict should not be forgotten.
“I think art is a vehicle to remind people of things.”
A SHOW AT THE HAMMOND
But Noushin isn’t an artist confined to New Haven. Last Saturday, Sept. 25, was the opening of his first solo show at the Hammond Museum in New Salem, NY. He was the grand prize winner of the Hammond 2010 Tri-State Artist Competition, where artists sent in a portfolio of 10 works to be judged by David McFadden, Chief Curator and Vice President of the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City.
His winning piece, “Holiday in Eden” is an interpretation of the biblical story of Adam and Eve. His drawings were done on sheets from an old German book of prayers from around 1790. He used a pomegranate tree instead of an apple tree as part of his piece and even added a piece of himself — skin peeled off from a sunburn placed on Eve’s stomach.
The walls of the exhibition are covered with the names of government personnel who fought in the War of 1812 and owed the government money. In a way, the ghosts of these men are very much a part of his show.
This is all part of Noushin’s greater project, he explains: “My work is about documenting human history. It’s about reminding viewers of stories, or of conflicts, or of our human deeds. I don’t necessarily do the work to make statements but to generate interest in having dialogue.”