“Extremis is my story.” If every artist has a story, Extremis, featuring a new body of work from French-Iranian artist Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar, is finally exposing his. Though his work may always have tackled the human condition, it was on a universal plane which engaged latent faculties present in every mind. Extremis takes viewers on a deeper, more specific journey: “I have never spoken about my past, my life as an artist and human being,” admits Behnam-Bakhtiar.
“Much has happened in my life already, from life threatening and traumatic to awakening events, all leading to my evolution as a living being.” Referencing the challenging period of his life in post-revolution Iran as well as the Iran-Iraq war, this exhibition explores the duress which moulded his psyche and transformed a situation of anguish into one of psychosomatic strength and resulting physical survival.
Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar. Love Ritual at Sunset. 2019. Oil on canvas. 160 x 120 cm. Courtesy of Phyrass Haidar
“Even though the work comes from a rather dark place filled with suffering and traumatic events, the objective of the work is to have the opposite effect on the viewer,” he explains. “It is the result of these experiences and what they made me become as a human being that are in focus here—results that will ultimately transform you into a more complete and stronger human being.”
Incorporating Behnam-Bakhtiar’s characteristic scraped painting style, a method of mesmerizing eye play which demands patience and appreciation for a repetitive and meticulous process, the 20-25 works in Extremis take a subtle diversion that mirrors the newly exposed subject of his practice. Though the colour palette references the conflict from which it was born, it features a luminosity that speaks to his ultimate goal of highlighting the silver lining that accompanies every harrowing circumstance. “The close relationship between my art and the work done in evolving as a human being played a huge role in modifying my approach to life,” he says.
Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar. In sync. 2018/2019. Oil on canvas. 162x130cm. Courtesy of Phyrass Haidar
“The hard times of the 90s were transformed into an outlet in order to better evolve and to become a better version of myself. I did not want to get lost in all my suffering but to use that suffering to evolve in every way possible.”Behnam-Bakhtiar’s perspective seems almost omniscient, with a form of existential distance that radiates through the universal readability of his abstract, layered works—albeit via the mind’s eye rather than the physical one. Guiding both himself and viewers along a path of reverse entropy, the visceral understanding in his works seek to ignite dormant emotions and knowledge that will unlock something new within to incite positive transformation.
“They [the audience] will feel what I felt when I was in the worst possible situation, they will feel how I transformed the darkness into energy to better change in order to survive, they will see how someone living the life that I lived managed to completely turn things around by understanding the universe and its energy network, to look within and figure out the power within and to befriend my mind and inner self, resulting in becoming who I am today,” he explains. “Each painting exhibited will be an experience and not just a painting.”
Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar. Midnight love ritual. 2019. Oil on canvas. 162x130cm. Courtesy of Phyrass Haidar
Behnam-Bakhtiar has created work here that encourages our subconscious to absorb Extremis. He’s done so without motivations of intellectual artistic manipulation, but rather, simple encouragement to reduce the literal and figurative noise of modern life in order to find a sense of calm and ultimately, oneness.
“We are all currently operating at our default capacity and by a few simple tweaks we can already excel in life exponentially,” observes Behnam-Bakhtiar. “In my case, I had to go through a series of unfortunate events in order to understand that. All human beings living on this planet should know better who they are and what their mind and body are capable of.”
His point is straightforward, even if the initial glimpse of his works are not: Why dwell in suffering when it can be utilised to attain transcendence? Sensitivity, intuition and the ability to adapt are pillars of humanity—all that’s needed is the spark of self-awareness—another of humankind’s gifts. Behnam-Bakhtiar’s paintings are but a visual call to unite emotion, the psyche, and the past, present and future in an attempt to share how lessons learned from pain can become lessons to learn in enlightenment.
Extremis runs 19 October-23 November at Setareh Gallery, Dusseldorf