It’s a cool wintry evening in Neuilly-sur-Seine, the upscale French commune just west of Paris. Fereydoun Ave’s apartment is dim-lit and cosy – an artistic refuge against a forlorn night sky in the heart of winter. Anyone well versed in Middle Eastern art will be familiar with Ave’s tireless work. The artist-cum-curator opens the door, his signature dark-rimmed glasses greeting me in from the unfamiliar cold outdoors, and my first proper meeting with the man considered a legendary promoter of Iranian artists begins. “The big word to describe what I do is collage,” says Ave as he makes me some tea. The various interconnecting rooms of his apartment are very much decorated along that strand – “a collage” of a multitude of artworks, furniture, books, paper and objects.
They seem to be have been displayed in their current location gradually over time. “I am 74 years old and I have been through various stages and various countries and various fashions but what interests me now is to have stuff around me that stimulates me,” says Ave. “I don’t collect based on what is most expensive next year or from a chronological or historical point of view but always based on line, colour and feeling.” And while the general ambiance of Ave’s Parisian abode is well kept and orderly, there a slight sense of clutter not unlike what one would find in an artist’s studio. “The background of my home is a lot based on how one creates a picture,” he continues. “The rest is assemblage and collage. The apartment has grown over time. “You start from the basics and it keeps growing if you are a collector.”
Fereydoun Ave in his Paris apartment surrounded by a Malayer carpet, Le Corbusier furniture and works by Afshan Daneshvar, Fereydoun Ave and Charles Hossein Zenderoudi
Bookcases line the walls as do Ave’s various works on paper and canvas. These are interspersed with a 16th-century Chinese Buddha sculpture, Le Corbusier furniture, works by Iranian greats such as Hossein Zenderoudi, Farshad Moshiri, Reza Aramesh, Afsan Daneshvar and Shahla Hosseini, and pieces by his dear friend, late artist Cy Twombly. Situated around an ever-expanding display of objets d’art are also variously placed taxidermy owls.
“They are so beautiful; I’ve started collecting them just recently,” he tells me. Indeed, the birds offer a larger-than-life aspect to Ave’s artistic realm, one where nature and art effortlessly coincide. Born in Tehran in 1945, Ave has become one of the most important and influential Iranian artists of the last century. Following his studies in fine art in the US, he returned to Iran in the early 70s where he participated in the country’s burgeoning cultural scene by working in the worlds of theatre, film and as a curator. In 1979, following the Islamic Revolution, the Iranian art scene is turned upside down. But Ave, unlike his other contemporaries, decided to remain where he committed himself with steadfast determination to his art creation.
Bactrine pots and bowls framed by artworks from Leyly Matine Daftary, Shahla Hosseini and Cy Twombly
The way Ave has decorated his home in Paris uses the same methods he applies to his art curation. “I think of a concept, which is the background, and then I think of the space and the space comes first,” he explains. “Until the final setup I don’t know what is actually going to be in that space and what isn’t because it all depends what works.” So it’s the space and the artworks that come first not the concept? I ask. Yes, it is the objects I am told. “It is the idea of accumulating knowledge through objects,” he says. “The objects I am interested in have a spark innovation, spontaneity, invention and funk. Funky is relaxed like my home on the island in Greece, which is not a particularly touristic or historic island. It is a funky island. It has a nice, relaxed mix of things and that is how I would describe the decoration in my houses. They are funky.”
That Ave’s homes in Tehran, Paris and on a charming Greek island are. Edgy glamour doesn’t come close to defining the breadth of what he has inside each or their particular mix of items. There’s a funky but orderly clutter of items displayed with utmost care and reverence so as to give an air of majestic refinement. Ave exalts each object in his space.
“I define what works in a space based on visual experience,” he tells me. “I have been to all the museums and galleries. Cy Twombly and Bijan Saffari have been important influences, as has Bob Wilson [the acclaimed scenographer]. They have been big influences on my aesthetic education. Wilson and I became good friends when he came to the Shiraz Art Festival. He really changed the entire aesthetics and way in which theatre and opera was done just like Twombly changed the way you think of painting and drawing and sculpture.”
Ave formed a close friendship with Twombly (1928-2011), an American artist who, like Ave, moved between various worlds and cultures. One of Ave’s primary influences, into his lyrical and abstract calligraphy-laden assemblages and collages, one can easily note various Twombly-like lines. Unlike the artist’s rich abstraction, Ave’s work focuses particular attention on addressing issues of cultural stereotypes, which are deep rooted in Persian history and mythology, constantly incorporating figures from some of Persia’s best known works like The Book of Kings or Shahnameh, the 10th-century epic poem, into his contemporary oeuvre.
Fereydoun Ave's collection of taxidermy owls. Courtesy of Sebastian Böttcher
In India, where Ave went on regular stints to an Ashram for around three consecutive, he learned that “if you stay close to the aura of your masters you will learn indirectly.” The influence comes by being in close proximity. “There is an energetic transmission,” he notes. “A teacher teaches you directly and a master teaches you indirectly.” We pause and I look around me at the countless objects that make-up Ave’s Parisian home. An artist’s den perhaps? An intellectual’s study? An artist’s studio? That Ave has in a separate location nearby. The space seems to serve all purposes. It’s an area for reflection, contemplative leisure and artistic and intellectual expansion. I feel momentarily as if I am in the presence of a wise man. That we certainly couldn’t deny. Ave is an artistic mentor.
“What is important for me in any apartment are fabrics, textiles, carpets,” he goes on. “Being an Iranian I was brought up with carpets and fabrics and I come from a city called Yazd, which is in the middle of Iran, and used to be one of the main capitals for weaving carpets, kilns, wonderful silk and velvet fabrics. It’s basically located on the Silk Road.” I get a rush of oriental mystique, that exotic aura that prompts one to explore and travel to new places. Iran has always had that for me – the ancient Persian civilisation is rife with new avenues for research and discovery. “I do have that Silk Road mentality,” Ave smiles knowingly. “The whole point of the Silk Road was that it joined various aesthetics and countries. It was a cross roads and I think that is what I am: a cross road between various generation and tastes.”
Ave’s apartment is symbolic of a cultural crossroads. In terms of design items, there are many evocative of the tastes spanning he last few decades. This is Ave’s latest space in Paris and he says that it was starting to look like a “furniture showroom.” Highlights include an elegant Eileen Gray couch from the 1920s, armchairs by Le Corbusier, a zig zag chair by Dutch designer Rietveld done in 1934, tables by 1950s American designer Sarrinen, and a Brauer chair – a designer from the Bauhaus. All the lighting comes from FLOS. “I hate polished sparkling – I like things that are laid back and look like they have been used,” he says. But the birds? Where do they fit into this artistic and design world? “I have always wanted to live in an aviary because of the liveliness of birds chirping,” he says. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to sleep every night under the wing of a bird like a shelter from the storm?”
Ave’s creative prowess is addictive. He spends his time now traveling between Paris, Tehran, his Greek island and countless other locations curating, advising artists and making his art. He’s become a father figure to a host of young aspiring Iranian artists. Through him they are influenced and also hopeful. “When you want to encourage an artist and you see talent it’s not enough to say just that this is good – you need to put your money where your mouth is,” says Ave.
“The biggest compliment you can receive as an artist is for someone to buy your work and I try and do the same.” Ave is an artist collector. “There’s a whole empathy thing going on because I am an artist so I put myself in their place and that’s why there is this sort of marriage. I actually put my money where my mouth is – I invest in them but they have to have that spark.” That energetic spark is no foreigner to Ave’s magical lair. It’s a world of folly, seriousness and ultimately, a visual cultural crossroads.
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