Behind every creative, there is a story.
There is a reason why every dancer dances, every writer writes and every painter paints.
I recently chatted to two Swansea-based artists, Graham Parker & Amir A Nejad, who exhibited their work last week in the Oriel Bach Gallery. Their collaborative exhibition, ‘Face to the Sea’, displayed the artists’ two very different styles side by side; Graham depicts energetic seascapes in his work while Amir focuses on intricately detailed portraits.
In this post, they talk very candidly about the experiences that influence their craft in their own words.
Graham’s seascapes are full of life. The dynamic movement of the waves is captured in the artist’s use of vivid colours and multiple layers of paint. But where did Graham’s love of the sea come from? He recalls the freedom that the sea represented as a young child:
‘I remember feeling the joy of running free on the windy beach, feeling the sand and sea spray blowing hard on my face,’ he tells me. This memory of Graham’s could easily be a description of his own work; after viewing one of his paintings, you can almost taste the saltwater on your lips.
His parents were a huge influence on the young Graham and his relationship with the sea.
‘My parents ran an off-licence in Swansea’s Sandfields and they took my sister and I for regular, long walks and swims on the Gower.’
But the happy memories that Graham has of his family beside the sea are also tinged with sadness. Graham grew to understand the fierce nature of the sea when his father ‘died after rescuing a swimmer in difficulty in treacherous currents at Bracelet Bay.’
His mother ‘developed Alzheimer’s in later life but was never happier than when, without inhibition, was happily singing her favourite songs from the 1940’s as we walked her along the beach.’
It is a story which is bittersweet and Graham admits that ‘while I’m thrilled by the sea’s beauty, energy, rhythm and movement, I also have a healthy respect for its awesome power.’
Graham is also currently working on a new series of horizon paintings. I asked him how they differed to his energetic seascapes.
‘Although my wave paintings are made gesturally and spontaneously, I’m more thoughtful and restrained in the horizons series.’
He credits his favourite fine art lecturer, Dr Robert Newel, for introducing him to Bachelard who states:
To disappear in deep water or to disappear toward a far horizon, to become a part of depth or infinity, such is the density of man that finds its image in the density of water.’ (Bachelard  1994:12)
For Graham, ‘this concept prompted a more cognitive approach in [his] painting practice. In the horizons series, I aim to depict a distant place, a horizon which is as much a part of me as it is an imaginary line where the sea or land appears to meet the sky.’
Finally, I asked Graham whether his diagnosis of cancer last year had affected his work. I knew that writing had played a huge part in my recovery and I thought it would be interesting to discover whether art had helped him. He told me:
‘I don’t know why, but these days I’m happy to take more time with my paintings.’
‘Radical neck surgery and 6 weeks of daily radiotherapy and chemotherapy, or rather the effects of these procedures, affects you in many different ways. I don’t feel so compelled to work gesturally and at speed. I now have the patience to apply paint in a more considered way, both cognitively and mechanically.
‘I guess I’ve just got more patience and that’s not a bad thing. These days, I’m equally driven in my art practice but more likely to, as Bachelard says, aim to become ‘part of depth or infinity’ and ‘disappear towards a far horizon’ in my work. In a very positive way, of course!’
Amir A Nejad
Amir’s portraits are beautifully precise. His intricate detailing gives his work a startlingly lifelike quality and manages to encapsulate the soul of his subject.
‘I have to know the person’s history before I make a portrait of them,’ he tells me, something that is deeply apparent in his paintings. ‘I like to capture their background and history in the painting.’
So, how does he go about finding these people?
‘If I see someone whose face interests me, I will ask if I may take their photograph. Some people are pleased to do that but many say no. I will paint their portrait in my studio from their photograph and what I know about them.’
While I was at the Elysium Gallery’s exhibition in July, I noticed that Amir’s portrait of Rhys Ifans had a distinctive black background. I asked him why he uses this contrasting feature in his work and his answer astounded me.
‘I use a dark background to represent a very dark time in my life. I was imprisoned and tortured in Iran because the state police thought my paintings were political. I finally managed to escape and was granted asylum in the UK.
‘I use lighter backgrounds now as I am happy to be living here in Swansea with my family.’
‘The backgrounds are getting lighter and brighter as I begin to meet more people.’
‘It was good to talk to so many new people during the Elysium Open Studio event last week and at the launch of my ‘Face to The Sea’ exhibition with Graham. I hope that I will receive commissions to paint people’s portraits from these events.’
And how did Amir move back into portrait painting after his traumatic experiences? Well, it was all down to his wife.
‘It was lonely when I came to Swansea. I couldn’t bring myself to paint because of that dark time in my life. My wife persuaded me to go and ask people if I could paint them. I soon found that everyone has a story to tell. Many of them have had bad times in their life like me. I asked to paint Graham’s portrait when he had cancer. It was a sad part in his life and I wanted to tell his story in my painting of him.’
These stories are depicted very clearly in each line of Amir’s work and his own story now seems to have taken a better turn thanks to his move to Swansea.
‘My family have helped me and supported me in my painting. I love them very much.’
‘I believe we now have a brighter future in Swansea. Perhaps now my portrait paintings will have a lighter background to represent this.’
I certainly wish Amir and his family all the very best.
A huge thank you to Graham and Amir for chatting to me!
Find out more about Amir here: www.anejad.uk
All images courtesy of Graham Parker.