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My Story

Marzie Nejad


I Woke up in the Morning with an Ocien on my Chest. 

Was it an Ocien?. 

I was 10 years old, sitting in the courtyard of our house in Teheran one afternoon when my older brother came running in with a stack of postcards. "Look at these!" he exclaimed. They were prints of paintings by a group of Russian master painters that  later on, I found out they were called The Travelers. Paintings of barge haulers on Volga, Cossacks writing a letter to the Turkish king, and the return of a jailed man to his family. I had never seen paintings like this. I had yet to visit a museum and had only seen Persian miniatures in poetry books, and a few murals in our old house. I was in awe. I gazed at each painting once, twice, 5, 10 times or more  till the scenes were imprinted on my mind.

Over the following months, a slew of cultural tokens from the North and west streamed into our house:  paintings by Ilya Repin, Vasily Perov, Surikov and books by Jules Verne, Victor Hugo, Stephan Zweig, Tolstoy, and Hemingway---whatever treasures my brother could procure from the Iranian-Russian Friendship Society or bookstores in downtown Teheran.   We stacked the books on the shelf--I would read them voraciously.  But the paintings, I kept close at hand and kept watching them with unending admiration,  

Then one day, my brother, the little ambassador of culture, came back from Tehran grand  bazaar with a bag full of surprises-- canvas, brushes, and wooden sticks with which to make a frame, linseed oil, and small paper packages with vibrant pigments of azure blue, canary yellow, vermillion, and emerald green.  "Now I can paint pictures myself!" he told me! 

I was amazed and fell in love with every aspect of his  new endeavor, mixing the oil with the bright powders, watching my brother stretching  the canvas and nailing it to the frame, and then covering it with a layer of white gypsum.  I watched him attempt his first painting, a basket of apples which magically emerged on the canvas within a few hours. then started folloowing him and gradually,  I taught myself to paint by imitation of the simpler paintings we had in our piles of postcards and continued by copying some of the masterpieces I had accumulated over the years. However, I ended my  copy painting practice, by my best copy work: an old Russian  beggar who looked like a sage, maybe a  panting.of Tolstoy at his last years of his lift, traveling in vagabondage clothing. 

It had not yet occurred to me to paint what I saw around me even though my surroundings were lush with beauty.  Our small courtyard garden was vibrant with the blossoms of cherry trees, pansies, hyacinth in springtime, and roses in summertime. The old streets of Teheran had clay colored buildings with arches and stunning mosaics.   In the middle of the summer, I would sleep on the rooftop, lying on my back with my arms outstretched, staring at the sky with its thousand and thousand of stars.  I felt like I was holding the whole dome of the sky within the expanse of my arms and when I squinted my eyes, and looked at each single star, I thought I could see it dancing in the breeze of the late night.   But I would't paint any of this for years, and when I did, these scenes would be resurrected only in patches, as if in dreams.

When I attended college and medical school, I painted less and less frequently.  Then I moved to America. Here  I was a doctor,. doing residency, fellowship and a mother, and for many years only dreamt of art, observing it with longing and awe as I leafed through our growing collection of art books or stood before paintings on my trips to the museums.

Then, one day, after dropping my children off at a class, I passed Pearl Art Store on Route 17 in New Jersey.  Something compelled me to take the next exit and turn around.  The store was charming, the aisles were narrow and cramped and the wooden shelves were crowded with paints and brushes.  I was giddy with excitement.  For the first time in decades, I bought my supplies.  I started painting again by copying the masters, this time a couple of paintings by Magritte.   But I quickly grew bored of imitating, and realized it was time to paint my own visions.

Over the last 30 years or so, I have managed to create a body of work in the cracks of time between mothering and doctoring. Some  of my work have been exhibited in museums and New York exhibitions for a short time that i was actively promoting them.around 2014 but none of the more recent ones.  

My paintings are mostly inspired by visions I have when I wake in the early morning.  I will often spend days thinking about what I've seen before I put brush to canvas. what is umnipresent in my work, no mater what the content is, it is my immense love for color and beauty.   But i have never seen any reason to attach myself to any style or school of painting, Athough a dream-like irrationality has always emerged in my work, there is also  a serious story or stories about human conditions there, behind every painting.. At times, I feel, I am doing the photography of the mental concepts that have preoccupied my mind! 

The poet Robert Bly once said, "A painting is a pitcher full of the invisible."   The invisible is the backstory--my story, and the stories t hat viewers project onto the painting.  The invisible is what springs in our own imagination when we view a painting, it is how we connect the dots, or fill in the blanks.  I have heard various interpretations of some of my paintings, and I enjoy the multiplicity of ideas that have been evoked.  I have not attempted to offer something linear or representational.  In my paintings, there are images, there are suggestions, and there is space for the viewer to imagine.  My hope is that the paintings will stimulate thought and seer the spirit and emotions of the people who view them. 

****This story is dedicated to my brother, Mehdi, with my appreciation for his curious mind and generous spirit****

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Marzie Nejad


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