Ghazal Bagheri is an Istanbul-based Iranian figurative painter with a background in sociology, and a first time contributor to The New Yorker Life. Ghazal thinks her paintings reflect on stories, even wounds of the people she encounters. Enjoy a selection of her beautiful work in this blog and follow Ghazal on Instagram to witness her journey in painting.
NYL: Ghazal, please introduce yourself a little.
Ghazal: I was born in 1993 in the city of Qaemshahr in northern Iran. After getting a degree in Persian literature and graphic design, I immigrated to Istanbul with my family when I was 18. I studied sociology at Istanbul University. I had my first work experience in the textile industry. In addition to working in various jobs, I worked as an actor and puppeteer at the Çizgi Puppet Theater for six years. In the meanwhile, I continued painting. I realized that people’s stories, perhaps their wounds, influenced my paintings. That’s why I decided to study in the department of sociology, which focuses on people and human life.
NYL: How has your technique evolved? Do you mainly use watercolors?
Ghazal: Before I emigrated, I practiced pencil drawing and charcoal technique with the dream of becoming a realist painter, but when I came to Istanbul, my paintings changed and grew as I did. I got acquainted with the world of watercolor, and gradually fish entered my life. In recent years, besides watercolor, I have also applied acrylic, oil pastel, and colored pencil techniques to express myself and my feelings.
NYL: Can you talk about the symbolism in your paintings? What do the fish and other symbols you draw represent?
Ghazal: I never talk about paintings; I don’t even name them because I don’t want them to affect viewers. Paintings are actually mirrors, and the viewer sees their reflection in them. Fish and other symbols are not really a thing or a path of your choosing, like the technique you use. They are just there, as I felt. I use fish, flowers, and crows often, but this can change over time or not, I don’t know.
I don’t know why fish either. My psychologist friend says that fish symbolizes trust. I may have chosen this because I have problems with trust in my life, too. Again, I always leave the interpretation to the other viewer. Because the picture I draw when I am unhappy can give another person a sense of joy.
NYL: It sounds like painting is an essential part of your life.
Ghazal: Painting is not only a profession for me; it is my identity, even my whole life. It is why I make almost all of my choices, from university education to people I connect with. I paint as if I keep a diary. In recent years, I incorporated digital drawing on a tablet, which is faster and easier to carry around with me. Painting has become a necessity for me, like eating.
It may seem appealing and perhaps easy to live as a painter, but a very, very difficult life will be waiting for you. You can only ignore all the difficulties of painting if you truly love it. It’s like therapy where you constantly face yourself and your emotions and fight your ego. On the other hand, you can’t make real money, and people don’t take you seriously. Despite all this, painting helped me experience the excitement of discovering myself and the world.
NYL: Are the faces in your paintings real people? Do you draw with someone in mind?
Ghazal: I don’t draw someone directly in front of me in portraits. I would say that the portraits represent an emotion or a person’s story. Stories and feelings become my paintings.
NYL: How does having a multidisciplinary background affect your paintings?
Ghazal: As a child, I wanted to be a writer. As I grew up, I wanted to be a photographer. But in Iran, it was necessary to draw to pass the fine arts exam for the university. So I went to a drawing course and things have entirely changed there. Painting is like crying or eating. It relaxes me; it’s the only place I know and feel safe and confident. That’s why I can’t imagine my life without painting. Painting is like telling a secret to your best friend for me, or a diary.
I did photography to make money. I am currently interested in analog photography as a hobby; photography has become a field that fully supports my painting.
NYL: Can you name a few of your favorite artists?
Ghazal: I like Egon Schiele a lot. Apart from that, Séraphine Louis, Van gogh, Jenny Saville, Henri Matisse, Francisco Goya are names that I love.