State of the Art

On Jan. 10, the UCI Center for Persian Studies and Culture welcomed Bobak Etminani, a pioneering artist in post-painterly abstraction from Iran. The event included a screening and a discussion of a short film regarding his exhibit in the city of Qom, Iran.

Post-painterly abstraction, a style arising from the abstract expressionism movement, describes works that do not visibly display involvement of the painter and the process. According to Etminani, playing on color relationships and minimalist motifs are fundamental to the style.

“I try to minimize my physical involvement and let it happen,” Etminani said.

Originally from Iran, Bobak Etminani traveled to California in the 1980s to study art in depth. Having graduated from the California College of Arts and Crafts in 1991, Etminani returned to Iran where he delved into teaching studio life. He went on to hold art exhibitions and give lectures in countries around the world, including England, India, Bangladesh, Canada and the United States.

Moreover, Etminani and his wife run an arts program in Tehran, which educates close to 3,000 students yearly. Through his seminars and art tours, Etminani hopes to foster open discussion about art and expand art appreciation.

Etminani intended to conduct an art gallery tour that would stop in the various the provinces of Iran, a feat which few other famous artists from Tehran undertake. Originally, he did not plan to make a stop in Qom, a city known for its heritage sites and religious seminaries. In contrast to the more secular Tehran, Qom is considered one of the most religiously conservative cities within Iran.

To his surprise, he was contacted by an art enthusiast who asked if he would come to Qom and display his work there. The man even sent him books displaying art from within the city, obviously very determined to persuade Bobak Etminani to present his work there.

At first skeptical, Etminani eventually decided to visit the city and view the local art scene he was told of. There, he settle for only discussing art with those interested rather than fully exposing his work in a city he felt would reject it. To his surprise, he found much local talent and passion and admitted he was “ashamed of myself for having preconceptions of Qom.”

Etminani later returned to display a gallery of his famous gray paintings, a series of abstract works in acrylic. He received a warm response from not only liberal and western thinkers but also deeply devout Muslims. The great depth and illusionist texture of his works seemed to invoke emotions among the religious, as they interpreted the artwork according to their own lives and faith in God.

“My art is about the essence, the hidden obvious, and its majestic beauty,” Etminani said in a statement introducing his work. “It is about the mysterious oneness of nature as the great source of my inspiration.” Personally, Etminani expresses spiritual attachments, but not to any specific religion. He was greatly surprised by the enthusiastic response of so many Muslim clerics and religious leaders within the community. At one point he was surrounded by the Islamic Mullahs, who for once did not lecture themselves but instead intently listened to him. They asked him interesting and penetrating questions, trying to fully understand his artwork and purpose, a situation which he ever expected would happen.

Throughout his exhibit in Qom, there were no hateful remarks or open rejections to his works as he had originally anticipated, a very surprising success for the famous painter. In fact, from all the galleries he opened in the Iranian provinces, Etminani considers that of Qom’s to have been a “very different experience” from all the rest, which had simply mimicked the success he experienced back in his life in Tehran.

When the film screening of Etminani’s gallery in Qom finished, he opened the floor to questions from the audience and led very intricate discussions of the implications of art and its effect within the religious community.

When asked if he would have an exhibit here in California, he replied with a smile, “If I’m invited, then by all means.”

If interested in learning more about his artwork and examining his art pieces, you can visit his website at