Nima Nabavi is a self-taught Iranian-American artist who was raised in the United Arab Emirates.
Even though he received his undergraduate and graduate degrees in Business and was an independent business owner for 20 years – he unexpectedly changed paths in 2016 inspired by the geometric art of his late grandfather. He is now based in Dubai, where he dedicates himself to an art practice driven by a mathematical approach and a contemplative execution of intricate geometries.
We talk to Nima about his creative journey, how his cultural heritage has influenced his practice and the intention behind his work.
Did you always want to be an artist, and can you share your journey to embarking on a creative career? I actually only started making art about 5 years ago, when I was 39 yearsold. I had always worked in creative fields and I was generally around those worlds, so I guess it wasn’t totally out of the blue - but I neverreally imagined myself ending up as an artist. The story is that mygrandfather had been a geometric artist for as long as I ever knew him. He was so consumed with making his work and would often try to explain his methodologies, and his enthusiasm for it always stuck with me. One day in2016, just out of general curiosity, I tried to figure out what it was that he was doing. I just started drawing things based on the tiny memoryfragments of what my grandfather had shown me. I just started making this work, and one thing kept leading into another and I kept making more work... and here we are. This whole thing has been a totally unexpected surprise in my life and I’m really enjoying it all.
Your work is focused on geometric abstraction and its connection to thenatural world, how did you develop an interest in these areas? To put it more simply, I think I’m mainly interested in why peoplegenerally feel a connection to these shapes, patterns and symmetries. I don’t even fully understand my own deep fascination with this kind of work, so the fact that it has near universal appeal is the mystery I'm trying to unravel. It’s both encouraging and strange that we all seem to be drawn to these geometric structures of order that appear to echo throughout the universe, on both micro and macro levels. I’m just so curious about all of this, and that not-really-ever-knowing part keeps me on the path.
How has your cultural heritage influenced your creative practice? Growing up with a grandfather that made geometric art (and shared itwidely), was the biggest influence on my practice. Besides that though, the fact that I was born in Iran and raised in the UAE, meant that I was always surrounded by renditions of Islamic geometry and regional patterns in some form or another / on some wall or another. It’s so embedded in the visual culture that you forget you’re even seeing it, it’s just quietly burrowinginto your brain. The omnipresent recurrence of visual pattern language in my environment somehow incorporated itself into my psyche through osmosis, I guess.
Your drawings and paintings are heavily layered, grid-driven manifestations of imagined, ordered structures, where do you find your inspiration to create these distinct visuals? Each piece I make brings up new questions and new paths to go down, so it’sa bit of a never-ending story that keeps pulling me along. As I’m working on one piece, I already begin imagining what I could do on the next piece, so each one becomes an inspiration for the one that follows it.
Does your work have a spiritual element to it? Words like ‘spiritual’ are used so broadly now that I want to be carefulnot to miscategorize the experience I or anyone else is having around the work. I think the work certainly has a universal element that people may attach spirituality - or anything else - to depending on their own experiences and views. I prefer to think of it as universal over spiritual.
Is your work a mathematical quest as well as artistic practice? I think I maybe overuse terms like “geometric” and “mathematical” when Italk about my work, because that tends to be the best way to describe it - but it’s not like I'm a mathematician or that I think of this primarily in mathematical terms. My approach is not academically mathematical so to speak - people probably think I’m better at math than I actually am! With my work though, it’s more of an abstract notion that I’m trying to represent visually and using whatever means to get there. Sometimes that means making lots of small calculations, and sometimes that means choosing color schemes. There is definitely an element of being on a deliberately endless quest, but I think the mathematical part is just one aspect of it.
Your use of colour is free flowing, yet it fits within a mathematical structure, can you share more I try to incorporate rhythmic patterns into the color schemes so thatpolychromatic shapes and symmetries can naturally emerge. Through dense layering of different levels of strict order, more ‘free-flowing’ or organic visual elements will present themselves. Sometimes what we may consider unstructured is actually a stack of highly ordered structures so convoluted that the structural elements seem to disappear.
What is your creative process and what tools do you use? I try to come up with an idea and then I try to come up with how to do it.The execution requires a lot of patience and meticulousness, so those are probably the most important tools. Appreciating the work that needs to be done, and then just doing it. Other than that, I mostly use pens, paint and lots of rulers.
Can you share the intention behind your practice, what impact do you hope it has on the audience? I hope the audience just feels the work in a non-descriptive way. I wouldlove them to feel a connection to the work without being able to explain why. I like that this work exists in a space where it's easier to contemplate than it is to talk about.
What has been the most challenging and complex work you have created to date? Each work feels like the most challenging and complex work at the time whenI’m making it. I feel like I am always working at the edge of my knowledge, so each in progress piece is full of unknowns and new techniques. I like tofeel like I'm pushing up against the limit of my skills, so I'm rarely working on something that feels too easy. Before it’s done, each piece is still a question that I’m working on an answer for. You recently won the inaugural Bulgari Contemporary Art Award, how does it feel to gain such recognition? Honestly, any recognition is always encouraging and empowering because itjust means that people want you to continue doing what you’re doing. And I love this work, so I’d love to continue doing it. The Bulgari Contemporary Art Award was presented in conjunction with Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, so it was a real pleasure to be recognized and supported by twosuch established and esteemed organizations. At the same time, itmeans just as much to me when the art resonates with anyone - that connection has been the true gift of doing this work.
For more information check out http://www.nimanabavi.com. Follow on Instagram is @nimanothome
The views of the artists, authors and writers who contribute to Bayt Al Fann do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Bayt Al Fann, its owners, employees and affiliates.