DAVOOD ROOSTAEI: AN INTRODUCTION
Davood Roostaei was born in Malayer, Iran, southwest of Tehran, in 1959. Roostaei studied at Tehran’s Academy of Fine Arts in the late 1970s, until the Islamic Revolution upended Iranian creative life. Opposed to the new order and, as a pacifist, to its war with Iraq, Roostaei turned to the overtly political art form of graffiti – and was imprisoned for two years, under notoriously harsh conditions, for anti-regime activities.
In 1984, soon after his release, Roostaei gained asylum in Germany, ultimately settling in Hamburg. German art was dominated at the time by neo- expressionism, specifically die neue Wilde. This expansive style, driven by impulse and engagement, suited Roostaei perfectly, and he quickly developed his own approach, at once gestural and depictive. As he plied and evolved his style, he was able to conflate his infatuation with paint with his fascination with modern life – particularly as of 1986, when he abandoned brushes and began painting with his fingers, a technique he relied on for the rest of his career. In 1990, Roostaei declared his artistic approach “Cryptorealism,” acknowledging the most important conceptual factor in his picture-making: his seemingly abstract explosions of pigment in fact grew out of figural compositions, ranging in theme from the mythical to the quotidian, the heroic to the hilarious, and these figural forms were subsequently hidden beneath the skeins of pure paint apparent to us. Cryptorealism, derived from the Greek term “crypto” meaning hidden or secret, is a manifestation of obscured meaning, revealed only through layered imagery, the grasp of which requires active participation by the observer.
After a decade and a half in Hamburg, during which he enjoyed prominence in artistic and social circles, Roostaei found he had exhausted his dialogue with German and European art (and politics) and relocated again in 2000, this time to Los Angeles. If Germany provided Roostaei political asylum, America provided him spiritual and perceptual freedom; here, his void was his own. California indulged Roostaei by leaving him alone as much as by paying him attention. In the wake of COVID, however, Roostaei and his enthusiasts felt the need to reclaim his audience. He was painting boldly and furiously and gaining fresh attention when, in early 2023, he was suddenly overtaken by cancer.
As he intended, Davood Roostaei left behind a legacy of vigor and intensity; and as he had hoped, its reintroduction begins where he has left off, in the middle of Los Angeles’ creative cauldron.