Briefly describe the work that you do.
I consider myself mainly a painter but I switch to different media depending on the content of the works. My current body of work is an exploration of text as image. Here, I am trying to create a more simplified and abstracted version of Persian patterns using Farsi script (my mother tongue). I am not painting these, but rather creating them using different materials, such as pins on foam board, ball point pen on translucent paper, etc.
At what point in your life did you decide to become an artist?
I have always wanted to be an artist as far as I can remember. But I knew it for sure after getting my first degree in chemistry (Pune University, India). I joined Gholamhossein Nami’s studio in Tehran, Iran upon my return. I would go there once a week to practice art. I owe my knowledge on painting and composition to him. He was also a graduate of UWM and it was just a coincidence that I ended up at the same school as him. Due to life circumstance at that time, going to his studio and taking his lessons was more of a hobby than a serious matter to me. It was only upon my immigration to the U.S. and the support of my husband, that I could continue my art education at University of Wisconsin Milwaukee.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
Before migrating to this country, I was trying to make sense of my environment in my paintings. I would paint ordinary, everyday objects like chairs, shoes, fruits and anything that was interesting enough for me to paint. Later I found out that I was very much drawn to minimal and abstract works of art and hence I started to simplify the objects and forms in my paintings. Also I had started to investigate the relationship in between these simple objects and their surroundings like the table-top, the edge of the wall in the background or their own shadows. As I continued to paint, my colors became muted and shapes, simpler.
As soon as I migrated to this country about 13 years ago, it seemed like my whole world was turned upside down! I experienced culture shock as I transitioned from a very formal and close society to a very casual and open one. I was also lonely due to the isolation of the suburbs and depressed due to long and dark winters. Adjusting to the many practical aspects of living in this country and the many cultural nuances that I had to learn became a challenge.
When I started creating art again, I found an urge to explore my culture. I surrounded myself with everything Persian. knick knacks, books, pictures and music from Iran. I started to create a sanctuary not only in my head but in my artwork as well. It made me feel closer to my loved ones and the home that I grew up in. This process started when I became a student at UWM and it continues to be important part of my life and art making to this day.
I had an incredible experience at the Peck School of the Arts and I cannot say enough about my learning and the support that I received from my instructors. There are particularly two names that I need to mention here: Denis Sargent for his views on art and Allison Cook for her great knowledge on art making in general.
I am currently an artist in residence at RedLine Milwaukee. I feel very fortunate to be part of this great organization and also my wonderful mentor and friend Nirmal Raja who is helping me discover deeper meaning and purpose in my work.
What types of conceptual concerns are present in your work? How do those relate to the specific process(es) or media you use?
The underlying theme in my work is immigration and it’s challenges and the nostalgia that follows.
I believe that a majority of immigrants no matter where they come from, share similar experiences and challenges.
These are rich areas of inspiration for my work. At the same time, I am trying to simplify these concepts and reduce them to their essence. This sometimes calls for a switch in media or approach. For example, some of my work are small panels that show Farsi characters on them. I use sequin pins to create the shape of each individual character. The act of pushing in the pins and poking through a membrane lasts only a second and then disappears. Just like the fleeting pain that I experience every time I push in a pin, the memories that take me back in time are bitter sweet and fleeting. It would not have been possible to convey this idea of transient memories if I wanted to paint them.
We once heard Chuck Close say he did not believe in being inspired, rather in working hard everyday. What motivates you in your studio practice?
One cannot go wrong with hard work and perseverance. There has been many times in my career as an artist, that I was not creative and nothing made sense to me. But I would force myself to dedicate certain hours per day to be present behind my desk and in the studio space even if it meant just staring at the wall.
I also find it very crucial to look back at the works that I created in the past and critique them with a fresh eye. I regard each and every work regardless of medium and scale, as a stepping-stone towards more mature and better works in the future. This is something that I do often when I don’t feel like creating.
Working hard does not only mean sitting down and making something. Reading books and articles, researching and understanding the concepts and ideas are part of hard work as well.
We are all exposed to new ideas, discoveries, and findings every single day through the internet and social media. The amount of data and information available is extraordinary. In this environment, it is hard to be in total isolation. I might also get inspired while listening to music or driving my car and looking at the scenery. Is it even possible not to get inspired?
I also find it very helpful to interact and talk to other artists. I can find ideas or polish my ideas by interacting with them. I find it very interesting to listen to people’s stories and experiences. I also get inspired when I look at art in general. Nothing excites me more then walking through galleries or museums and looking at art.
What artists living or non-living influence your work?
I look at different artists for different reasons. These artists may not have any similarity in their dis- cipline and practice but each of them have a great deal to offer. I am also interested in the path that an artist has taken and the evolution in their art making. Sometimes this journey is more interesting to me than the final destination. Some artists that I look at are Mark Rothko, Piete Mondrian, David Schnell, Jeremy Mann, Julia Fish, Agnes Martin,Robert Ryman and Mark Bradford.
When you are not making art what types of activities and interests do you engage in?
Because my extended family stays with us for several months at a time, I tend to spend a lot of time cooking and hosting. When I am not taking care of my family, I like to surf the net and look at work by other artists around the globe. I also like gardening and walking when the weather is warm.
Nina Ghanbarzadeh was born and raised in Tehran,Iran. She spent four years in India from 1984 to 1988, where she got her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Pune University. After returning to Iran in 1989, she realized that her passion was not in chemistry. She started taking art classes and painted for ten years. During this time she did several free lance translations and tutored children at elemen- tary schools. Upon immigrating to the United States, she returned to school in 2005 and received her BFA in Fine Arts and Graphic Design from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2013.
Nina Ghanbarzadeh’s paintings are depictions of her culture and background. She is not only trying to portrait the unfamiliar subjects from Iran to Western viewers, but keeping her memories alive and fresh at the same time. Bits and pieces from historical sites to advertisements, Farsi script, tile and rug patterns are present in her work. Sometimes she juxtaposes subjects that do not belong to the same time period in the history of Iran. She would like for the viewer to think about how these elements could have any connection to each other. Her works are representational but she would like to bring more abstraction to the traditional Persian patterns and designs.
She currently lives and works in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her husband and daughter.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.