Sensory Overload: My Dinner With Iranian Artist Hassem Abrishami

Molly Hutter

So last weekend, my friend and I were supping with an artist internationally acclaimed for his beautiful paintings (which, I should mention, were hanging all around us), and where did the conversation turn?


It turned to butts. Badonkadonks. Asses.



But for good reason. You see, my dinner date Madeline made the astute observation that throughout much of Iranian artist Hassem Abrishami's work—which can be described as a wonderfully colorful form of abstract—some of the only true-to-form elements are the butts. The faces of the people in the art? Whimsically nondescript. That fruit in the woman's hands? She could be holding pomegranates, apples, tomatoes, mangoes, or perhaps a combo of each. The instrument could be a guitar, banjo, sitar, mandolin, etc., etc.


Which really is one of the most intriguing characteristics of Mr. Abrishami's 3,000+ paintings. As he said that evening: "When I finish painting, the piece is only 50 percent complete." The other half? That comes from our imaginations.



But we should back up. How did my friend and I land an intimate four-course supper with Mr. Abrishami (considering my Saturday nights often include takeout and beer and a few friends at my house)? We were just two in a dining room full of art lovers, all at the Vendue Inn's Library Restaurant to dine with Mr. Abrishami, whose latest paintings are featured this month at the Mary Martin Gallery of Fine Art, as well as peppered throughout the Vendue’s lobbies, halls, and dining spaces.



Our sense of sight was satiated the second we walked in, and our taste buds—they were soon to follow suit. The Library's Chef de Cuisine Timothy Bassett formed a menu featuring tomato and lentil soup, kabob salad, stuffed leg of lamb, and saffron and peppercorn ice cream, serving each with a perfectly paired glass of vino.


But before the ice cream arrived to each table (and after a few glasses of wine had been imbibed), the richest part of the evening occurred—dinner-goers had the chance to ask the featured artist any question, bringing about a wealth of insight into Mr. Abrishami’s work, such as when he said in reference to his use of bold colors:


This is my dream. I like for life to be like this—full of color, full of dancing, playing, drinking. Always, everybody loves to have that fun. Black and white is reality. It's just black and white. It's very strong, very harsh, very intense.



Another guest asked: "Your faces are so interesting. It seems like the eyes are closed. And when I think of having closed eyes, I think of someone being very happy, experiencing a moment of deep, intense joy. Am I on the right track?"


To which Hessam answered: Exactly, I am not going to pay attention to the details. I am very professional, I know all the anatomy, all muscles perfectly. I know that. But I don't want to do that. I try to show a little bit of the subject so you can figure out what subject it is, then you finish the painting with your interpretation. This is my goal.



And over ice cream came the aforementioned convo about butts, prompting Mr. Abrishami and his son and business manager Kevah to whip out their iPhones and pull up various pics of Hessam's paintings, trying to decide which had the best butt of all—a real and perfect ending to one of the most enlightening, inspiring dinners I’ve ever had.



Though there won't be another artist dinner until 2014 (I recommend attending one when they're back...), the Mary Martin Gallery and Vendue Inn will be teaming up throughout the year to bring us receptions for their featured artists on the first Thursdays of each month (6 p.m. at the Vendue Inn). Contact the Inn for information on these upcoming events, and be sure to stop by Broad Street’s Mary Martin Gallery this month to see Mr. Abrishami’s work.