The Inspiring Illustrations of Iranian Master Morteza Momayez

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Meshki Publication, in collaboration with the Morteza Momayez Foundation, has released a two-volume book titled All Illustrations By Morteza Momayez. The work featured within not only depicts a wide range of stories, articles and anecdotes of Iranian and world literature and poetry, but showcases Momayez’s global graphic design. While using Persian painting and lithographic techniques, Momayez (1935–2005) was also inspired by the world’s contemporary illustrators, and it is in this interaction that his unique perspective manifested.

In general, Momayez held that illustration is measured in two ways:

“First is the illustrator’s capability to convey his correct and artistic perceptions of the subject. … The second value of any work is the executive skill put into the work, and the executive power of an illustrator is a subject that more or less everyone is familiar with because it provides the spectators with an objective result.” (Words of Experience: Collected Articles 1966–2003)

All Illustrations By Morteza Momayez brings together a variety of the artist’s work in magazines, books, calendars, plays, animations, etc., and at the same time, represents a collection of technical skills and experiments using various tools such as pencils, pens and brushes, as well as ink, charcoal and a variety of Zipatone sheets—in addition to glassy, craft and textured papers, which, with the full knowledge of their function, he used delicately for his visual language. He employed a wide range of methods to add variety to his work, from cotton and ink, which he deployed for textured surfaces, to creating a dark setting by scraping the surface of cardboard with a razor, to generating textures using text instead of halftones. Like the pieces of a puzzle, those illustrations form the bigger picture of the designer’s work. They carry innumerable colors, composition, harmony and variable ideas, creating the designer’s deeper world in the form of a great symphony.

One could call the Ketab-e Hafte (Book of the Week) illustrations (1961–1963) the visual manifesto of Momayez—and about 600 pages of his new books are devoted to these pieces. The adept use of thin and thick strokes, depending on the subject, such as Mali Ni and Two Blue Birds, or a well-crafted fusion of cartoon and illustration, along with planning, perspective and setting, such as the story of Incheh and A Stranger in the Village, are good examples of his works in this period; they represent experimental pieces that can later be seen in his scenic design projects. While skilled at simplifying forms and images, Momayez also paid attention to the deformation of human anatomy and presented his distinctive tone in the story of A Woman for Sale. Moreover, he connected his illustration subjects to different cultures, such as the Indian story The Dawn, the Russian story The Lower Depths and the Japanese story The Smoke of Mount Fuji Summit.

In the interwoven selection of Tales of Rumi’s Masnavi (1964), the anecdotes from the familiar treasure of classical Persian poetry are presented in the form of cartoon-like illustrations with deformations of the human body and face in a linear and thought-provoking tone.

The black-and-white illustrations of Quran Stories (1966) include a narrative of religious stories with dramatic atmospheres. By removing and scratching the positive surfaces, the designer highlighted and deepened the negative and white spaces on the cardboard surface so that various atmospheres and characters could emerge from within.

The illustrations of Farhang-o Zendegi (Culture and Life) magazine (1969–1972) were the beginning of distinct experiments inspired by contemporary global work, especially by Polish and German illustrators. Collage-like images were used many times as repetition, deletion and exaggeration contributed to the expression of the concepts.

In selected stories of Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh (1974), Momayez created a marvelous collection of illustrations by the clever use and recognition of simplified forms and the creation of surfaces with spot-color rendering. Myths, heroes and characters are illustrated with different techniques, and that is how they find their own language. One can discover the inspiring backgrounds of these works in Persian paintings and lithographic illustrations, and also figure out how the artist achieved new methods due to his deep understanding of tradition and culture.

The seven-year illustration period of Roudaki magazine (1971–1978) included a fusion of a collection of previously experimented techniques, collages and compositional forms, in which the main focus is on humans and their faces. The illustrated portraits of many Iranian cultural figures are a significant part of this collection. In the majority of Momayez’s works in this period, pens were replaced by scissors, and the use of photography featured, as well as mechanical methods such as photocopying. The results of those experiments are abundantly found in his movie posters of the 1970s, along with book cover designs of the ’80s and ’90s, which continued for years in illustrations for Donyaye Sokhan and Goftegoo magazines, where different objects like photo frames, glasses, windows, trees, etc., enriched the atmosphere and conceptual expression of the works. The deformation of the human form is proportionally minimized, and the humanist point of view, as it began with illustrations in Farhang-o Zendegi magazine, dominated the works of this period, when perhaps the designer’s visual language took shape more than ever.

In the illustrations of the monthly magazine Goftegoo (1994–2001)—which coincides with the introduction of PCs in design studios, the use of graphic design software and the production of images by desktop printers—we observe different output from Momayez. Emphasizing his personal tone using software filters and disregarding the printer’s streaks and imperfections in black and gray surfaces, Momayez delivered an eye-catching representation of the transition period.

His experimental illustrations are a selection of abstract works that were published in those years. (Though it is not clear whether Momayez had actually created those works in that period or not!) However, one can trace some of these illustrations to his earlier works. They are also regarded as a kind of meditation for the designer. All of those pieces, seemingly unfinished, complement each other. And at the same time, being unfinished bears an expression within that is somehow perceived as complete.

Not only was Momayez a maestro in creating posters, book and magazine covers, and logos and logotypes, he holds an irreplaceable place in contemporary illustration and the visual arts. Each of his works, whether looked at separately or collectively, expresses a unique dramatism and the poetic spirit of a contemporary artist and designer.