Akbar Behkalam is interviewed by Beate Winkler

Beate Winkler: Akbar, I’ve known you for twenty years,we’ve been friends for almost as long and I have followed your development. It strikes me that your pictures increasingly deal less with specific themes, particularly political ones, and have become non-representational. Is this how you see it, too?

Akbar Behkalam:The world changes and so do I. It’s almost like a huge river that carries me along with it, accompanies me, surrounds me, changes me. We all change constantly and this is reflected in politics, in art, in painting. I’ve remained a painter, but have become clearer and lighter, more precise in my perception. I used to take concrete themes as my starting point. Today I play more with colors and forms. I’ve also preserved my own individual continuity in my playful approach. My recent paintings also reflect many old forms. They are part of me, e.g. the theme “motion”. And this is where my past and my dialog with it plays a role, questions such as “who am I?”,“why am I here?”. And here I’m interested in combining the old with the new, as well as re-solving contradictions, such as having found a home while at the same time being homeless. These are aspects that influence me, as well as the fact that I am still in a minority in Germany.

Beate Winkler: Colors and forms are now also influenced by another continent, South America, and another country, Brazil. How do you see this?

Akbar Behkalam: Brazil is an entirely new dimension for me. It is not only the colors, such as green and gray, it’s also the light. Brazil is brighter, clearer, lighter; it inspires me. I look for, try out and find out new things. I want to develop new dimensions for myself. This is what fulfills me. I encountered a greyness of tranquillity in Brazil, a greyness of vast expanses that I had never experienced before. And green as well! At the coast there aren’t forests like the ones here, but there’s a completely different dimension of green in the trees. And it’s particularly these trees that so often fascinate me, that have their own special appeal. But it is also the way of life in Brazil which has influenced me, changed me. The life I live there is one which is entirely shaped by painting, lets me concentrate on painting. The first times I was in Brazil I lived in workshops with other painters. That inspired me. Working together in a single space – of course only for a limited period – experiencing others in this communal life style,and then there’s the climate! Now I go to Brazil simply to paint and to concentrate. The summer is hot when it is still dark and gloomy in Europe. What warms me is the light. I have devoted a lot of time to it, listened to the light, heard nature and the environment. And then you very quickly have a new way of finding your inner voice.

Beate Winkler: When you look back what was the most amazing thing for you?

Akbar Behkalam: What is in flux, what is always in motion, but, at the same time, being able to find something that can be called home; I have found it here in Berlin with my wife and my children – also a part of this European culture, being in Germany.

Beate Winkler: And looking ahead to what the future holds in store?

Akbar Behkalam: Generally, I don’t want to achieve anything entirely different, don’t want to go in a completely different direction, but stay with what I have and reveal the lightness there, understand things from within. And it is this lightness that is so hard to achieve. There is a Chinese parable that makes this very clear. A painter, asked to paint a cockerel, said: “That will take me six months!”. The client said,“okay, so be it!”. He went away and returned after six months and no picture had been painted. He was incensed and asked: “Where’s the painting?”The painter went to his canvas and with ease and rapidly painted a completely beautiful cockerel within two seconds. Turning to the client, he said: “I needed six months to achieve this state of lightness!” Lightness only comes after heaviness and is the result of both: dialog and careful observation. It is the result of a permanent experiment. This is the way that poetic paintings are created, the way lightness is created. A painter needs a lot of time for this, and when he changes something this also has profound consequences in other areas. What will certainly stay with me is the theme of change. It is the only theme that I have continuously been involved with and it will remain with me. It is the symbol of a flow that is in permanent motion, in other words life. New things have come along, and I will certainly integrate them in my work to a greater extent in future. This is the small form, which has become ever more important for me alongside the large one. I am happy about this discovery. There’s so much more I’d like to do, and I dream about being able to do more in the future. But it’s also everyday life, it’s political circumstances that shape everyone of us. For example, the opening of the Berlin Wall changed me with all its undeniable advantages, without denying the disadvantages it produced.

Beate Winkler: And how do you see your situation now?

Akbar Behkalam:
What I have observed is that at 50 I once again have even more energy– perhaps also because I’ve realized that I’ve always managed to find some kind of a solution to all the problems that I undoubtedly had. It’s frightening if you can’t do this anymore, if you can’t find any answers. But, despite all my certainty, I am still anxious, anxious about insecurity in old age, anxious I’ll no longer have the energy I once had, anxious about losing my wife or being detained in Iran. But these are things I prefer not to think about. I try to concentrate on what is positive, on the possibilities I haven’t had so far or haven’t made sufficient use of: painting diaries, being more relaxed, rediscovering what is around me, greater appreciation of the small and the simple, and the different cultures that are part of my soul and have guided me from heaviness to lightness. I’m from the Orient and I live in Berlin. I do most of my work in Brazil. All of this has contributed to my development and enriched me, but in the past these things gave me heaviness. Now I’m in a position in which heaviness can be lightness and soar with me.

[taken from the catalog "Crossing Borders"]