Photography by Ryan Magnani
an artist's journey with behnaz sohrabian
BY KIANA MORIDI
Having a conversation with Iranian-American painter, Behnaz Sohrabian is like listening to a comforting poem full of creative wisdom and sound advice. The artist, often known for creating realism paintings and portraits, is equal parts sensitive and strong, and has lived a life full of change and adaptation that most immigrants alike can relate to.
“We experience many things in our lives—both good and bad,” she says as her eyes do a nostalgic dance, thinking back on her journey to this point. “When you create something—when you write a poem or draw or paint—your experiences subconsciously come through your art.”
Born and raised in Iran, Behnaz quickly took a liking to the arts, and began her creative journey at just 10 years old. “My mom enrolled me in Nima Petgar’s [famous Iranian artist] classes,” she says. “His classes were actually designed for adults, and I was one of only three 10-year-olds in the class. It was difficult to be a child among adult artists, but I tried to cope and learn as much as I could along the way.”
As most paths are never straight and narrow, so was the case for Behnaz’s art career. In 1979, the Iranian Revolution took over and turned her home country upside down. “It wasn’t a good situation for many families, and it wasn’t safe for my parents to take me to art class,” she says. Forced to paint from home, Behnaz continued her art through self-teaching and discipline. She went on to get her BA in Applied Chemistry from Azad University, then on to get her second BA in Painting from Alzahra University. With training in both logic and creativity, Behnaz then earned her MA in Art Studies from University of Art in Tehran, which is the largest art university in Iran, infamous for churning out famous artists and creatives alike.
Behnaz attributes her use of strong lines in her paintings to her upbringing in Iran, which became riddled with division and struggle after the revolution. “I believe that an artist’s nationality comes through their work. You cannot deny your roots—it comes through your art subconsciously. For example, if you compare my work to a French artist, it’s different. Their lines are often quiet and soft. A French artist has most likely lived in a peaceful country, and that shows through their work,” she says. “But my whole life has had ups and downs with the political and social problems of my home country. These have all had an effect on my work and my personality. When I paint, my lines can be very strong at times. My lines are strong because of where I come from and what I’ve been through.”
As is the case for many creatives, getting to a place of being a full-time artist was not an easy road for Behnaz. In 2010, the artist left her home country and moved to America to join her sister and start a new life with her youngest daughter. “As an immigrant, it’s not easy to change where you live,” she says. “Even just moving from one state to another is difficult. Just imagine moving from one country to another with a different language and culture. When I moved here, I was middle-aged. My personality and character had already developed. It was difficult at that age, but American people helped me because, to me, they’re so warm and friendly, and they supported my art.” As Behnaz continued to paint from home, the artist was welcomed with open arms in the Oklahoma art community, selling her first commission piece just months after making the move to America.
Behnaz’s work and personality is a testament to her upbringing in Iran. Patient and steady, yet strong and outspoken—a result of living through struggle and revolution in her homeland. Her ability to adapt to her paintings as they evolve mirrors her graciousness to the ebs and flows of her life.
“My work, like my life, has different layers. When I start painting a piece for myself, I don’t have any idea what I’m going to paint,” she says. “I just put down colors, strong or soft lines, I cover it, and then I add on. Sometimes I’ll start with an abstract structure, and then it’ll turn into a landscape piece. Starting my work with no expectations gives me inspiration and guides me because to me, creativity isn’t a physical destination. It’s a path, it takes times, and has many stages.”