The art of writing beautifully

Payman Hamed was born in what he calls “the mystical world of Persian calligraphy”.

Her father taught her the art of writing beautifully with reed quill and ink. At the age of six, Hamed learned to write his first words in the Nas’taliq Persian calligraphy style, originating in 14th century Iran.

For Hamed, calligraphy is an important daily ritual. “Just like people who practice every day or those who meditate every morning, we calligraphers appreciate the therapeutic healing power of pen and ink,” he says.

In addition to his own practice, Hamed is part of a larger effort to keep this art form alive as a creator, calligraphy teacher and active member of the Iranian Calligraphers Association.

Determined to continue this tradition, the Association of Iranian Calligraphers (established in 1951) has made it its mission to safeguard this ancient art form. They have developed a program to expand formal public training in calligraphy. They published books and pamphlets, organized art exhibitions and developed university programs. Their efforts were recognized by UNESCO in 2021, when the “National Program for Safeguarding the Traditional Art of Calligraphy in Iran” was inscribed on the Register of Good Backup Practices.

Hamed and two of his colleagues, Shabnam Fotoohi and Mojgan Hannani, demonstrate Persian calligraphy, interact with visitors and answer questions at the Getty Villa through June 13 as part of the Persia: Ancient Iran and the Classic World.

We caught up with Hamed to discuss his love for the written word.

Photo courtesy of Payman Hamed

A man sits at a table holding a calligraphy brush while two children hold up their names in Persian calligraphy.

Payman Hamed creating a name illustration in a Persian calligraphy demonstration at the Getty Villa. May 2022

Emilia Sánchez González: You started practicing calligraphy at a very young age and you continue to this day. What do you think is behind your dedication to the art of calligraphy?

Payman Hamed: When one delves deep enough into Persian calligraphy and is exposed to the literature behind it, one never gives up. They just want more and more. Persian calligraphy not only inspires us with the words of wisdom behind the poems and quotes we write, it also helps us center ourselves, feel good, and release all the tension and stress everyday life might present to us. .

Words can influence our lives in magical ways. Having a sophisticated spoken language is what sets us apart from all other species on the planet. People are becoming more and more aware of the heavenly power of the written word. Wonderful things happen when you have an inspirational quote written as a piece of art that you see every day. This daily reaffirmation reshapes our identity and positively impacts our lives in tremendous ways.

ESG: Are there specific types of utensils, inks and surfaces that you prefer to work with?

pH: Yes. Traditional Persian calligraphy pens are made from reed, but not every type of reed can become a quality calligraphy pen. Ink, paper and notepads are the other important components of this whole equation. Of course, a Persian calligrapher must have a solid understanding of how these different components interact with each other and what kind of relationship they establish with each other.

Speaking of working surfaces, there is a new one that makes us believe that we are at the beginning of a golden age for the art of Persian calligraphy. In past centuries, Persian calligraphy has traditionally been presented on paper. Over the past three decades, however, the art of Persian calligraphy has pivoted to a new surface: the canvas. In the early 90s, the idea of ​​creating Persian calligraphy on canvas seemed bizarre; Nowadays, we find that Persian calligraphy writing on canvas is more popular than ever.

Contemporary works by some of Iran’s great masters are auctioned on international markets for over a million dollars! This is unprecedented in the entire history of writing.

ESG: The art of calligraphy is becoming increasingly popular in Iran and abroad, and we are seeing a myriad of new styles emerging. How do you choose to approach the question of tradition and style in your courses?

pH: I have always believed in innovation and the audacity to come up with new ideas. However, I also strongly believe that classic training rituals are the essential framework to follow. There are no shortcuts in Persian calligraphy; the shortest path is the straightest. The classical training is the solid base on which we must rely in order to be able to propose new ideas and create modern art; we would need to know the rules to be able to break them. In our courses, our approach is a carefully designed blend of traditional Persian calligraphy training and modern teaching materials and methods.

ESG: Exciting projects on the horizon?

pH: Yes. My calligraphy course books will be published next September. There will be three books, one for each year of the program, and all lessons come with detailed videos, translation and transliteration.

There is a myth that you have to be Persian or speak the Persian language to be able to learn Persian calligraphy, but that is simply not true. Our courses are designed for an English-speaking audience and for non-Iranian students as well as second-generation Iranian-Americans who do not speak or read Farsi. The objective is to serve a greater number of students while maintaining the quality of teaching at the highest level.

Payman Hamed will give a calligraphy demonstration at the Getty Villa on Monday, June 13.

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