On his studio floor, in the basement of his Baker Drive home, Reza Doust has the outline of his native country of Iran.
He drew the shape in black paint more than 20 years ago, when he settled in Coquitlam with his wife to raise their children and to continue his craft in a safe place.
The map has, for the most part, faded or been covered in colourful oil splatters but it’s no matter, he said: His love for Iran, the country he escaped 40 years ago, remains true.
Doust’s latest collection is a testament to his deep devotion to his native land, depicting various iterations of the same unknown girl holding a flower. He came to adore her image long ago while growing up and studying and selling art in Esphahan, the historical capital of Safavieh that’s known for its traditional art and literature.
Doust got the idea for his new series, titled 40 Different Narratives, after a visit to Iran in 2017. At the time, he had his first solo show at the Contemporary Art Museum of Isfahan and, during his stay, he returned to his childhood home, where only part of one wall (of the room he was born in) remained. The rest had been bulldozed despite his house being one of the oldest structures in the neighbourhood.
That loss — combined with his early memories of his homeland — sparked the young girl painting collection, which he based on a picture by Mirza Ali from the 16th century. The symbol, he said, represents innocence and peace but it also contrasts with his “40 years of unwanted exile.”
After Doust’s visit three years ago, “I continuously painted her. To me, it’s one of the most beautiful paintings. It reminds me of home,” he said.
Jan. 11, Doust wrapped up a three-week exhibit of 40 Different Narratives at the Alhosh Gallery, a converted fire station in Doha, Qatar. It was the first time he’d displayed his work there and the exhibition was well received, he said, especially in combination with his workshop presentations (Doust was invited to display his art after attending the Arab Gathering for Fine Arts in Qatar last March).
Now, he said, the 40 pieces are being shipped to Kuwait — the country Doust and family left for in 1993, seven years after he graduated with a fine arts degree from Tehran University — for another exhibit at a private gallery that’s new to him.
And this summer, his art is expected to head back to Doha to be seen in The Museum of Islamic Art. As in Doha, the 40 pieces — each measuring 6’ by 4’ and painted on a fabric cloth canvas, mimicking an advertising banner — will be hung the same way as in his Coquitlam studio: with push pins and no frames.
Doust is unsure if he’ll show his series in Canada as he’s currently concentrating on portraits. In his studio, Doust has a couple of works in progress, including one of a refugee cradling his baby; another is of a queen with poetic script etched across her body.
Still, his most recent collections are the opposite of his 2017 works, when he captured the seasons around his Coquitlam neighbours’ homes; that en plein air landscape project was exhibited at the Silk Art Gallery in Port Moody.
As for the faded map, Doust said it grounds him as he paints.
“I miss Iran,” he said, “but I am here now. I feel like this is where I belong.”