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Davood Roostaei is an Iranian-American contemporary artist and the founder of Cryptorealism.  His work has been described by the renowned American art historian and critic, Albert Boime, as magical eclecticism. Roostaei believes that art should have an immediate impact on the viewer but also evoke one’s imagination and emotions. He achieves this in his paintings by engaging the viewer in a game of optical hide-and-seek, overlaying levels of images beneath a Pollock-esque spattering of color, which adds an energetic and primal effect to his work.  In this way, he makes the viewer an active participant in the revelation of meaning. Roostaei draws upon the influence of myriad art movements to produce his own unique and revolutionary style known as Cryptorealism – a designation bestowed by the renowned German art historian and critic, Hanns Theodor Flemming. Cryptorealism has been characterized as an art form of enigmatic expression – at first glance having abstract-tachist influence, though upon closer examination, unveils clear motifs revealed through thoughtfully layered images. Roostaei aims to give meaning to the chaos of reality through his work, shedding light upon the human condition through the acknowledgment and juxtaposing of our spiritual needs and animal appetites.

Born in Iran in 1959, Roostaei began his artistic journey as a child, taking inspiration from the gardens of his family home. He would eventually go on to study art at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Tehran where he further developed his talents. In 1981, Roostaei’s art was shown for the first time as a part of a group cultural art tour which included the countries of Egypt, India, and the then Soviet Union.  However, he did not travel with the art show but remained in Iran where he engaged in Graffiti art which the regime deemed subversive, and for which he was imprisoned for two years. Upon his release, Roostaei took his ambitions to Germany when life began again as an artist in 1984. In Germany, he continued his art studies at the Kunst für Hochschule in Cologne and later at the University of Fine Arts of Hamburg and developed a career as an artist.  It is there that he was able to master his artistic techniques, ranging from those of the Old Masters – including the restoration and creation of frescoes, to Impressionism and Surrealism. Roostaei decided to cast aside the paintbrush in 1986. He solely uses his fingers in executing his paintings, enabling him to viscerally connect with his work. Roostaei came to realize the need for a new way to express his artistic visions that could reconcile all that he had seen and experienced in both art and life. It was this realization that led to the development of Cryptorealism in 1990.

Davood Roostaei, Technology Vs. Technology, 2021. © Davood Roostaei.

Roostaei’s inspirations span the boundaries of time and culture. His work is heavily influenced by historical events and figures, though his rendering of them defies the limits of perceptible reality. Roostaei has a unique ability to see into the heart of his subject matters, extracting deep and profound meaning which he thoughtfully reveals through his Cryptorealistic paintings. It is this multidimensional aspect of his work which truly sets Cryptorealism apart from previous artistic styles. Though much of his influence stems from other movements in art history, he brings them together in an eclectic and integrated way to express his ideas in a way that is all of his own. It is in the mingling of seemingly disparate images that Roostaei’s vision truly comes to life. His work is approachable at glance, but a deeper meaning emerges when one investigates the relativity of each image contained within. It is not uncommon for Roostaei to blend images from different historical eras to produce a thoughtful commentary of modern-day life. His ability to draw comparisons between past and present events has given his work a predictive quality at times, such as his depicted anticipation of the fall of the Berlin wall prior to its occurrence in 1989.

Davood Roostaei in his Los Angeles studio, January 2021. Photo by Hugh Foster.

Davood Roostaei, Technology Vs. Technology, 2021. © Davood Roostaei.

Roostaei believes that art should have a sacred status and raise us to a higher moral and spiritual plane. He is committed to the human cause and aims to convey his message of fraternity and tolerance in his works. He not only illustrates and challenges notions of historical and present societal injustices but seeks to rectify them in both his art and his deeds, donating a portion of the proceeds from his work to a range of worthy causes globally.

Enamored with both the art scene and the beauty of the natural environment, Roostaei relocated to Los Angeles in 2000–a locale which he predicted would allow him the freedom of expression he desired in order to fully execute his artistic visions. Through his art, Roostaei has connected with and paid homage to many public figures past and present, an endeavor that has won him many loyal followers of all walks of life.

Davood Roostaei, A Cryptic Message, 1990. Courtesy of Shophet collection. © Davood Roostaei.

Cryptorealism, in the words of German writer Helmut Orpel, “endeavors to solve the mysteries of this world and to make them intelligible to us”. Indeed, Roostaei aims to shine a light of meaning on ordinary life through his work and his deeds, asking us to look beyond what is readily perceptible and to imagine the broader possibilities that lie before us.

A collection of writings about his work was published in 2007 in a book called “Davood Roostaei and the Manifesto of Cryptorealism.” This book delves into his artistic world and its mysteries. Despite the global COVID-19 pandemic, the artist continues to follow his passion. He remains hopeful in his intention to present a series of his most recent works at an exhibition at Beijing’s Museum of Contemporary Art this year.

LA Weekly