Born in Karaj, Iran in 1981, Mehdi Ghadyanloo combines minimalist themes and a surrealist aesthetic in his trompe-l’œil paintings, using acrylic, oil, or watercolor. He began his career as a muralist in Tehran in the early 2000s, when, following a call for proposals by the city, he produced almost one thousand gigantic wall paintings, including dreamlike landscapes and science-fiction scenes.
Designed by the Shah as a modern city organized around cars and copying the Western modernism of Los Angeles, Tehran was in the midst of large-scale modernization projects, which were abruptly suspended by the Islamic Revolution. Thus, many buildings were only half-constructed or had just one or two visible façades with big empty spaces — an ideal medium for wall painting. When the new regime took power, Islamic authorities emphasized two types of propaganda murals, either featuring the martyrs of the Revolution with bloody, heroic narratives or inspired by the Socialist realism of the Soviet Union. In this very particular political and aesthetic context, Mehdi Ghadyanloo developed his surrealist-inspired trompe-l’œil frescoes, which were often ambiguous and always dreamlike, and which represented a utopian rebellion against the grayness of daily life — a blue sky amidst atmospheric pollution and trees and horses where there was only gloomy concrete. As director Agnès Varda noted with tenderness and humor in her 1981 documentary Mur Murs about the murals of Los Angeles: “The walls that already had ears have eyes and a mouth — they say everything.”
- Martha Kirszenbaum