Dirty Words & A Melody: Morteza Khakshoor

27 September - 20 October 2022


27.9 - 20.10.22


Morteza Khakshoor’s paintings capture fragments of possible narratives. These psychically charged moments provide fleeting glimpses into mysterious lives, raising as many questions as they answer. Like dirty words set to a familiar tune, Khakshoor’s playful images delight and titillate viewers, pulling them in to a world of gleaming fictions.


The artist’s practice is rooted in drawing, which he uses as a tool for deep observation, capturing imagery that catches his imagination. He then works with the resulting drawings, often collaging or combining them in unexpected ways to uncover intriguing juxtapositions. Through a process of visual free associations, narratives begin to emerge as disparate elements come together, speaking to the power of accident and chance. Khakshoor’s ideas come from the unconscious and the imagination, mixing imagery from past and present realities with surreal elements. 


The artist is particularly interested in male bodies and personas, depicting scenes of homosocial activities and environments in which men carry out unexplained or obscure activities. The paintings explore masculine behaviours and modes of self-representation, recognising that many dominant traditions and histories are shaped by male narratives. Some of Khakshoor’s works point subtly to his ongoing interest in the recent history of Iran, the country in which he grew up. Iranian public figures appear sporadically, speaking to an interest in the complexities of how individuals in the public eye present themselves and are represented by others. 


Dirty Words and a Melody features a theatrical cast of characters, inspired in part by the tragicomical world of Shakespeare and the famous adaptations of the writer’s plays Khakshoor watched on Iranian television as a child. In theatre, interior states of characters are constructed through their words and actions; these paintings similarly build worlds and characters from external signs, allowing backgrounds and storylines to emerge freely in the minds of both artist and viewers. 


Evoking dreamlike states or skewed fantasies, these fragmentary fictions are imbued with a sense of disquiet or discomfort; shadows are uncannily misaligned with their subjects while bright colours bely solemn faces. However, there is also a strong sense of playfulness and mischievousness throughout the exhibition. The protagonists of the paintings frequently appear in states of undress or engaging in acts that usually take place behind closed doors. These scenes of naughtiness point to the social construction of shame and the seductiveness of scandal. 


As viewers, we are transformed into voyeurs, enticed by the blurring of boundaries between public and private, and titillated by the delightful unseemliness of Khakshoor’s visual world. Throughout Dirty Words and a Melody, the artist invites us to examine the manifestations of the subconscious, to come face-to-face with an uneasy beauty that hovers between the banal, the humorous, and the mysteriously profound. 


- Anna Souter