Jason Noushin made his first foray into art at the age of 10, painting political graffiti in Iran during the revolution. Three decades, three countries, and three careers later, his work has been selected for a prominent exhibition focusing on comtemporary artists from around New England.
The 14-artist show, called the 2016 deCordova Biennial, will run this coming October until next March at deCordova Sculpture Park in Lincoln, Mass., a showcase of the breadth and quality of the region’s — and in Noushin’s case, New Haven’s — art.
“I grew up seeing victimization firsthand. That’s something you can’t divorce yourself from,” Noushin said. Much like the illuminated deer skull perched atop his fireplace in his home, the artist himself sports two gold teeth and a million-dollar smile. “My work exists to exorcise, keeping me sane and happy. Somebody else can make statements.”
Born in England, Noushin’s half-Iranian family moved to Iran until the Revolution. His aunt, who owned a gallery in Tehran, stayed behind; according to Noushin, she was imprisoned and was never the same afterward. In Paris, Noushin was gifted his first easel, brushes, and canvases. The family moved back to Iran, but fled when Noushin was nearly drafted into Iran’s war with Iraq. He was 13.
As a younger man, Noushin traveled the globe as a professional model. He moved to America in 1997, worked as an antiquarian book seller, and started painting again. He thought about settling in Stamford to be closer to New York, but the Elm City had all the qualities he was looking for: It was a college town with great restaurants, culture, theatre, museums, an international population, and a burgeoning artist community.
“We have a great wealth of art talent here, but it’s underutilized,” Noushin said. “Yale’s art galleries are exceptional and a great resource with potential for unifying the larger art community. Just last week I participated in a printmaking workshop at Yale Art School which was free and open to the public. This is one type of event which, if expanded, could unite and integrate the larger art community with Yale.”
Today Noushin lives in Hamden, having moved from Westville with his wife after their first son was born. “At the time Westville was too pricey, or I think we would have stayed and became more integrated in the art community there,” Noushin said.
Although Noushin has made his home in the New Haven area, he still sees himself as an outsider. He did not go to Yale and does not hold an MFA. “Without a certain pedigree it’s very difficult to get noticed,” Noushin said. But he found opportunity in New Haven. Encouraged by other artists living in Whitneyville, in 2008 Noushin submitted a drawing for an annual show juried by the New Haven Paint and Clay Club and held at The John Slade Ely House. He won the $500 club prize. Ever since he has been a club member, participating in annual exhibitions. In 2009 and 2010, he was invited to exhibit work from the Bosnia series at SCSU. In 2012, a proposal he submitted for the summer exhibit at Creative Arts Workshop was accepted. Noushin has contributed to Open Studios for the past 4 years and contributed work to an Artspace fundraiser in April 2015.
“Artspace provides enormous support and opportunity for New Haven artists, without which a massive void would exist here,” Noushin said.
After Noushin sold out Rogue Space Gallery in Chelsea last November, selling nearly every piece of work on display in one night, his wife allowed him to move the dining room table into the living room so he could convert their dining room into a studio adjacent the kitchen, where the artist brews delicious tea that he also uses to stain sketches and canvas.
“I was drinking my tea and I thought, this is perfect.” Noushin said. “And it’s organic.”
As an antiquarian book dealer, Noushin felt inspired to use damaged or incomplete papers, dating back to around 1822, as canvases for his sketches. He continues to love working with his material, making his own canvases practically from scratch.
Language is another raw material for Noushin. He pores through classics of Western literature for key stanzas and passages. Shakespeare, Spenser, and much of the English canon are transcribed into Farsi across Noushin’s sprawling paintings. He learned Farsi as a child, but he abandoned it at his first opportunity. Only last year did he pick it up again. Now, the beauty and severity of Arabic calligraphy is reflected in Noushin’s work. Because the Farsi is transcribed directly from English, the text itself remains unintelligible to any who do not speak both languages. His works often continue onto the stretcher bar, where he writes his titles in English — “graffiti style,” as he said, “so everybody has something they can read.”
Noushin has returned a few times to the image of the wife of a Cambodian dignitary whose photo was snapped as she was disappeared with her baby during the Cambodian genocide. Noushin came across her picture while doing research on the Bosnian genocide. Subtle nuances humanize the subject.
Raw nature invariably finds its way into Noushin’s work as well. “from a footprint in the snow to a dead frog in the street.” His sculpture The Faerie Queene incorporates deer vertebrae and a femur. He often collects detritus he finds while hiking with his family along West Rock Ridge, Lake Wintergreen, and Sleeping Giant. He keeps an incomplete raccoon skeleton in a Ziploc bag beside a deconstructed wasp nest and a string of variously hued, mummified frogs his kids helped paint. In his sketchbook he has pressed toads, like grotesque flowers, beside onion-skin sketches of Victorian aristocrats.
“I have a bat in my freezer. I’m not sure what I’ll do with it yet,” Noushin said. “The humming bird I am holding off on until it really decomposes. It’s such a beautiful creature.”