Name: Jelbert Karami
Hometown: Tehran, Iran
How was life growing up in Iran? It might differ for each individual. As a growing artist, it was hard. But if you seek a pathway, you will succeed. In general, human beings are always in reach of brightness which comes from darkness itself and for me that brightness is art.
Why was it hard to be an artist in Iran? It was challenging for many reasons. The cost of education in Iran is extremely high and it is not affordable for many people. Also, there is a limitation on what is allowed to be painted! For example, a nude body is not allowed to be present in an exhibition.
What is the Assyrian community like in Iran? The Assyrian community is minor in Iran’s majority. This matter affects the community in both positive and negative ways.
Can you tell us more about the positives and negatives? The positive side is that one gets known very quickly. On the other hand, there will be eyes on you at all time which is the negative side of it.
How did you first get interested in drawing or painting? At the age of 14 I saw a figurative painting which inspired me.
Where was the painting? It was Sohrab Sepehri’s work displayed at Tehran's Museum of Contemporary Art.
Did your family support your painting? No! It started as a hobby and evolved later as a profession.
Why didn't your family support you at first? They wanted me to study and work in a different field; they did not believe this is a job that I can make money out of. Later, they felt my passion and began supporting me. Today, they are very proud of me and my works.
What materials do you use for your art? Materials mostly used are ink, rapid, pen, gouache, pencils, color pencils and different types of woods.
Which is your favorite material to work with? Rapid and pen are my favorite and I use them in most of my works.
Where are some places that your artwork has been showcased? I had two exhibitions held in California so far and around 20 exhibitions were held in Iran.
When did you move to the U.S.? I first moved to Vienna, Austria. I spent a few months there and then came to the U.S. in 2016.
Do you have any upcoming exhibits planned? I’m currently working on a few exhibits in California.
What does art mean to you? Art is like stairs in which I use to express my thoughts and ideas.
One of your paintings is my iPhone's wallpaper because I really like it. How do you react to other people's reaction to your artwork? Has there been a comment from someone that has stuck with you? What interests me is the way my artwork affects people. I often like asking their opinion and their thoughts because each person has a different point of view which is really interesting to me. There have been comments that were given and have stuck with me. I get my ideas from the community, therefore, their comments are important for me.
What inspires your artwork? Community!
Who are some of your favorite artists and why? There are many artists that I like, but my favorite is Caravaggio, an Italian painter. All his paintings are incredible masterpieces, but what I love mostly about this amazing painter is the way he used technique to create a contrast between brightness and darkness. My other favorites are Iranian contemporary artists such as Bahman Mohasses, Hannibal Alkhas [an Assyrian] and many more. What I like mostly about these artists is the way their artwork extends my vision.
What is your favorite painting? Why? My favorite is “The incredulity of Saint Thomas,” by Caravaggio because of the subject and the contrast techniques used in the painting.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to start painting, but is reluctant to do so? I've got three [pieces of] advice for them: first, learn; second, learn; and third, learn.
Do you sell any of your art? Where can someone purchase a painting? Yes! I’ve sold a lot of my artworks. My artworks are mostly found in my exhibitions in different galleries and through social media such as Facebook. People are able to view my artworks and connect with me. Soon a website will be launched.
What do you feel when you see the dire situation of the Assyrians in the Middle East? Does that in some way affect your art? Seeing my history getting vanished, it definitely hurts. It does affect my art not only the dire situation that occur in Middle East, but also other matters that take place as well.
Any final thoughts? My final thought is that by patience you can survive and reach success.
Portions of this interview have been edited.