A Spiritual Journey into the World of Art
Our much anticipated interview with one of the most exciting and talented artists of our time was upon us, Ivan Lloyd opened the door and with his humble generosity ushered us in. Excitement came hunting us as we walked into his home, a lovely house surrounded by the mystical mountains of Tucson in Arizona. I apologized we were a bit late, and Ivan smiled saying that’s okay, I am very happy to see you. Ivan had mixed up a bunch of fruit and soda to offer us as we started conversing. He was so peaceful and eager to talk. His twelve year old son, Hashme came to say 'hello' and started cutting cake while his little sister was taking a nap.
I asked a few questions and Ivan said “Are we ready for questions?” I quickly answered “yes, we are if you are.” Ivan showed us to the family room and there we three eager ladies from Treasures of Wonderment, gathered around him as he sat in his arm chair near the fireplace. His warmth and down to earth attitude made us feel at ease as the conversation started around the Arts. Ivan said with a clear voice “It is a gift of God and it is to each one of us to take it and cultivate it. Everyone is an artist but many people are unaware. It is not a question of being talented but of temperament, selfishness and the ability to focus on your muse more than anything else.” We all agreed… “Only people who want something badly or enjoy something immensely and know how to concentrate on it will succeed and be themselves.”Ivan paused and added “yes, you make a choice in life of what is important to you or not. Once you decide what you enjoy doing you must perfect your work and become better at it. It requires hard work, perseverance and sacrifice as you cannot do other things before it. You become your own person and true to yourself.”
Ivan, being a gracious host, noticed our empty glasses and asked us if we wanted more fruit punch. But we were so eager to keep the conversation going, we declined. I asked him how he felt about painting the history of the Bahá’í Faith as I have never seen anyone else doing it. He smiled and crossing his arms he said “Painting for one’s faith is a total sacrifice. It must be done and I am so happy this person is me because I enjoy the work very much. “To do a painting is like drawing images from behind a veil. You have no idea how it will come out which is why it demands a lot of vision to make the painting come alive.” “You must dream to create the unusual.” ...It requires a certain level of insanity; no doubt you are familiar with the feeling. While working, you are alone and surrounded only by your dreams and desire to do a great job. You are in your own world and cannot be disturbed. We are talking about hours of work. Sometimes my paintings take over a year to be completed because they are so involved, complicated and they are telling a story.”
We were mesmerized, as Ivan kept smiling and loved talking about his precious work. What a great honor for us to be in the company of such a humble artist. Ivan seemed to be enjoying our visit. He added that he has also written another book, entitled ‘Vahid’s Feast’ which is being translated into Persian, and tells the story of Vahid one of the most valiant heroes of the Dawn - Breakers. Realizing how involved his work was, one of us asked him “How can you do it while you have a family to take care of? “That’s a very good question” said Ivan. “My family and I live simply, that’s all.” “Many American Artists are getting grants for doing their work but I believe applying for grants affects the creative process adversely so it’s not for me”.
Ivan cited Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema born in the Netherlands in 1836 and died in 1912. He was one of the most renowned painters of late nineteenth-century Britain. Alma-Tadema had studied in Belgium. You had Jean-Léon Gérôme born at Vesoul in Haute Saône, France in 1824 and died in 1904. Both were extremely wealthy, accomplished and famous artists in their day, but rarely mentioned by the fickle writers of contemporary history of art books. There are many examples of celebrated artists falling from grace.
On the other hand you have artists like Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix born in 1798 at Charenton, in Île-de-France near Paris and died in 1863, and Vincent Willem van Gogh born in 1853 in Groot-Zunder in the Southern Netherlands and died in 1890 who was a wonderful Dutch Post-Impressionist. Both of these two artists unknown during their lives are now among the most celebrated artists of their generation." Ivan continued “the quality I most admire in a painting is soul. Not the technique which is superficial and reserved to all commercial things. I do believe one should develop a mastery of the materials, however, so that if one respects them other people will respect your work.”
“Before I painted historical paintings for the Bahá’í Faith, I painted scenery for the theatre including the sets for the ‘Wizard of Oz’ and ‘My Fair Lady’ and our life was much easier. Today, I work on commissions which is a much longer process to complete and sometimes even longer to get paid but we are a very happy family and that is what counts.” “It is really a pure act of faith to do Bahá’í work. That is my reason to be for now. It is the same as an oak tree growing. It is very slow at first because it is huge. Important work and cannot be done quickly. What I do today is “historical work.“ “I think my lack of ambition and ego contributed to being chosen to document the first historical Bahá’í paintings, as I actually stumbled upon the opportunity rather than actively sought after the position. I think you might appreciate the difference.” “I'm uniquely qualified in the most unusual way to do the work, and while I have had a good education I'm hardly a product of the Academy.”
I'm sure you are aware of the station of Jack Kerouac born in 1922 as Jean Louis Kerouac, in Lowell, Massachusetts, an American author, poet and painter and Irwin Allen Ginsberg born in 1926 in Newark, New Jersey. Let’s say the forerunners of The Beat Generation, a term used to describe a group of American writers who came to prominence in the 1950s, as well as the cultural phenomena that they wrote about and inspired (later sometimes called "beatniks"). Central elements of "Beat" culture include rejection of mainstream American values, experimentation with drugs and alternate forms of sexuality, and an interest in Eastern spirituality. They are revered because there was no beat generation poetry before them. It was easy to jump into something new once it is established and popular being part of the process before it was known takes great courage. Hopefully we, who are Bahá’ís today are laying the groundwork for future generations to benefit.
Ivan was captivating as we learned more and more about the arts. While Ivan was talking I found myself thinking about all those artists of the past who painted in European cathedrals the story of Jesus and his disciples. Is Ivan Lloyd like one of them, an artist who will be recognized in years from now? Could it be called “Bahá’í Art?” After all, Christian art is art illustrating the life and times of Jesus and in some cases the Old Testament. Ivan said “it will be in the future but for now it is not characterized as Baha’i Art as there is as yet no Bahá’í Art, Music, Literature or Architecture but there will be in the future. From Letters Written on Behalf of Shoghi Effendi, he wrote: “Although now is only the very beginning of Bahá'í art, yet the friends who feel they are gifted in such matters should endeavor to develop and cultivate their gifts and through their works to reflect, however inadequately, the Divine Spirit which Bahá'u'lláh has breathed into the world. “(4 November 1937) ; “It was a Canadian, of French extraction, who through his vision and skill, was instrumental in conceiving the design, and delineating the features, of the first Mashriqu'l-Adhkar of the west, marking the first attempt, however rudimentary, to express the beauty which Bahá'í art will, in its plenitude, unfold to the eyes of the world.” (1 March 1951, from a postscript by Shoghi Effendi appended to a letter written on his behalf to a National Spiritual Assembly).
We asked Ivan to tell us how his artist life started. He said “for a while, I was doing some layout work for an advertising agency in England when a friend of mine was attending “Ecole des Beaux Arts” of Paris. I decided to become an artist and registered to “Les Beaux Arts”. I was there for 6 months then like many young people of my age, I decided to travel through Europe thinking that I would have no problem making a living as an artist. During the mid-1960s, young people from Europe were traveling to India. You might be too young to remember 1967 but this was at the same time when the US had ’The Summer of Love’, the time of Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys love songs on the beaches of California. In Europe, many young people were drawn to the mystical attraction of traveling to India, Turkey and Afghanistan. People who returned from traveling to the East had a noticeable aura that was most attractive and like many of my generation I felt to be cool I had to do the same. India became everyone’s spiritual center of the world. In some ways I still think that way as I see Haifa more like the administrative capital of the Bahá’í Faith. India marked the beginning of my spiritual journey. Buddhism is what drew me to India. I was enlightened and met many gurus there.”
“The cultural and religious diversity embraced by the hippies had gained widespread acceptance of Eastern philosophy and new spiritual concepts abound throughout the entire planet. I was one of them. The mid-60’s and early 70’s were definitely fascinating years for all young people searching a meaning of life and Ivan was on the road to find a spiritual connection. After India he traveled to Jerusalem just before the Six-Day War in June 1967, a war between Israel and the neighboring states of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria...”
It was a real delight listening to him talk. Ivan continued his story and said “At that time, I decided to return to Europe to open my own Art Gallery, I was tired of traveling.” “Although I knew I would always dedicate my life to the Arts.” “While in Egypt, I made new friends and one of them offered me the opportunity to open an Art Gallery with him in Morocco.” “It was quite exciting and from there I went on to Tangier, a city of northern Morocco.
In those days every foreigner was required to leave the country every 3 months to renew their visa. All one had to do was to leave the country for a day and then come back.” He added “I imagine it is the same for almost all the countries around the world, except India. I was extremely lucky at that time as I was able to take advantage of a special program created by Mohammed V, the Sultan of Morocco, to welcome European Artists to his country. Selected artists were able to stay up to 6 months in each of the studios situated in the Palace gardens of Fez, Marrakech and Casablanca free of charge under a provision from the Sultan of Morocco called a ‘residency program’. He managed to stay in Tangier for over 7 years, where he studied Islamic Art and the Arabic culture for no specific reason other than his sincere desire to study and learn about other cultures.
Ivan said “Moroccan Art is a strict discipline using calligraphy, and the art of writing script in the most beautiful way, and architecture where the culture prohibits the representation or symbolic use of animals in art. To them, involving humans and animals is creating idol-worship while all should revolve around God. Islamic Art developed its unique style focusing on calligraphy, geometry, floral and arabesque. Islam was founded by the Prophet Mohammad in 570 AD; it literally means submitting to the will of God. This is a meaning that can be interpreted in the wrong way as we are seeing all around us. It was not until the Persian culture that you see the limited use of animals and birds represented in carpets and other floral designs.”
I asked Ivan how long does it take for a painting to be done? He replied: “that is a good question. A mural may take from 6 to 12 months to be done. No matter how long it takes, all my projects get done.” “You know, endurance over the years doesn’t bother me because I have a vision and without it, I would go nowhere. It is the same for everyone. Vision is everything for complete happiness and assured success. It is a true formula to follow. For my paintings, I must first draw the historical scene on paper then apply it to the canvas." "Yes everyone can play with paint and brushes, its great therapy and I recommend it for anyone seeking some inner tranquility. Quite often people are anxious to become famous for their paintings, but this requires hard work and patience, a dedication to a developed sense of aesthetics and a clear vision. They need to have a strong foundation and develop their craft. It is helpful, and desirable, to spend many years painting in obscurity so that when you do have some degree of recognition you aren't affected by too much public attention.”
“One might categorize the style of paintings I am working on as Classical Narrative Art. In many ways they may be described as enlarged Persian miniatures, in their precise detail, with the added dimension of European perspective. The paintings are illustrating the history of the Bahá’í Faith and as far as I know I'm the only artist doing this.”
I asked Ivan how he started painting the history, he replied.
“It began in 1986 when I had an exhibition in an Art Gallery in Tucson and first met Marguerite Sears who was accompanied by Barry Horst, a client who had purchased a couple of paintings from the exhibit. Somehow Marguerite had learned that I had traveled through Iran during the 1970’s and she was intrigued how a struggling artist could survive for so many years living in North Africa and the Middle East so she invited me to lunch the next day. There she approached me with the idea of commissioning a painting of Tahirih unveiling at the Conference of Badasht. She explained some of the basic principles of the Faith and I had no problem agreeing with them. When I asked who was the founder and where was its origin? Marguerite replied ancient Persia, “But that’s the worst country I have ever visited” I replied and she smiled as she explained that any new Faith has to begin in the darkest regions of the world so that it embraces everybody. It was at that moment I realized Baha’u’llah’s vision had to be divinely inspired.
Barry agreed to supply the studio and the finances to purchase all the materials to begin the series. As the work progressed, Marguerite Sears consulted with her many Persian friends, who came to visit her at her home in Oro Valley and, over the years, made several visits to the Holy Land where she made sure members of the Universal House of Justice were informed of our efforts to document the early history so that the project would have their blessing.
When the first few paintings were completed, Marguerite and my wife Lystra and I went on a teaching campaign, and exhibited the work in Los Angeles, Denver, and Reno. We had great fun holding firesides, giving lectures and newspaper interviews as well as a television appearance on a Reno TV station where we discussed the Arts. Wherever we travelled the exhibition was well received. Some people were moved to tears when they first saw the paintings, others thought we had smuggled them out of Iran but I’ll never forget the lady who came up to me in Los Angeles and said “Your hands should be dipped in gold.”
What began as a commission, that I imagined might take a few months to complete, has lasted more than fifteen years, during which time we have endured many financial struggles, at the same time I have had support from many unexpected sources, to complete the series. It has been a profound and mystical experience as well as a great privilege and bounty to have been involved with creating this series of paintings. “
Ivan wrote and illustrated two beautiful books (collector's items):
“Tahirih: a Poetic Vision” (With the passing of the Prophet Muhammad, the seeds of a great schism were sown within the Islamic Faith that eventually created its two branches...) and “Mulla Husayn” (Unfurling the Black Standard). They are available at Treasures of Wonderment. You may also like to visit Ivan’s website at http://www.ivanlloyd.com/ and www.bahaifaithart.com
Original Oil Paintings are for sale. If you wish to purchase one, please contact Ivan at firstname.lastname@example.org and let him know that you have found his beautiful paintings on Treasures of Wonderment. (Photos by Annick Elziere)