|R O S H A N H O U S H M A N D
Making art has always been a spiritual practice. I work with paint and found objects to create a richly textured
surface of eastern elements within a transcendent spirituality of western abstraction. As an Iranian-American
woman artist, the making of my work is process oriented and has become part of my meditative practice. The
imagery leans towards minimal landscapes dotted with symbolism from Tibetan thangka paintings and other
ancient influences from Persia and India, including block print designs, patterns and other motifs. My most recent
series “Under the Bodhi Tree” incorporates remnants of embroidered tribal fabric, mirrors, sheet music and other
discarded items that I have reused, creating new formal contexts suggestive of night skies, arid landscapes and
floating gardens. Each piece in the series has a single leaf from the Bodhi Tree at the Mahabodhi Temple in
Bodhgaya, India, where Buddha sat and attained enlightenment. I gathered the leaves, blocks and textile
remnants during several trips made to study the art and culture of the Himalayas.
There are many cultural aspects of Gujarat in western India that resonate with villages and landscapes of my
childhood in Iran. Another recurring motif in this series is the use of a traditional embroidered pocket remnant
from Gujarat. This inverted cup shape of stitched and mirrored fabric represents a stupa in my work. A stupa is a
structure serving as the physical embodiment of the Buddha Mind. You will see other Tibetan Buddhists
influences, such as the stylized moon and stars, and a painted red border around most of the 2-dimensional
works, again symbolic of the speech of Buddha Shakyamuni. Another recurring element in my work is the mirror.
Mirrors have been used as mosaic pieces in both the art and architecture of Iran and India since ancient times. In
Iran you will find mirror mosaics decorating the walls of palaces, while in India you will find them in palaces, but
also on mud huts built and designed by the tribal women of Gujarat. In Buddhism, a mirror may symbolize wisdom
or emptiness, as the mirror is able to reflect everything, yet contains no inherent qualities.
For several years I have been very interested in thangka paintings and spent the past three summers studying
this traditional art form in India and Nepal. This interest began as an aid to my meditation practice because
thangkas are used for this purpose. The process of learning to draw the specific symbols and deities for thangka
paintings is also an aid to the development of one’s meditation and visualization practices, and if done with
devotion and pure intention becomes, itself, a Dharma practice, with the Dharma referring to the Path of
What makes this series so compelling is the juxtaposition of the abstract contexts of experience and expression
against the eastern concepts of process, intention and repetition. It may all come down to the perceptions of time
and space. The traditional values speak in a contemporary language where the east is a metaphor for the west,
and vice versa.
This creative practice is a focused, meditative process which brings me clarity of mind, allowing for more space in
my life. This space enables time for reflection, and compassion. As part of my Buddhist practice, I dedicate any of
this which may be perceived as merit to others so that they, too, might have more space and peace in their lives.
There is too much suffering and conflict on this planet we call home, this place we think we own. I do what I do with
the aspiration, hope and intention - esperanza - that others will benefit from the practice of this art form. It is
transforming and spiritual without being religious. My work creates a space that allows for some quiet to enter.
I had the great fortune to live in Iran from 1969-77, from when I was 8 until 16 years old. My memories of the
country are very sensual, based on the art, the culture and the landscapes. My mother was a foreigner, an
anthropologist and violinist who did her best to expose her children to the wonderful arts of this culture she so
loved. We traveled often to the north and south and were regular visitors at the kare-dasti handicraft stores in
Tehran and the small factories in the bazaars of Esfahan where we watched the metal workers and block
printers making their craft. These were incredibly mesmerizing, rich experiences for me as a child. When we
drove to Esfahan or other parts of the country we would pass the ruins of old caravanserai along the
highways, sometimes stopping to explore. I’ve made many paintings about those experiences; artifacts and
architectural relics in the desert; silence, light and wind.
It was on a recent trip to India where I was able to develop my artistic sensibility through encounters with
traditional craftsmanship and indigenous art forms. I stayed in mud huts in Gujarat and was flooded with
memories of my youth in Iran. In this tribal region of western-India known for elaborate embroideries and textile
designs, women traditionally build and decorate circular huts using mud and camel dung, decorating the
interiors and exteriors with mirrors and leaves, using their fingers to create a relief of geometric pattern
surrounding the small mirrors. This was a more primitive and simplified version of a tradition I had seen long
ago when I was raised in Iran. Here it was a woman’s task to decorate the simple huts, whereas in Iran the
mirror work was dedicated to decorating mosques and palaces by “masters”.
It was on this same trip that I visited South India and had the good fortune to wander through residential
neighborhoods and discover the Rangoli or Kolam which are traditional linear designs created by women using
rice flour on the thresholds of the home. They are auspicious, and temporal, preventing bugs from entering
the home, as they feast on the rice flour designs that are created each day before sunrise, destroyed by the
end of the day by the trampling of footsteps of anyone or anything that enters the home.
Back in the studio with bags of mirrors and camel dung along with my photographs of the Kolam which I began
to research extensively, I developed a series combining these elements and images; ancient women’s
traditions rarely seen unless one travels far. The mirrors are small offering fragments of reflections of reality
rather than complete images. I like the mirrors because they are a constant source of light, even in the darkest
moments, the mirror will always find a way to emit light. Having lived and traveled extensively all over the world,
I relate well to the concept of a fragmented life, one that only time is gradually piecing together to make a
These works are inspired by my eastern roots, but it is my life in the west that has provided a western context
of experience, of abstraction, where the east becomes a metaphor of the west, and vice versa.
“trailscripts” is a body of abstract paintings created during a transitional, and experimental period of about 5
years between the “event paintings” and “Under the Bodhi Tree” series which are both much more specific in
both form and content. As the title suggests, “trailscripts” implies a path and a form of writing – or message.
At the time I was not sure where my work was going, but I knew I was in transition, on a path towards something
more spiritual and more personal. “trailscripts” was about line as language, and language as line.
By 2009 I was on my way to learning about meditation and Buddhism and would eventually continue furthering
my studies with courses in traditional Indian miniature painting and sacred Buddhist thangka paintings. I was
exploring and experimenting with different types of line and learning about eastern philosophies and art forms.
Although the work was inspired by sources as diverse as calligraphy, ancient Asian pottery, physics and
specific works of Miro, the results were organic, spontaneous and paradoxical. The “trailscripts” paintings
intuitively explore the language of line in a range of dimensions. I was comforted by the predictability of
pattern and culture yet challenged by the spontaneity of chance and life.
I felt a need to develop a more personal relationship with my work. I was born in the Philippines in 1961 and
lived in Iran from 1969-76, but as an Iranian/American, returning to Iran to explore my roots was complicated.
Having lived in the west since then, I felt the need to somehow connect with my roots, so I visited India, where I
traveled extensively. My imagery and use of line was becoming more articulate, combining elements of pattern
and chaos from the traditional and decorative arts I was exploring.
These paintings represent a time in my life when I was searching for a more personal relationship to my work,
as well as a more spiritual connection to my life, which I found through traveling and studying the arts and
culture of the Himalayas. They are autobiographical in their intimacy and unconventional use of line and
pattern. I was on a path that would eventually become less abstract. It took several years for me to fully
understand, through hindsight, the true meaning and profundity of this series, “trailscripts”.
This is a collection of oil paintings about particle physics inspired by a lecture I attended by theoretical
physicist Brian Greene. Primarily working in black and white for several years, these “Event Paintings” are
about line; a perfect line whose trajectory and curve could provide the scientific scholar with a tremendous
amount of information, as derived from the images from labs at CERN and BNL. I suppose what impressed me
most about that lecture was that there are, mathematically speaking, eleven dimensions to reality. This was the
beginning of my comprehension of the dissolution of self, and I didn’t even know it at the time. All I knew was
that this concept provided a great relief for me, in that I was not as important or significant as I had been led to
believe during my 40 plus years of being alive. In the “Event Paintings” I am working with paths and curves
unseen until I began studying the effects of particle trails based on images from particle accelerators.
As an Iranian/American painter who was raised in the Philippines and Iran, with a Dutch-American mother and
a Persian father, my roots are steeped in ancient patterns and textures. My formal education in the arts
however was absolutely Western, with a BA from Bennington College and a MA and MFA from Rosary
Graduate School of Fine Arts in Florence, Italy. It is in only in the past few years that I have been returning to
my eastern roots through continued studies of traditional miniature, and thangka painting in India and Nepal.
My life’s journey has been based on making art for the past forty years. It has been the only constant for as
long as I can remember. My process feels ritualistic, and I am often guided by intuition, and a sensitivity to the
formal relationships in paint.
This site has a collection of my work from different series. The work after the "event paintings" reveals a
search for a more personal and spiritual connection with my art, incorporating Persian calligraphy, block prints,
collage and painting. These works are reminiscent of a past inspired by the culture of Iran, where I spent my
formative years. The arid land and then the release of petrichor - referring to the distinctive aroma released
when rain falls on dry land, activating certain compounds in the soil.
The "Flora and Fauna" works address artistic traditions of the past, examining relationships between symbol,
pattern and chance. The paintings offer a unique dichotomy characteristic of anomalous encounters, in this
case eastern and western. Integrating elements of the east in a western context, and visa versa, form
becomes content as one becomes a metaphor for the other. The decorative becomes iconic. This
investigation into and reinterpretation of Asian motifs is a personal, rather than purely historical quest into the
universality of certain designs.
The “trailscript” paintings are inspired by poetry, travel and prayer of the east, and they mysteriously evolved
from the “Event Paintings” which are based on lines and images of particle trails from bubble chambers which I
discovered after attending a lecture on theoretical physics by Brian Greene. Many of these early works were
featured on Brookhaven National Lab’s website for their 60th anniversary in 2007 (http://www.bnl.
gov/60th/houshmand.asp) and later in Symmetry and Cosmos science magazines (http://www.
Certain common denominators flow through each series involving exploration into concepts of tradition,
chance, change, space and desire. These are process paintings with an aesthetic that has developed in and
out of the abstract through process. The visual mark is an autobiographical code, a form of script, and is an
event in itself accumulating into a creative process that allows the painting to grow without a conscious need to
be in control. The concept of multiple layers of paint, hidden and revealed, reflects states of change and
purification of concept, and every event in my visual world is the effect of an "image", as in Plato's notion of
idea. Each layer addresses emotion, memory and intellect; markings that correspond with life genetically,
culturally and experientially, only to be covered by another experience, ritualistic in process, tactile in sense,
and visual in perception until the work becomes whole.
UNDER THE BODHI TREE