Cryptorealism: Perceiving the Imperceptible


From the beginning of his artistic career, Davood Roostaei was eager to seize the sphere of art with both hands. A few years into his training then career, he started painting without a brush—using only his fingers to develop a style of expression which was subsequently coined, Cryptorealism. This style was described as magical eclecticism by American art historian and critic Albert Boime.

According to Roostaei, Cryptorealism is a painting method he developed to accomplish the fundamental task of depicting the world he interacted with from many different perspectives. Roostaei’s experiences as a young student allowed him to grasp the world’s intensity early. “I quickly realized that I needed to find new ways to portray the world’s intensity as intensely through technique and a rethinking of the art process,” he explains.

For Roostaei, Cryptorealism is a continuation of the road trodden by various artists before him—a conviction that all excellent art contains eternal viewpoints. Roostaei’s singular journey into Cryptorealism is a new frontier in artistic expression which draws upon the multitude of art movements prior in a synthesis of his unique styling. Roostaei has remained committed to this painting style for over thirty years since its inception in 1990.

Cryptorealism was the method by which Roostaei could fully express himself, and painting with his fingers has become one of his hallmarks. He has not picked up a paintbrush since 1986 in executing his oil and acrylic paintings.  “As ‘reality’ couldn’t speak to the complexities of the modern world, the brush couldn’t do what I needed it to do”, says Roostaei. “The connection with my work needed to be visceral, free of both intellectual and technical conventions. This liberty could have only been achieved with my fingers, allowing me to express my true self,” he adds.

A certain ferocity accompanies Roostaei’s expansive perspectives, as he observes the world with the same brutal passion as reflected in his artistic works. After receiving formal training at Tehran’s Faculty of Fine Arts in the late 1970s, he recognized that he needed a new method to portray the intensity of what he had seen and experienced in both art and life, necessitating the founding of what we now know as Cryptorealism.

The necessity for a unique style has served him well. He has a devoted following of collectors who appreciate the way he renders reality while also providing an inventive contortion intended to demonstrate that the external reality is not all that is there. Roostaei’s works are typically awash in vibrant hues, but with a little more focus, one can uncover images and figures in the same way that a child delights in the patterns generated by a kaleidoscope. Indeed, Roostaei’s artwork conceals pieces of his life that he endeavors to express to his audience.

Roostaei’s paintings are distinguished by several qualities that make them rare and exceptional.  One is first struck by the vibrant colors and their contrasting shading.  In their whirlwind-like abundance, they remind one of Pollock’s style and of the anti-naturalistic style of Fauves or the expressive ecstatic style of ChaïmSoutine. Roostaei presents visions having a colorful orchestration, which although unfettered, is at the same time ordered because it is under the artist’s masterful control.  They have a wide perspective with vast space into which he inserts outlines of figures and fragmental forms. The German art critic Hanns Theodor Flemming aptly called this style, “ Cryptorealism”. The word derived from the Greek “cryptos”: hidden, secret, secretive; presupposes a fine sense of perception from the viewer. Cryptorealism directs the viewer to consider alternative perspectives. While often hiding images with first glance, in this way making the viewer an active participant in the revelation of meaning.

By uniting figurative and abstract painting styles a new form is created—a secret and hidden one—a cryptic pictorial realism.  In this art form lies Roostaei’s special brand of painting.  His Cryptorealistic style is his personal method of coming to terms with the experiences of his own life and those of the world around him.  Art and reality stand in extremely complex correlation to each other in Roostaei’s work. Through spontaneity and gestures he makes his appeals so strongly that the observer can scarcely escape the effect of the picture.

In order to grasp Roostaei’s artistic works one needs to look at them from an adequate distance, for the energy of the colors are so intense that only at a distance can Roostaei’s works be properly analyzed. It is seldom that anything in these pictures appears static; each detail seems to move in its own rhythm, which can be opposed to that of all the others.  According to the American art historian and critic Albert Boime, “Roostaei paints compositions from eccentric angles and viewpoints and often depicts forms that metamorphose in a twinkling of an eye. His work consistently discloses disguised and reversible imagery that sends the viewer on an optical steeplechase. Roostaei’s energetic spatial fields fairly explode with dense imagery and spattered paint, combining a kind of Jackson Pollock approach with the Old Masters and popular imagery.” Roostaei strives to produce a pictorial reality which can be understood as a sort of parallel to the outward reality.  He applies this undertaking to a myriad of subject matters from historical events to public figures, often interweaving concepts from the past, present, and future.  Roostaei’s unique perspectives are reflected in his work and encourage the viewer to consider all that is not readily perceptible, both in art and in life.

There is currently an exhibition showing a collection of his recent pieces at Vancouver Fine Art Gallery, one of Canada’s best contemporary art galleries located in Vancouver, BC.