Born in 1985, Ill is one of Iran’s most recognised street artists. His paintings have been on the walls of Tabriz, Tehran, Karaj and other cities of Iran, talking about censorship, despair, children, human rights and mind control.
Immediately after he began his career he started his military service and moved to Tehran where there was a better chance of painting walls and holding exhibitions and events.
We spoke to Ill about his artwork, the messages behind his pieces, as well as life painting in Iran.
Where are you from and how when did you start painting?
My friends Icy and Sot had a big influence on me to start painting. They were the main reason that I was attracted to street art.
But why I paint is a hard question! First of all, when you live in a country where so many things are forbidden and there is no freedom; like the freedom to wear what you want, freedom of speech, freedom of making any kind of art, freedom of gathering in a place as a free event in the streets, freedom of love, drinks, parties and etc. and then you find you can complain about it all by painting on walls, to say all the things you don’t like that’s going on around you, is a big relief.
I feel very happy when people see me painting in the street and I always feel that they are impressed and have many questions in their mind. In Iran having a spray can in the street means a lot to the government because back in 1979, people used spray cans to write their slogans against the king of Iran, “Shah”, and so they are very afraid that the same may happen to themselves, so just the act of painting is a big deal, and a political act no matter what you paint, they don’t like it.
I think I love to feel the fear of painting and I am addicted to it. My first paintings were some human portraits that were manipulated in a way, like a mute sign instead of a mouth, lock holes instead of eyes, and kid with a zipper in his head just to show how people look like with censorship.
What made you choose the style you paint?
My friends Icy and Sot were making big stencils in every city we were going together, I learnt from them.
How do you choose the subject matter of your pieces?
I just think of whatever I understand of the things going on around me, but the most important thing that matters to me is censorship everywhere. it disgusts me.
What techniques do you use to create your work?
I sometimes get photos and make stencils out of them or I just search the web to find the pictures I need and then I make a collage of them to get what I want. The pictures I use are mostly in bad quality so I have the chance to make them look good and like mine because I change them a lot!
Who and/or what influences your work?
My friends, the odds of the society I live in, the controversies, dilemmas, and injustices in general.
What’s the public perception of your work?
The country I live in street art is strictly illegal and not appreciated by the government or sometimes from the people who are religious. But the art scene in general is curious and they mostly get the feeling that there is a message behind these works. Somehow street art stays still as an undiscovered art in Iran, and for this very reason it remains a challenge for me to continue what I am doing.
What challenges do you face when painting?
The fear of being arrested and misunderstood because the police or the security agents here are always putting labels to ours works that are far from reality and always very severe like they say it is Satanism or against public security. Actually these are things that I was accused of for the times I was arrested.
Do you have any projects coming up?
Yes. This is so interesting to me I want to make an exhibition in Tehran that shows a perspective I have about this city. To show people how I feel about my life and how are the things around me in Tehran. I am gonna use only trash or recycled objects to paint on which I have collected from the streets or junk yards in Tehran. This will be the most important thing I have ever done.
We shared the picture of the girl with the fire hydrant with the big pink heart, which people loved…can you tell us about the process of creating this piece and the message behind it?
I wanted to do this piece on a government office but because I had to travel at the same day I didn’t have time to find a safe place to do it. It would be very funny to do a vandalism with a message like “love” behind it and giving the fire extinguisher spray to a kid’s hand! But I just did it on an ordinary wall. I made the spray in like 1 hour and couldn’t wait to try it!
Do you think street art or art in general could ever be a means for change in Tehran? A change in attitudes towards social issues perhaps?
Another hard question! Well it can in general. Only the act of doing it is important for this society because breaking rules and standing against a dictatorship is an act of courage and care!
If you want to be specific, I think it mostly influences the art scene here, and maybe it will be a topic for some talk among young artists, or some ordinary people who see a painting which they understand the meaning. And even these kind of interviews that we have with some foreign magazines or websites, to tell the world what’s going on in Iran.
Many thanks to Ill for taking the time to speak to us!