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10 questions for Albert Boime

Albert Boime, a professor of art history at UCLA for 30 years, died Oct. 18 after a long illness. This interview with UCLA Today —the last interview he gave — highlighted his discovery of a new art form called “abstract romanticism.” In his lengthy career, Boime wrote 25 books and more than 100 articles focusing mainly on 19th-century European art. But approximately five years ago, he discovered the work of Kamran Khavarani, an artist who draws much of his inspiration from the love poems of 13th-century Persian poet Jalaluddin Rumi. Realizing that he had never seen such art before, Boime teamed with artist Roshan Hubbard to give the new genre a name. Boime’s latest book, “The Birth of Abstract Romanticism: Art for a New Humanity” (Sybil City Book Company, 2008), tells the story of the evolution of Khavarani’s art from the time of his Iranian exile to the present day.

What is abstract romanticism?

Romanticism has many meanings for many different people. For me, it is an attempt on the part of artists to bring about some kind of substantial change — to bring a sense of inspiration to altering people’s present vision of the world.

Why is this type of romanticism called “abstract”?

Well, that’s another term that has many meanings. As you look at [Khavarani’s] work, you’ll see that it’s not entirely complete. And yet, at the same time, there’s a core element of something there that you can touch and believe in. So many of his paintings show classic conditions: ocean, sky, volcanic eruption. And yet, you can say that the abstract reaches a point where it’s absolutely clear about what’s being shown.

How did you discover Kamran Khavarani and his art?

Actually, it was pretty mundane. We had mutual friends. Kamran was having a show right here on Glendon [in Westwood Village], so it was very convenient. He said to come over — I did, and I fell in love with the work.

Most of your books highlight a period or a genre. Why did you choose to write about a single artist?

This is unique in my own personal production — sticking to one artist. I took it as kind of a challenge to write that way, especially dealing with a single artist in a contemporary context. I think Kamran was the perfect choice. For one thing, there’s his attempt to interpret the work of the Persian poet, Rumi.

How familiar were you with the philosophy of Rumi before you met Kamran Khavarani?

I had never heard of Rumi before I met him! And now I have a pretty good familiarity with Rumi’s work.

How did you prepare to write the book?

Kamran attended a class on Rumi, taught by a very important teacher in town, Amir Shahparaki. I interviewed Shahparaki and did a lot of thinking about him. One thing he told me was to disassociate Rumi from certain sectarian ways of thinking. For example, Rumi is associated with Sufism, which is a mystical side of Islam. Rumi is much more broadly based in his way of looking at life and advising others. It’s an important component of his thinking that he tries to make people think and know that they have a godlike power at their fingertips.

The book starts with Khavarani’s early black-and-white drawings and ends with his current, more Impressionist, paintings. Is there a common thread throughout his works?

Every Persian has to be aware of Rumi’s role, and I think Kamran always had that awareness, even though some of his works precede his discovery of Rumi. Rumi was like a part of the national patrimony, the cultural patrimony.

Were there other reasons for writing this type of book, or did you just want to try something different?

What I was concerned with was whether or not I could find a way of thinking more broadly of the many meanings that Rumi brings to bear on existence. In the past, I’ve often worked on 19th-century European art. But to me, it was very important that I do something that looked from another perspective at historical and cultural events.

Are there other artists who represent this idea of “abstract romanticism”?

I think there are some that probably come close, but Kamran right now is a one-person movement.

What kind of artist would you call yourself?

A shaper of human consciousness.

For more on Albert Boime, visit his website. An obituary is being prepared and will be posted on the Faculty Bulletin Board at
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