“Never isolate yourself from the outside world; it is your job as an artist to learn from this world and allow the strange outside influence your artistic practice.”
Petrichor: The smell of soil after rain – particularly vibrant when long parched earth is quenched. The word has roots in ancient Greek mythology and describes the liquid that flows through the veins of the Old Gods. Myth and ritual, metaphor and legend; the very stories best suited to being told using the artform of animation.
A good starting point for an interview with Shirin Shakhesi about her new animated film, titled the very same Petrichor along with some insight into her artistic practice, background and storytelling methods.
Shirin Shakhesi is an Iranian-Australian animator and illustrator. She grew up in Tehran, moving to Sydney circa 2010 before finding her way to Melbourne in 2014 and under the tutelage of Adam Elliot at Swinburne University of Technology began practising her craft of storytelling through the medium of animation. Speaking on the topic of storytelling and in reference to creative influences she says ‘As an Iranian/Australian artist who grew up in Iran and who now lives in Australia (which contains many different cultures, along with the freedom to speak about any environmental, political and social issue), I have chosen to create artworks that explore these differences.’
Certainly, geopolitical issues combined with personal experience are contributing factors to the depth of her layered work and to that, Shirin comments ‘The most important insight of my artistic practice is to talk freely about my emotions as a woman and tell stories of what a female’s heart can experience. Many societies still view these expressions as taboo.’
Petrichor is a film that looks within and without. An important part of film making is the ability to relate insightful moments of the human condition to visual prompts – via the method of storytelling. When asked about where her stories come from she says ‘Never isolate yourself from the outside world; it is your job as an artist to learn from this world and allow the strange outside influence your artistic practice.’
Good advice for any practicing artists and film makers. But, she goes on to explain in depth ‘My stories are mostly connected to my personal and social experience. They carry messages of what I learned from every person I met, or what I have seen in the unexpected situations which I have been through. Anthropologists tell us that storytelling is central to human existence and it’s common to every known culture. Our brains are always ready to find meaning. So for me, telling stories is a way for me to communicate the found meanings I have found, by trying to make sense of this world that we live in, and connecting with anyone who might have experienced something similar.’
Petrichor along with the back catalogue of Shirin’s work showcases her technical ability to create engaging and entrancing worlds using detailed abstract images – brought to life by her own individual understanding of the world. There is a dream quality to her films and illustration which lulls the audience into a safe place… for a moment at least. Embracing strong imagery and the lovely-grotesque, there is no ignoring the evocative nature of the images which direct the narratives of her short films. There is always an undercurrent of comment or protest.
Her technical ability has been years in the making, starting as an illustrator and studying Graphic Design and Communication at Tehran Institute of Technology. On describing her method for creating the unique look her films take she says ‘I usually have a journal [in] which I record new ideas and evaluate my work. I write any ideas that come to me, following any direction I am taken with. Later on I choose and work on the strongest images. Then once I’m confident with an idea or storyline, I pick the most important part of the story and do a couple of illustrations and concept ideas for that scene, experimenting with different techniques and mediums until I find what works best.’ In terms of technology and composite use of multiple animating programs and software, Shirin explains ‘My most recent works are mainly drawn digitally. I use multiple software to approach the desired look; TVPaint helps me for all the animated assets, Photoshop helps me to strengthen the colour concept and designing design the background to my choice, then After Effects helps me to combine them together in stronger forms with its fantastic features.’
Looking to the future and her hopes for where animation and art may take her, Shirin expresses a keen interest in working with children ’I would like my artistic practice to allow me to educate children about creativity. Specifically, I would like to be able to provide children with the creative and innovative ability to express themselves more confidently. I would also like to bring art and culture into more rural and remote areas of Australia and Iran, or any other places in the world which needs better education, especially through art’. In reference to her own love of animation and early experiences of the artform, she adds ’When I was little, I always liked to spend a lot of time watching cartoons and would hook into their worlds for hours. Animation is a world of fantasy; it can be real but it’s also so unreal in its own way which makes it more interesting as an art form for me to play with. The sense of reality in animation can be whatever you choose or want it to be, so you can be the creator of your own colourful world.’
If you would like to get into her brain a little more she makes the following watching recommendations ’Iranian Animators in 70’s work always inspired me. Their techniques and their hidden messages within their animations are truly unique.’
‘ The Rook by Ali Akbar Sadeghi is a fascinating animation about a game of chess come to life. Amir Hamza by Nouredin Zarrinkelk is full of beautiful Middle Eastern illustrations about a lover and a dancing zebra.’
‘I have also always admired the animated short from the Czech Republic called Ruka (The Hand) by Jiří Trnka which tells a story that reflects a restrictive environment in which many artists have to work’.
Currently studying for a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Animation at the Victorian College of the Arts, Shirin is an animated film maker to keep your eye on – we look forward to seeing where she takes her artform next.