Taravat Talepasand at Sinopia Pigments

Living & Working

Taravat Talepasand at Sinopia Pigments

By Taravat Talepasand April 3, 2019

How does one survive and thrive as an artist in the San Francisco Bay Area? Living & Working is a multi-platform column focusing on the experiences and strategies from those who continue to live and work in the Bay Area.

Taravat Talepasand was born 1979 in the United States to Iranian parents, during the Iranian Revolution. She retained close family and artistic ties to Iran, Esfehan, where she was trained in the challenging discipline of Persian miniature painting. Paying close attention to the cultural taboos identified by distinctly different social groups, particularly those of gender, race and socioeconomic position, her work reflects the cross-pollination, or lack thereof, in our “modern” society.

Talepasand's works on paper and egg tempera paintings draw on realism to bring a focus on an acceptable beauty and its relationship with art history under the guise of traditional Persian painting. Her interest, however, is in painting a present which is of and intrinsically linked to the past, making it easily understood by the Iranian and inductive of assumption for the Westerner. “Since I myself am considered a taboo in that I am a conglomerate of equal, yet irreconcilable cultural forces, my work challenges plebeian notions of acceptable behavior,” says the artist.


The following transcript has been edited for clarity.

My name is Taravat Talepasand and I live and work in San Francisco. We are in the Bayview section of San Francisco at Sinopia where Alex, a friend of mine, is well known for making and supplying the best pigments in the world. It's the only place that I shop for my egg tempera paintings. When I was a grad student at SFAI, I was really interested in learning how to make my own paints. I picked up The Painter’s Handbook and read it front and back about fifty times. I found different techniques that had a relationship to miniature painting, or the history of miniature painting, and egg tempera was one of them. In order to make egg tempera paints you had to use pigments, and I wasn’t really satisfied with going to an art store and buying things that were readymade for me. Also you can’t find readymade egg tempera paints.

As I was searching around online I found this special shop called Sinopia, which at the time was located on 22nd Street and Guerrero in the Mission District. It was this small shop, owned by one man, who actually happened to be alumni at SFAI. He gets selected pigments from around the world. They’re really hard to find. They’re really special, and it’s really important in my practice that I get the highest grade and quality of pigments for my paintings. At Sinopia, I was able to look at the pigments, learn about the history of the pigments, know where they’re from, and be able to buy other materials like marble dust or rabbit skin glue—or this really amazing material that he makes called casein, milk paint, that I use in substitute for gesso. So, in the end, all of my paintings and all of my works have Sinopia all over them. 

When I first moved to San Francisco I wasn’t aiming for a city that I knew had an Iranian community. It was mostly just for the institution and the art community, but luckily when I moved here...you know you meet one person who knows an Iranian, who knows another Iranian... and in the end I [found] that there is a very big Iranian community here in San Francisco, San Jose, and up in Marin: a lot of families who also fled Iran before or during the revolution in 1979. 

For me, Persian miniature painting and painting about Iran [is about wanting] to tie in the history. I’m talking about East meets the West by using egg tempera, which is used in European painting, and shared and used in miniature painting [in the East]. I found a material that really fits both of those two regions together. 

As an artist, a lot [of the time] you’re in it alone—and that’s something people don’t really tell you when you’re at school. But when you leave the institution, you realize that all those conversations that you have with people on a daily basis are gone and you only have yourself, so you really have to turn to your own community. I think that a city like San Francisco is small but so diverse and dense—you’re able to find people everywhere.

I travel a lot and I get a lot of inspiration from different countries, whether I’m in Iran, Asia, or Europe. And wherever I go I’m always looking for pigments. When I was in Nepal I found pigments made from flower. But, in the end, I always come back to Sinopia because there is absolutely no place in the world that has the range of color from all over the world at the highest grade and quality. And I love that it’s here in the seven by seven, San Francisco.


Living & Working is funded in part by the California Arts Council, a state agency.

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