After trying different calligraphy styles for over 15 years, in 2008 Arash Shirinbab engaged in serious study of classical calligraphy under masters from the Iranian Calligraphists Association, gaining the honor to learn Thuluth from calligraphy master Hosseini Garakani. Since then, he considers Islamic calligraphy his primary means of artistic expression as well as a spiritual practice. In his calligraphic arts he uses both the linguistic and aesthetic power of words to create poetic visual pieces. Arash, then trained in Iran under maestro S. M. Vahid Mousavi Jazayeri, who rediscovered the lost technique of Kufic pen cutting and is the author of Kufic Encyclopedia. Today, few people are able to inscribe in Kufic style or read Kufic manuscripts, so Arash’s training and practice in Kufic is significant (in the wider calligraphy community as well as for this particular project. His Kufic calligraphy artworks were recently exhibited at and acquired by the Contemporary Museum of Calligraphy in Moscow, where he conducted a workshop and demonstration on Kufic calligraphy).
Arash has devised over two dozen calligraphy workshops and demonstrations and has participated in over 70 exhibitions (over 10 solos) in galleries and museums in the US, Spain, Italy, Poland, France, Canada, Russia, and Iran. He studied Industrial and product design at University of Tehran from 2001 to 2006 and earned BA and MA in the field of design. After moving to the US, he received an MBA in Design Strategy from California College of the Arts in 2012. He is the co-founder and executive director at Ziya, an art center in Berkeley that produces calligraphy artworks, conducts workshops, and manages art and culture events with a focus on traditions from Middle East to India. Arash is a successful blend of practicing artist, business administrator and community leader, and in the past few years, has become a visible and active agent for calligraphic art in the Bay Area. He is a former Council Member of Friends of Calligraphy in San Francisco and is the Chief Curator of the Calligraphies in Conversation International Exhibition.
Forrest Lesch-Middelton began working in clay at age 14 and immediately found an affinity for the material. As a teen he visited New England potters, then studied clay, glass and neon at Alfred University in western New York. Forrest makes ceramics that “look like the products of an ancient civilization whose people proudly insisted on being buried with their dishware.” (NY Times, 1/31/2013). He invented a technique for transferring Islamic starbursts, scrolls and flowers to the surfaces of his pots while they are still wet and at the wheel, requiring him to shape the vessels from the inside, so as to not disturb the pattern. He began this work in 2003, the year the United States invaded Iraq, saying he wanted to bring awareness to the artistic and cultural heritage of a people he believes many westerners misunderstand. He has held many guest artist/residency positions, including at Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts, Mendocino Arts Center and Orcas Island Pottery. His masters studies at Utah State University happened to coincide with the Iraq War and his interest in developing a sense of history of the craft dovetailed with this piqued realization that ‘some of the most important objects in history’ were disappearing due to looting throughout Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2013 Ceramics Monthly Magazine chose him as ‘The Ceramic Artist of the Year.’ His community work includes serving for five years as Director of Ceramics at Sonoma Community Center where he started a thriving artist in residence program, and teaching at many Bay Area colleges. He was the president of the Associaction of Clay and Glass Artist of California from 2014-17. In 2017 Forrest was chosen as a McKnight Fellow in Minneapoilis, MN.