Art by Shervin Iranshahr

There is no "I" in Lowbrow

Shervin IranshahrComment

March/April 2006
by Emilie Trice

The Lowbrow community in Los Angeles generally consists of visual artists, oil painters, graffiti writers, illustrators and tattoo artists, fashion designers, musicians and performance artists, each independent but still highly supportive of the urban art scene and the Lowbrow cultural cause. Any artist drawing inspiration from urban/pop/So Cal culture and flying just under-the-radar of the fine art gallery's smoking gun is embraced by the LA Lowbrow community. Highbrow galleries and fine art institutions' ambivalence toward such art is as much political as economic, owing to the relative obscurity of many Lowbrow artists. Lowbrow art, although a veritable bridge between art and commerce, has struggled to gain fine art validation in conventional venues, affording an elevated sense of community amongst Lowbrow producers and purveyors alike. This community is exemplified by Cannibal Flower, an organization that sponsors monthly events in Los Angeles combining music, performance art and group exhibitions with one room typically devoted to a featured artist. 

Cannibal Flower was started in 2000 by Leonard Croskey, aka L.C., as a means of exhibiting unknown, unrepresented artists, affording them respectable exposure to a large group of their cultural peers in a non-elitist venue. These events are not profit motivated, strengthening the loyalty between artist and curator, as well as artist and audience. The majority of Cannibal Flower events now occur at The Hangar and Infusion Gallery, both located on Gallery Row in downtown Los Angeles. Gallery Row symbolizes the sneaking gentrification of Skid Row, an inevitable development of what has been referred to as the largest service-dependent area in the nation. Two streets, Main St. and Spring St., were pegged as gallery turf and in two years the number of legitimate exhibition spaces has grown from two to more than twenty. Although this exponential cultural development is positive for the neighborhood, bringing in restaurants, bars, boutiques and wealthy collectors, the negative effects are definitely felt in the Lowbrow community with artists being slowly but decisively pushed to the area's periphery (or other cities entirely) as living costs rise. A few years back, before the influx of more upscale galleries to the "row," vacant buildings provided adequate space for underground artistic events. These events were more or less a reflection of Cannibal Flower's mission, catering to the artistic community as opposed to art collectors and allowing for one-night only events, which weren't limited by narrow aesthetic criteria or monetary incentive. 

An artist that has actively participated in these events through both Cannibal Flower and the Skid Row art raves is Shervin Iranshahr, known simply as Shervin. He and a group of Art Center alums actively curated, promoted and provided their musical stylings to events on old skid row and he now exhibits regularly with Cannibal Flower, supporting the cause of LA's Lowbrow community. For Shervin's "East Coast debut" last summer at the Ashley Gallery in Philadelphia, he brought along his niche of that community, the same alums of the skid row years; Tim Meehan, Sean Cheetham, John Paul Altamira and Kevin Llewellyn, as well as their former professor Michael Hussar, each of whom contributed a painting to the exhibit. The group of work speaks of the years at Pasadena's Art Center; however not in the classroom, but rather the garage behind Shervin and Tim Meehan's house where their group would converge for portrait painting sessions without the limitations and restrictions imposed by academia. 

Each artist's work informs the other, from color to texture to straight-up subject matter. The palettes are all similar if not identical, all derived from Hussar's work ( Shervin, Tim, JP, Sean and Kevin had all taken Hussar's classes and eventually assisted him, resulting in their group's initial bond and, ultimately, the extracurricular portrait sessions that they would argue were more educational than painting some model in the same tired costume ten times in class. Portrait subjects included each other, their girlfriends and, when those options were exhausted, total strangers with unconventional appearances approached in bars and convinced that they would be participating in a legitimate effort and weren't being hit on (granted there were obviously some exceptions). 

What resulted from these sessions was an undeniable elevation of each artist's work, as well a shared sensibility concerning color and style. So it would make sense that when Shervin made his debut on the opposite side of the country, he would bring his portrait posse with him and give a little back to the boys that had aided his aesthetic development. This action reeks of not only his loyalty to those painting sessions and the artists that pushed him creatively, but also to the inherent Lowbrow principle of community and support, both personal and professional. 

Under the umbrella of the Lowbrow label, Shervin's work is definable as pop surrealism. His paintings portray bizarre characters and dissect those circumstances that have become synonymous with postmodern culture: morally debatable (if not apprehensible) war, artificial and depraved beauty, secular iconography and unabashed sexuality. Many of the paintings exhibited this past summer were completed on the brink of America's invasion of Iraq. His piece 6:11 9:12 depicts a creature impaling itself through the forehead by its own nose, implying self-mutilation and pain by way of excessive lying. On December 14th, 2005 President Bush confessed that the decision to invade Iraq and begin a lengthy and brutal liberation was based on misleading, faulty information and that "much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong". The painting Gunbird further explores this topic, with heavy-laden symbolism and a figure breaking the canvas's edge, encroaching on the viewer's personal space. 

Despite the obvious connection to the war in Iraq, this imagery also relates to Shervin's native country of Iran, which was engulfed by war (incidentally also with Iraq) shortly after his birth. The military draft included boys as young as 12, prompting Shervin's family to migrate to Vienna, Austria, where he was first exposed to the nouveau aesthetic that would later inspire much of his art. A Philadelphia critic referred to his work as "grotesque nouveau" or "high Goth," both of which are immaculate descriptions of Shervin's organic, yet geometric painting The Death of Venus, a blatant parody of Botticelli's infamous masterpiece. The Death of Venus features a Venus exposed and shaved bare, indicating the degradation of a sacred, albeit secular, icon and the perversion of innocence. The illuminated gothic rose backdrop alludes to institutional religion, yet another epitome of modern perversion. This painting's requiem is not only intended for natural, modest beauty, but also for the sanctimony of religious arenas and their tainted reassurance of morality and hope. 

Shervin's family eventually left Austria for America, settling in California, where Shervin continues to live and work. The Los Angeles influence on his art is most obvious in the faces of his characters; cheeks are pulled taut, eyes have been reduced to slits and mouths are forced into painful smirks reminiscent of cosmetic surgery horror stories. His painting Trophy shows an armless seahorse creature whose face is sectioned and controlled by black straps. She floats, fixated on a shining light, dangerously close to a monster whose eye and mouth are visible in the background of the composition. Although Shervin interprets this painting as a commentary on co-dependence between victims and abusers, it seems as though the seahorse is too obsessed with the beautiful ornament to truly understand the reality of her vulnerability and her seemingly inevitable, tragic conclusion. And, for some reason, I think she kinda looks like Michael Jackson, but whatever, must just be the nose. 

Shervin's paintings contribute to the pop surrealist painting movement within the Lowbrow phenomena and his commitment to his portrait gang resonates with the camaraderie inherent to the So Cal Lowbrow community. His work can be viewed at Cannibal Flower festivals occurring on the last Saturday of every month. Shervin is currently in a group show at Thinkspace Gallery in Los Angeles and he is preparing for an upcoming exhibition at Copro/Nason Gallery in Santa Monica to open in June 2006. For more information on Shervin, please visit or log onto and support the cause.

The Making of an Art Academy

Shervin IranshahrComment

Tuesday, June 10, 2008 
Lauren Urbschat

This is a story about three young artists who came together with one big idea.

Tim Meehan and Dan Vogel, both raised in Upper St. Clair, might be considered Pittsburghers for life. Even though Meehan went off to the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles and Vogel headed to Penn State to study business, they each eventually realized that Pittsburgh offered what they were looking for. For Meehan, that epiphany came in the summer of 2000 when he was home from college and visited his high school art teacher, Pat Barefoot, at her studio in the Brew House. One look was all it took.

Without hesitation, Meehan applied for a space of his own before returning back to school in the fall. Once in L.A., his old studio seemed even smaller and more cramped than he remembered; he found himself dreaming about the big windows and affordable open spaces he had left behind. 

For Vogel, the moment of decision came when he was with Meehan. On the verge of law school (as in accepted to American and looking at apartments in D.C.), Vogel got together with his high school art buddy. He took one look at all the paintings Meehan had brought home from L.A. and had what he describes as an 'existential crisis.' 'He had all these amazing paintings to show, and what did I have?' Meehan high-tailed it home, and Vogel did not attend law school. 

First Impressions 
Shervin Iranshahr is not a native, but he will always remember they day he moved to Pittsburgh. It was the day before the Steelers finally won one for the thumb. His first full day on the South Side was a site to behold, when hordes of people spilled out onto Carson St., drunk on glory and Iron City. 'You guys made quite an impression!' he says. 
Like Meehan, all it took was one visit to the Brew House to send Iranshahr packing. He had been finishing up an art show in Philadelphia when he decided to make a stop in Pittsburgh to visit Meehan, his college roommate.
After touring the studios and hearing the price, he was sold. It took several months to pack up his life on the West Coast, but come February 4, 2006 he made the big move. Iranshahr still travels back to L.A. because his family is there and he shows work on occasion. 'But in Pittsburgh, I can really let my paintings marinate,' he says. 'This city has given me the opportunity to slow down because I'm not constantly trying to flip art to make rent. In L.A., you don't often get results from your actions because you're a little fish in a really big pond.' The three just painted together at first. Their friends sat in as models in exchange for beer and good company. At their peak, they were getting together three to four times a week and they began advertising open model sessions to local painters and other Brew House residents. It's unclear who actually planted the seed, but plans for offering workshops began to circulate. The idea of a formal school soon followed.

A Big Idea
At first, the idea of an art 'academy' on the South Side seems to be something of an oxymoron. The neighborhood is certainly bursting with artists of all kinds, but in a landscape of tattoos, piercings and the occasional crop of multicolored dreadlocks, could an 'academy' really survive?

The three friends originally shopped their idea for The Academy of the South Side during The Sprout Fund's Engage Pittsburgh event with the hopes that their 'big idea' would get selected during the roundup. It didn't. But as Vogel remarks, 'If you don't let discouragement stop you, you have a much better chance at succeeding.'

When they officially came to Sprout a few months later with a proposal to start an informally formal oil painting school in the Brew House, Funding Programs Manager Mac Howison had his doubts, too. 'Initially, I thought the market for what they wanted to offer had to be really, really small. But they've proved to me that the service they provide truly fills a void here in Pittsburgh, and now I use The Academy as an example of a highly functional product of a seed grant.'

Artists Among Artists
'Teaching is an extension of learning,' says Iranshahr. 'You get to see a progression over time in your own work and in the work of your students. It gets to be like an addiction of sorts.'

The Academy approaches art as a science. The methods they teach require disciplined practice. All studies are done exclusively from life with an almost religious devotion to certain palette combinations learned from contemporary masters. This may sound rigid, but with ages ranging from 18-65, and the eclectic play list including everything from Deltron 3030 to Buckethead, the atmosphere is hip, relaxed and lively. 'This place is heaven on earth!' says Bernie Pintar, who is on painting number 40. After reading about The Academy in the City Paper last spring, Pintar signed up, and has taken nearly everything they've offered since. 'What I like most about these classes is the level of camaraderie fostered here. It's artists among artists, and you can't beat that!'

A Citywide Salon
Thanks to a grant from Pittsburgh 250 Community Connections, The Academy's newest and most public project is now underway. Throughout the month of June, The Citywide Salon showcases the work of 18 local artists, as well as Meehan, Vogel and Iranshahr, in bus shelters throughout the city. Artists were chosen from a pool of nearly 60 applicants. Styles range from traditionalist works by Robert Schmalzried and Tom Mosser to more modern ones by "local enfant terrible" Thommy Conroy and MOZE.

Efforts were made to represent diverse locations and styles, and, if possible, to place an artist?s work in or near their neighborhoods. A complete listing can be found on The Academy's Web site. While you're there, register to win an eight-week class with free transportation to the South Side provided by Port Authority.

What's Next?
Word is spreading about The Academy. Attendance has grown from two or three in a class to between five and ten. Since their first official semester, The Academy has developed a partnership with the Brew House and is now in the process of attaining 501(c)3 status as well as continuing education provider certification. Though they still can't pay themselves much, they can cover supplies and overhead through class registration. And they can afford to pay their models in cash instead of beer.

Pittsburgh City Paper

Shervin IranshahrComment

APRIL 12, 2007 
The Academy of the South Side takes oil painting back to the future.

Looking around a classroom at The Academy of the South Side, a new art school at the Brew House, you won't see the kind of experimental art you'd expect from young Pittsburghers. The classroom is typical enough of the brewery-turned-artist's-co-op: a large industrial space filled with old couches and art materials. But around the artists studying a model from behind their easels, the walls are lined with oil paintings ---- portraits, as well as studies of figures in costume, all in the same realist style. While the models are contemporary, the style, poses and costuming make some of the paintings look as though they could be hundreds of years old. 

That's exactly the the atmosphere Academy founders Tim Meehan, 27, and Shervin Iranshahr, 30, are aiming for. They teach art through strict methods of the sort used in Paris during the early 19th century. "We're coming at it from a totally different place," Meehan says. "We're all sticking to a system that's sort of been passed down forever." 

The Academy offers two classes: portrait painting with live models, and utility drawing, a beginning still-life class that prepares students for painting. The spring session began in late March; a third class, in costumed figure painting, will be offered in the fall. "We're just going to try, as slowly as we can, to take people from zero to feeling confident about drawing and painting," Meehan says. "We're keying the class to a beginner, but people with experience can use it how they see fit." 

Meehan, a Pittsburgh native, met Iranshahr when the two studied this method of painting together in California. When Iranshahr paid a post-college visit to Meehan at the Brew House, Meehan says, "within an hour he was making big plans about moving out here." The two -- Meehan's a freelance portrait painter and graphic designer, Iranshahr a designer -- rented apartments at the Brew House and decided to share their love of art with others. They had planned to start early last year, but held off until support from The Sprout Fund came through this spring. 

Classes are group-taught by Meehan, Iranshahr, Dan Vogel and Yvonne Kozlina; tuition starts at $175 per class for an eight-week session, or $500 for all three. The goal was a relaxed environment with "people who know the system guiding the students and giving them confidence," Meehan says. A second session is planned for fall. "We've been hearing from all kinds of people," Meehan says, noting that they've gotten the word out to a variety of age groups. Tuesday's portrait class is full, with 10 students. While the drawing class has just four students, Meehan says, "We are encouraging people to come and join this class on a week-by-week basis." 

Academy's instructors seem as passionate about their tradition teaching method as if it were their own creation. "We're looking to share inspiration with each other," says Meehand. "We're trying to find inspiring models as well as students ---- just the whole experience."

Cave Gallery

Shervin IranshahrComment

Friday, October 23, 2009
Studio Visit with Shervin Iranshahr

I was recently in Pittsburgh PA and had the opportunity to visit the studio of legendary oil painter Shervin Iranshahr. Shervin was born in Iran and has lived in Vienna. In 2006, after many years active in the Los Angeles art scene, he moved to Pittsburgh for the inexpensive urban charm of Iron City.

It's a always a treat to meet with Shervin in his studio and catch a glimpse of the mind-bending works he is creating. He is in a constant state of creativity, and always seems to have several works going at any given time. Shervin is one of the most prolific artists we know - with an impressive and brilliant body of work. 

Soon after his arrival in Pittsburgh, Shervin co-founded "The Academy of the South Side" (ASS) with Tim Meehan and Dan Vogel. This now established, creative institution teaches oil painting and drawing from live models. Shervin offers the students one on one training, single session classes, as well as 8 week 16 week long sessions. He also organizes group shows featuring his students at ASS, including emerging artists Yvonne Kozlina, Dan Vogel, Phillip Seth, Jason Angst, Ryan Lee and Tim Meehan. ASS has developed into a well-respected art and community center, spearheaded by Shervins' creative genius and larger than life persona. In addition to painting and teaching classes at the Academy, Shervin also designs and prints T-shirts. Some styles are adorned with interesting and detailed stitching integrated into the design. 

In March 2008, C.A.V.E. Gallery had the opportunity to feature a series of Shervin's artwork, and we continue to stay current with new work by this prolific master. Below are some of Shervin's beautifully intense oil paintings available at C.A.V.E. Gallery.
We look forward to forward to showcasing more of Shervin's artwork in 2010 - stay tuned! Posted by CAVEGallery at 11:32 PM