For Angela and Hossein Valamanesh art is inspired by a spiritual connectedness to place. For Angela, born in Port Pirie, South Australia, this connection has an unassailably Australian origin, while for Hossein, having migrated to Australia from Iran as a young man, the sign and symbols of his Persian heritage are interwoven with his Australian identity. Materiality is a shared concern, one that has evolved from a shared life. 

Recently Angela has been inspired by a famous scene in the 1960s black comedy sitcom, The Addams Family, which sees the family’s matriarch, Morticia, in her hothouse, cutting off and discarding blooming roses. Like Morticia, Valamanesh is more intrigued by the plant’s spiky stems and the protection they provide the roses.

Indeed, she is most enamoured by plants that have evolved to thrive in harsh conditions. For the Biennial she has produced a series of long, thin cylindrical botanical forms, which appear dangerously overrun by thorns. If we consider the ways by which we learn to live alongside other species in our environments, then Valamanesh’s sculptures become fertile metaphors for survival and sacrifice: in the natural world, thorns, spines, spikes and prickles can be life-threatening to predators but they also serve a lifesaving purpose for their owner.

Made in the months prior to his unexpected passing, Hossein’s contribution to the Biennial includes Constellations 1–5, 2020, a series of dark, cosmic configurations summoned from gold leaf and gravel. Made by throwing a number of small stones onto a flat surface and connecting them with straight lines, Valamanesh wilfully embraces ideas of chance and coincidence. This series is paired with What goes around, 2021, a suspended spherical mass of dry red gum branches, fortuitously rescued by Valamanesh after they had fallen onto his studio roof. The ends of each branch have been painted black and embossed with gold leaf, such that they recall a galaxy of stars, as their glinting, entangled form revolves in space.

These works and Hossein’s now iconic spinning tree on display in Gallery 6 recall the words of his favourite Sufi poet, Rumi - 'We come spinning out of nothingness, Scattering stars like the dust. The stars form a circle, And in the center we dance.'

Written by Patrice Starkey

Angela Valamanesh is interested in plants that have evolved to thrive in harsh conditions. Investigate a plant or flower that has a distinctive physical defence system such as spikes or thorns. You may discover a defence mechanism which isn’t physically obvious, such as poisons. Research the evolution of your chosen species and discover how it survives in the ecosystem it now inhabits. Create a series of drawings that emphasise and highlight the beauty of its defence mechanism.

After visiting the Adelaide Botanic Gardens or a local park, create a series of botanical illustrations. Use a viewfinder to focus on one area of a plant or flower. Draw your specimen with as much detail as you can.

Photo: M Kluvanek.

Angela Valamanesh’s fascination with scientific illustration has led to her creating works of art that make links to scientific plant, human and animal specimens. These objects appear like enlargements of microscopic organisms and share a similar colour palette and texture. This interest has continued with the works in Free/State, titled Morticia’s Garden.

  • Investigate English Botanist Nehemiah Grew’s Anatomy of Plants and scientist Robert Hooke’s book Micrographia. Other than subject matter, what connections can you make between the characteristics of their work and the objects made by Valamanesh?
  • Using a microscope, gain access to an invisible world. Collect plant life to examine under a microscope and create a series of illustrations. Alternatively use scientific images to inform your drawings.
  • Turn one of these illustrations into a three-dimensional form. You may like to use clay or plasticine. Experiment with colour and texture to highlight parts of this organism that cannot be seen with the naked eye.

Photo: M Kluvanek.

What goes around, is a spherical constellation of dry red gum branches, rescued by Valamanesh after they had fallen onto his studio roof. Go on a walk outside and collect leaves, gumnuts, branches – items that have fallen from trees etc (rather than picking them from living specimens). Using paint and glue, create a sculptural form that breathes new life into nature's debris.

Hossein Valamanesh, Australia, 1949 - 15 January 2022, What goes around, 2021, Adelaide, red gum sticks, gold leaf & electric motor, 70.0 x 68.0 x 67.0 cm; Courtesy the artist and GAG Projects – Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide and GREYNOISE, Dubai, © Hossein & Angela Valamanesh, photo: Nassiem Valamanesh.

Angela and Hossein Valamanesh’s works evoke a sense of stillness and meditation. Find other examples of ‘quiet’ or ‘calm’ works of art. Describe what qualities make them quiet.

Take a look at the collection of works by Angela and Hossein displayed together in Free/State. What do these works have in common?

Angela and Hossein Valamanesh collaborated on public works of art including 14 Pieces. This work is located outside the South Australian Museum and was inspired by Ichthyosaur vertebrae which was on display in the museum. Collaborate with a partner to design a sculpture to be placed at the entrance of the Art Gallery of South Australia. How might your design respond to or connect with the Gallery’s content and mission statement?

installation view: 2022 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art: Free/State, featuring Home by Angela and Hossein Valamanesh, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide; photo: Saul Steed.

Constellations 1–5, 2020 by Hossein was made by throwing a number of small stones onto a flat surface and connecting them with straight lines, embracing ideas of chance and coincidence. Create your own work of art where chance determines the outcome. Some possibilities could be:

- While in a car, on public transport or while walking, record your movement with a pad of paper and pen (not looking at the paper while you travel). Allow chance movement to guide the mark making.

- Scrunch up a piece of string and drop it from a height onto a piece of paper. Draw around the string or glue it to your surface in the position it landed. You could also try this technique using torn coloured paper.

- Flick through a book. At random, pause on a page and write down one sentence. Repeat this process multiple times. Rearrange the sentence to create a story or poem.

Artists can sometimes be inspired by the most unexpected things, like Angela was with a scene in The Addams Family. List 5 things that you have seen, listened to or read this week that have piqued your interest in some way. It might be a scene in your favourite television program, an advertisement in a bus shelter or a lyric in a song. Document these things in a visual diary – you can simply write them down, sketch or take a photograph. Keep adding to this diary each week and refer back to this when you are in need of inspiration or an idea for a work of art.

Hossein Valamanesh, Australia, 1949 - 15 January 2022, Constellations 4, 2020, Adelaide, silicon carbide, gravel, gold leaf, and wire on board, 67.0 x 67.0 x 3.5 cm; Courtesy the artist and GAG Projects – Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide and GREYNOISE, Dubai, © Hossein & Angela Valamanesh.

The Gallery’s Learning programs are supported by the Department for Education.

This education resource has been developed and written in collaboration Kylie Neagle Education Coordinator and Dr. Lisa Slade Assistant Director, Artistic Programs.