Monday, October 24, 2016

Mehri Danielpour - The Starving Artist and the Queen

Pablo Picasso once said, "Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life."

The first time I read his quote was at the Norton museum with my children just after Hurricane Katrina had wrought distruction in New Orleans.  The news repeatedly ran stories of suffering in the streets and at the Astrodome, ad nauseum. So I scooped up my kids and headed out for an antidote of art and culture to counter the social milieu.

Picasso was right.  

I immediately felt soothed and restored after an hour's walk through the beauty, order and color of the museum's paintings and sculptures.

The dust of life is thick again--especially in the political arena.  More than ever do I long to lose myself in some Monet garden or in Van Gogh's starry night or at a lonely Edward Hopper street cafe. It feels like an almost panicky need to escape to the serenity of art, and experience the cleansing of the creative realm.

I recently found my refuge from the electoral storm in the sculpture of a gifted artist named Mehri Danielpour. She  happens to have lived in Wellington's back yard for several decades--or rather, front yard--in Palm Beach.


At first, Mehri Danielpour says, she could not get the hang of color. Although her mother was a painter, Mehri did not inherit her grasp of the integration of hues and dyes.

It wasn’t until age 18—when Mehri traveled to Italy to study art—that she found her medium.   She says, “I was bad with color and paints. But when I saw Italian statues, I said, ‘This is what I want to do!’ I fell in love with sculpture.” Without a doubt, she found her niche.

That was the beginning of her artistic career.  She continued her training with a six month session at the Art Students' League in New York, and also studied under john Terken. Other than that, she was self-taught--and obviously very gifted.

Born in Iran, her family immigrated to America shortly after WWII when Mehri was 8 years old.  The 5 month long trip started through India. The family boarded an American military ship that took them from Mumbai to San Pedro.  From there, they traveled to New York where friends resided.  Mehri got married and eventually settled in Palm Beach in 1965.

Her husband was a business man and a poet, and treated her royally. He wrote her a poem a day until he lost use of his hands due to Multiple Sclerosis.  His condition forced Mehri to find a way to make a living.  Sculpture was what she knew, so she transformed her ‘hobbyist’ art form into a professional trade.  Since her husband had so lovingly spoiled her, she also had to quickly acquire a few new life skills—like writing a check!

After setting her mind to a professional sculpting career, Mehri experienced ‘miracle after miracle,’ as she puts it.  In her early art days, she had always dreamed of sculpting the Iranian Royal Family.  Shortly after her career launch, she received a call from the Iranian Embassy.  Someone had seen one of her sculptures in Brazil and requested her portfolio. Well, she didn’t have a portfolio, but quickly went to work on compiling photos of her best work.  It was followed by a commission to sculpt the Shah and Queen Farah Pahlavi. 

Mehri’s dream and artistic goal had come true.

But it didn’t end there. The Queen kept calling Mehri to ask about her kids and invited her to come to Washington DC for a visit at Potomac.  She was also included in the 1971 celebration of the 2,500th year of the Persian Empire—the most expensive party ever! The Queen used her portrait bust, sculpted by Mehri and cast in silver, as a gift for each of her guests. Mehri mused on that irony that she, a starving artist had become friends with a royal Queen!

Mehri’s style ranges from realistic to abstract. Rarely does an artist excel in both arenas.  She defies genre stereotypes.  Her artwork has been displayed in several shows including a 1976 exhibit with Andy Warhol at the Colony Hotel in Palm Beach. She recently did busts of Tommy Hilfiger’s wife and son.  

Mehri Danielpour and Andy Warhol

A favorite of hers—“The Year of the Child”—once stood at the former site of the West Palm Beach library on Flagler Boulevard.  It now stands in the trendy Northwood area.

The Year of the Child

Mehri doesn’t sketch before sculpting.  She goes directly to clay on an armature.  There is no measuring of the subject.  All her carving is done “Eye-to-Hand.”  She has a very good eye!

Sculpture is a multi-tiered process that relies on metal foundries.  Mehri utilizes foundries in Sarasota and Miami.  She also used one in Riviera Beach, but it has since closed down.  A bust can take three to four 1-1/2 hours sittings where Mehri chisels away at her clay. 

Next a rubber mold is created. Liquid wax is poured into the rubber mold.  A porcelain mold is then made over the wax mold.  The wax is melted, then molten bronze is poured into the porcelain mold. After the bronze hardens, the porcelain is broken to reveal the final form. Much cleaning and polishing follows. Then a colored patina is applied and heated with a torch to finish off the piece.

The mood of Mehri’s subjects varies from serious to amusing.  Her series called, “Do You Hear My Cry?” shows Mehri’s social commentary and advocacy for Persian women.  


One time, in Vegas, she was captured by the Cirque de Soleil characters and she subsequently created another series—on the opposite side of the emotional spectrum—called “Cirque.”  These sculptures are so different from her others. They use a variety of materials and are animated!  Her idea was to clothe the figures in a thick lace. But no craft or fabric stores carried the type that she envisioned. Then one day, while foraging through her mother’s old sewing box, she found the perfect coarse, eyelet-style lace. As she wrapped the material around the torsos and legs of her muses, Mehri realized that her mother’s legacy would be forever encased--and celebrated--in these whimsical sculptures.  Even their masks were made out of small cuttings of the fabric. 

Ms. Danielpour considers "Escape" as her master piece.  It was inspired by those fleeing Florida's 1928 hurricane. However, the piece can be applied to any scenario on the same subject.


Mehri also works in crystal Lucite.  Her Wild Horses is a stunning example of her use of this material.

Discover more of Mehri's work on her website and enjoy the beauty and restoration her artwork exudes.  I think you’ll agree she is a queen in her own right!

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