Born in Russia to Armenian parents, Marcos Grigorian spent most of his life in Tehran. There, he was part of a generation of Iranian artists interested in reconciling the ancient Persian culture with the formal language of modernism, deploying the motifs and techniques of folk art and craft traditions in new ways. After studying art in Rome, Grigorian returned to Iran, where his international ties made him an important point of contact between the worlds of Iranian, European, and American art.
In the early 1960s, while living in the United States, Grigorian began creating what he referred to as “Earthworks,” preceding the American land art movement by several years. These were relief-like canvases that employed kah-gel (a mixture of straw, clay, and earth traditionally used in Iran to build indigenous village dwellings), and other natural materials such as wood and sand, sometimes mixed with paint. Though reminiscent of the modernist trope of the monochrome, Grigorian’s “Earthwork” canvases allude to the desert landscape of Iran in their elemental palettes and in the incorporation of organic matter. In this untitled work, he used sand and enamel paint to form raised striations across the surface, suggesting an aerial view of sand dunes. While Grigorian’s use of sand carries rich symbolic connotations, it also serves a formal purpose, allowing the artist to animate the canvas through surface texture rather than conventional painterly effects.