The first thing you might notice about the eleven new paintings on display at Kuhl Frames + Art (412 22nd St., Oakland) is the vibrant color and careful detail of each piece. The paintings, mostly modern-day scenes of life in Kabul, Afghanistan, employ a delicate mix of textures and lines that seem to have come straight from the brush of a seasoned artist. One painting, "Bayman Kid," shows a young boy stooped under a bulky bag of straw, the trees behind him flush with greens of all hues and the grass underfoot blown by an unseen wind.
It might come as a surprise that the artist behind these distinctive works, Afghanistan resident Qahar Behzad, is just eighteen years old. But perhaps even more remarkable, explained gallery co-owner Travis Kuhl, is that the young painter has had no formal training — no instructors to teach him perspective, brush stroke, or any other techniques. The images are the outcome of Behzad's own self-teaching, which began when he was six years old.
"A lot of his work seems like it feels instinctual to him," Kuhl said. "I think for a young person to be that confident is pretty amazing. We all deal with second-guessing ourselves at different stages in our lives, but my view is that he doesn't seem to be doing that."
Behzad's paintings traveled a long way to reach the walls of Kuhl's gallery, which he co-owns with his wife, Elisa Carozza — and they could carry the young Afghan just as far. Each piece on exhibit is for sale through August 20, and on Saturday, August 6, from 4 to 7 p.m., the gallery will feature one of the paintings in a silent auction. Funds from the sales will support Behzad's travel to the United States for a formal art-school education.
Carozza's brother, Gerald Carozza, a colonel in the US Army Reserve, introduced the couple to Behzad's work and is also helping raise scholarship funds. Carozza met the affable artist in 2010 while stationed at Camp Eggars, a military base in Kabul. By then, Behzad, who lives nearby, had enamored himself so much to the soldiers and other personnel at the base that he had his own painting studio set up on location from which he was displaying and selling his work.
Carozza first noticed the paintings on his way to get a haircut. Sensing his intrigue, Behzad's father invited him inside for a customary cup of tea. That first visit turned into a regular event, with the three sipping tea and sharing stories about Behzad's art. Carozza soon learned about the trying atmosphere in which the teenager worked. "Thugs had robbed his family when they learned that he made money from his art," Carozza said. The family got a guard dog to deter thieves — but the canine contracted rabies and fatally bit his younger sister.
But despite such tragic events, Carozza said Behzad has a gentle spirit. "Meeting Qahar and enjoying his art was an island of beauty in a war-ravaged county that is struggling to get beyond an ugliness that has cursed it for decades," he said. "I hope the Bay Area folks will enjoy his art as much as I did." 510-625-0123 or KuhlFrames.com