Return on beauty: Hamid Karimi’s artistic stamina pays off

More than 90 landscape paintings by local artist Hamid Karimi are on permanent display at UVA Health South Rehabilitation Hospital. Photo: Courtesy of the artist More than 90 landscape paintings by local artist Hamid Karimi are on permanent display at UVA Health South Rehabilitation Hospital. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Hospitals aren’t exactly known as hubs of creative engagement. Yet the trend of visual art in hospitals is on the rise thanks to studies that show scientific links between patients, art and lowered stress levels.

While Charlottesville may have yet to see the type of full-fledged contemporary art installations as Indiana University School of Medicine at Illinois or the Cleveland Clinic’s Arts & Medicine Institute, UVA Health South Rehabilitation Hospital is changing its clinical aesthetic with the help of local artist and gallery owner Hamid Karimi.

Reinvention is a bit of a theme for Karimi, whose work includes figurative, abstract and landscape paintings rendered in oil, acrylic and pastel (occasionally). Though he recently dove into a rainy days series, which features images depicted through the rain-slicked windshield of a car, the Tehran-born Charlottesvillian rejects the idea of stylistic repetition.

“Being creative means you have to go back to the drawing board over and over,” he says. “A lot of artists believe that if you really want to make a name for yourself you have to find one style and stick to it. But you’re not creative when you’re copying the same thing. Art has to be experimental.”

The philosophy of art seems to weigh more heavily on Karimi’s mind than most—likely because he began his career in, well, you guessed it. “I first studied western philosophy at the University of Oslo,” Karimi says. “Everything is based on logical reasoning. I took a course in art where we asked things like, ‘How can you distinguish beautiful art from ugly art? What is our artistic faculty? How can we tell that one piece of art is different from another?’”

The course, he says, did not involve painting, and he felt like the discussion went way above his head. So he dabbled in visual self-expression for the first time, attempting to experience what his classmates spoke about. “But then I thought that I wasn’t good at it so I left the brush,” he says. Discouraged, he abandoned the craft only to return again years later—then give it up, return and give up once again.

Then, a few years ago, he told a friend that he wished ‘I could do something magic like create art.” When his friend gently suggested he just do it already, Karimi got angry with himself.

“All along I told myself that painting is something I am not good at, it is beyond my skills,” he says. “Why am I telling myself that? I thought, ‘I’ve only tried a couple times. Maybe I’m not trying hard enough.’ After that, all of a sudden, I got better and better and better. I filled my whole house with paintings.”

Eventually, he began selling his work and donating it to friends. Most recently he founded Barboursville Fine Arts Gallery, which features the work of 11 local painters and sculptors, including his own. “I want to share art with the community,” he says.

One of his abstract pieces made it into the hands of Dianna Gomez, who works at UVA Health South Rehabilitation Hospital. She began to collect his art, filling her office and turning it into an impromptu gallery space. Noticing how visitors came to admire it, Gomez invited Karimi to exhibit in the hospital. Now more than 90 of his paintings, all of them landscapes, dot the walls across three different floors.

“Hamid has a good variety of paintings and the vibrant colors catch your attention,” Gomez wrote in an e-mail. “I think having a local artist featured at the hospital adds a personal touch to the décor and it makes the patients smile.”

Like many of UVA Health South Rehabilitation Hospital’s patients, who focus on reclaiming physical function and strength after illness or injury, Karimi says his biggest creative process and source of personal joy has been the recreation he’s done on himself.

“One day I was sitting back and wishing that some magic would change my life, that something fun would happen,” he says. “Then I remembered that I have filled my house with paintings. I’m a self-made artist. If I could do things I couldn’t do before, that is the magic. I have the magic on my walls.”