Peter and I caught up with Amir H Fallah at his studio on Monday, which is almost completely full despite his having had a successful solo show at The Third Line in Dubai in December. The artist, who also founded Beautiful Decay, has been working on portraits. The explanation is an oversimplification to say the least, but atypical though they are, they are indeed portraits. Last year Amir travelled to Dubai where a set of collectors commissioned him to capture their likenesses. Meeting them at their homes, Amir chose objects and memorabilia that he found both visually compelling and personally valuable to his subjects. Certain books, jewelry, photographs, furniture, odds, ends as well as a few shared stories, or general conversations made their way into a still life, of sorts; the final touch being to situate the collector who Amir then covered with a cloth, hiding his or her physical identity. A photo and a handshake and Amir headed back to Los Angeles to spend countless hours in his studio filtering through what he saw, heard and wanted to portray.
Thus, the portraits became portraits not in the truest sense of the word. While possessing its own set of connotations, a mirror is not just a mirror in Amir’s paintings; it’s a gift from a grandmother who was impossibly close to the subject. A stack of books is in fact a collection of personal journals. Amir references traditions from classical and renaissance portraiture whereby a patron’s physical identity is superseded by material possessions meant to signify wealth, power and status. Taking it a step further and aided by his own unique painting style, Amir’s renderings become encoded visual stories riddled with symbols so personal only Amir and his viewer can accurately decipher them. A fact that does not, however, take anything away from an outside viewer’s experience of looking at the work.
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Without knowledge of what each personal symbol references the paintings are still visually stunning and formally engaging. Amir talks about deconstruction when referencing these paintings. Not only is each object and image a disparate element, but also the paintings themselves are made up of various parts and materials. Collaging certain areas, or painting on paper and adhering it to canvas, the works are several parts that make a whole. Amir’s method of painting creates a sense of deconstruction as well. Borders weave in and out of space, foreground is confused with background, extreme flatness is juxtaposed with fleshy skin. Many elements have been taken apart and put back together again in just the right way.
The results of Amir’s methods are that an image becomes a sum of many parts. Both literally and figuratively. The portrait itself is not a direct portrayal of its owner; rather one might come to an understanding of the individual, as interpreted through Amir’s eyes, via the collection of his memorabilia. We don’t need to see him to know something about him. This new approach to portraiture is a novel comment on the relationship between collector and artist, as well as artist and work.
We were so grateful to have the opportunity to chat with this awesome LA artist. If you like his work too and want to be updated about upcoming opportunities to see it (you just missed a beautiful piece in Walter Maciel’s last group show) then join ABLA’s mailing list and check back often! – Pauli Ochi
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