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This article was written on 29 Apr 2013, and is filled under Interview.

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Artist Interview: Amir H. Fallah

Amir-Fallah_Lost- In-A-Field

Lost in a Field, 2012, acrylic, collage, colored pencil on paper mounted to canvas
48 x 36 in | 122 x 91 cm
Image courtesy of the artist and Gallery Wendi Norris

Art-Rated’s Rachelle Reichert had the chance to meet Amir H. Fallah at Gallery Wendi Norris in San Francisco to talk about his work and his exhibition of paintings, The Collected. Amir H. Fallah is an artist living and working in Los Angeles, CA. Amir received his B.F.A. from The Maryland Institute College of Art and his M.F.A from UCLA in 2005. He has exhibited both nationally and internationally. Exhibits include shows at Weatherspoon Art Museum, The Sharjah Biennial 2009, LA Louver, The Third Line, Gallery Wendi Norris, Baer Ridgway Exhibitions, Cherry And Martin, 31 Grand, Frederieke Taylor gallery, Mary Goldman Gallery among others.

He has been a visiting lecturer at a range of respected institutions, including Columbia College, USC, UCLA, Cleveland Institute of Art, California State University, University Of New Mexico, Otis College Of Art, and Maryland Institute College of Art.

Amir is also the founder of Beautiful/Decay, an art and design blog and print publication.

I met Amir H. Fallah at Wendi Norris in San Francisco to talk about his solo exhibition The Collected. Inspired by Renaissance portraiture and vanitas paintings, Fallah’s paintings are engaging and intelligent. Working with themes of power and economics in the history of commissioned portraiture, Fallah constructs unique portraits featuring draped figures surrounded by personal mementos from the sitter’s home. There is an implied significance to the objects the sitters surround themselves with and serve as a face of identity. Naturally, I began the conversation about environment and Fallah’s own home surroundings of Los Angeles.

Art-Rated: Tell me about making art in Los Angeles. It obvious that you are interested in the environments one surrounds himself with. How has Los Angeles shaped your work and helped you develop as an artist? 

Amir H. Fallah: Because LA it is so big, it takes awhile to find your community. The first year I was there I was miserable because I couldn’t find like-minded people. I moved there to go to grad school at UCLA. I was really miserable and I just got out of a serious relationship. It was hard. But then I found like-minded people and I got settled in I realized this place is awesome. In LA, you can walk into a gallery and meet the dealer. You can’t go to Barbara Gladstone and talk to Barbara, you can’t even talk to an intern. You can literally walk into almost any gallery and speak with the owner and they will be fairly nice. I don’t know, maybe because it is 75 degrees all year round, it is hard to be depressed.

AR: California has a reputation is that you guys are a bunch of daydreamers with no work ethic. What is your day usually like?

AF: If you are a serious artist, you get more studio time because you don’t have people pop in. Because it is so spread out you are more isolated. I am literally in my studio 8-12 hours everyday working. It depends on the person. If you are serious about your work, you’re working, if you aren’t, you’re not. It’s laid back but productive. I’m working, but I’m working in shorts and flip flops, not bundled up with a space heater.I had all those misconceptions about LA when I moved here but it wasn’t true. I thought I would come out here for grad school, three years, then straight back to the east coast.

AR: Did your mindset change during your time at grad school or afterwards?

AF: By the time the second year rolled around I was like ‘I love this place, I love the people, the culture, the accessibility.’ You can go to any art event, music, comedy, any day of the week, just like New York— except it is easy. You can drive, there aren’t so many people but you can get tickets to places. It is a great place for creative people. The quality of life a little bit easier. It makes being a working artist a little bit easier.

AR: Did you ever have a problem having your studio space in your home?

AF: Yeah, when I first got out of school for the first six months I worked out of a one car garage at my apartment. We, with my now wife, moved into a house where I had a tiny bedroom I painted out of. Then I rented studio spaces outside. We now have a house with a two car garage.

AR: Did you find that the work changed every time the studio changed?

AF: Well the work is constantly changing and shifting. I don’t know if it has so much to do with a studio or not. Since 2009 I have had a consistent sized studio but I am really productive by having a home studio. My schedule for the last year has been wake up at 8 or 9, I’ll walk our dog, answer a couple emails and I am in the studio by 10 or 11. I will work until about 5:30, then somewhere around 10 or 11p.m. I’ll go back into the studio and paint until around 2am. Since the beginning of 2012 things picked up and I started having show commitments. I’ve had to strike while the iron is hot. I have this show (at Gallery Wendi Norris) then a couple of group shows, then two more solo shows this year. One show is just five medium sized paintings at my gallery in Dubai (The Third Line) in their project room.



Installation Image courtesy of the artist and Gallery Wendi Norris

AR: When is that?

AF: June. I have three done. I have to do two more. And they are all still lives. Then in December I have a solo show in their main space. It is a really big space and it is a lot of work. I’ll have about seven shows by the end of the year.

AR: That’s fantastic. How do you think about your shows? Do you think of them separately or do you work on all of them all at once? 

AF: I work on multiple shows at a time. The work is thematically the same. So for this show the work is two commissioned portraits and the show in Dubai is all commissioned pieces.

AR: And that is the concept of the show? To exhibit work that is already sold?


Overseer of the Power Chord, 2013. acrylic, collage, colored pencil on paper mounted to canvas
60 x 48 in | 152 x 122 cm
Image courtesy of the artist and Gallery Wendi Norris

AF: So let me explain. For a while I was doing paintings of friends. I would go to their home and start having a dialogue of who they are and the mundane items in their home. Like this one, this guy is a musician and here are some distortion pedals, guitars, the everyday debris of life. I wanted to paint a portrait of someone without having to do a literal portrait displaying male or female, young or old, all the basic things that describe a traditional portrait. I always cover the 90% of the body and their faces with their own belongings, be it with their duvet cover, their favorite shirt, a blanket, something from their home. I am creating a deconstructed portrait of who they are so usually it is a ghost of a figure with a couple of items.

AR: How does the pattern relate to the portrait?

AF: The patterns are all from their homes but a lot of times I will superimpose a pattern. For example, like this was a Kenyan weaving that was framed and hanging on his wall. So I took that pattern and superimposed it. The portraits are skewed, it isn’t a literal translation.

AR: Do you think of these found patterns as a representation an identity?

AF: I am attracted to pattern so I think it is more of a formal thing. But these are the textures, colors, and patterns that we all have around us.  I naturally gravitate towards them. For me that really stands out. Also, the plants people have in their home. The reason why I like plants so much is that plant life is this other living thing you have in your home. Like stand-ins for people.  They are living things in your house that you interact with as objects and for me that is really interesting. I did a whole series of paintings that were portraits minus the figures and I would use plants like cacti as stand-ins for people as the only living thing represented in the painting. So some of the patterns are more formal and I definitely punch them up at times. Then again, some people literally have crazy, bright pattern.

AR: So what is the process for these portraits?

AF: So what I will do is I will go and photograph them in their home, then I will take the photograph and put it into Photoshop, cut out the background and move the objects around.

AR: So you have them sit for you covered with the fabric?

AF: Yea. I create the scene in Photoshop. I take a lot of liberties. At first I was going to paint it literally but portraits never really show the true identity of someone so I wanted to liberate myself from having to conform to do that. I wanted to put the artist back in to the role of power were I can make decisions that are based on reality but they also suit my own selfish needs.

AR: So are you playing with ideas of patronage through the manipulation and liberties taken with these commissions?

AF: Yes, so originally I was just painting my friends and that is when I had the idea. I was looking at a lot of classical portraiture and all of this work was commissioned by the wealthy and elite. These people were using the artist as a tool to represent the needs, wants, and desires of the wealth. I wanted to turn that on its head and put the artist back in power. It sounds silly and grandiose, and I am not out to make the sitters look bad. I like turning process on its head and having the freedom to manipulate an image. 

Part of the ongoing commission I am doing is that we have contracts and the contract states that before I even go to their home, they pay for half of the painting upfront. We decide on the size, then I go to their home and we collaborate on the photo collage. We have a dialogue and start pulling objects. For instance, this is something he sleeps on (pointing to the blanket covering the figure in the painting). It is nothing like a family heirloom but interestingly, his DNA is likely more embedded in this blanket, something he sleeps on, more than anything else in his house. You likely never think about it. Then this is a photo of his great grandfather, some plants, and a knife his ex-girlfriend gave him when she went to Africa.



The Laws of Order, 2012. acrylic, collage, colored pencil on paper mounted to canvas
72 x 60 in | 183 x 152 cm
Image courtesy of the artist and Gallery Wendi Norris

AR: Interesting.

AF: Yes it was, that he kept the knife that his ex-girlfriend gave it to him and he still wanted it in the portrait. He travels a lot for work and every time he goes somewhere he collects these buttons.

About a week after we met he emails me to tell me that we forgot one of the most important things in the paintings, it was this drum. I saw it and I thought it was really weird. This guy is a high powered lawyer, what is he doing with a bongo drum? Then he told me in his office when he gets stressed late at night he plays it to relieve stress. I mean, this guy is a partner in one of the world’s biggest law firms, he is in a high stress, high power position, and I love that he is banging on a drum. So there are these random objects yet everything is embedded in a story.

Once I take a few photographs I let the sitter see and they choose a photograph. Then they pay for the painting in full and don’t see the painting until it is finished. So they are really out of the rest of the decision-making. I can make any aesthetic decision. They know that I intuitively change things, colors change. I can turn pink purple, I change the skin color. I edit pretty drastically. At the opening last night it was the first time he (the collector) saw this painting. I was so nervous. They are these expensive objects that these people paid for nine months in advance and they could totally hate it and it is theirs. Thankfully he was happy with it.

AR: Yes. I like that he now will live with the objects represented in a different way. Have these commissions changed the relationship with your work or your approach?

AF: Well, no.  What was most interesting about these works was my process was not disrupted at all. And that is the only reason I would do a commission like this in the first place. Not in a million years did I ever think I would do commission portraits of people. When I had the idea I thought it would be a really interesting psychological study but I don’t have to change my aesthetics or give up my freedoms. The one interesting thing is most of the people I painted I knew. I knew what they had in their homes. The commissions become a challenge because some of the people did not have interesting objects in their homes. It turns into this challenge of finding interesting items to work with. Some people, although they may be art collectors, don’t own any mementos or anything personal to them around. It is bizarre.

AR: That is bizarre. But then the challenge is that you have to change what you think is interesting, make the uninteresting interesting.  How do you transform the mundane into interesting paintings?

AF: Both formally and conceptually it is an interesting challenge and it forces me to paint things that are outside of my comfort zone. There was this one painting I did of a friend where his most precious object was his lucky basketball shoes. I had to paint basketball shoes and make them look interesting. Who the hell wants to see a painting of basketball shoes? So I made the painting and it worked out great but it was a challenge. Usually artists paint the same things over and over again. So it keeps the work fresh. This could be a long series because with every person I paint brings new challenges.

AR: It seems to promise a constant opportunity for growth as an artist. Can you talk about the playfulness you employ in the work? You confront serious subject matter such as identity and economics in portraiture but through pattern and playful use of material it is very visually satisfying as well.

AF: I come from the school of thought that art should be pleasurable. When I go to a gallery or a museum you can tell if an artist had a great time making the work. I want to feel their heart and soul in the work. I don’t want it to feel cold and dead unless it is apart of the content of the work. I want my paintings to be inviting and giving. My hope is that they unravel over time so that the more you look at them the more you have these moments of discovery. I want someone to stare at this for a month then realize that the letters in this painting are collaged, not painted. Or even in this painting, there are actually two people in this painting. Most people don’t catch that.

Warrior Of The Golden State, 2012, acrylic, collage, colored pencil on paper mounted to canvas, 5’x6′ Image courtesy of the artist and Gallery Wendi Norris

AR: Oh! I didnt!

AF: I want the painting to keep giving. With most of my favorite artists, the more you look at the work, the more you get out of it.

AR: Who are your favorite artists?

Installation Image courtesy of Gallery Wendi Norris

AF: Well, one of my big influences was Lari Pittman and also a lot of my peers. Wendell Gladstone, Asad Faulwell, he is a great painter from LA.  The paintings come out as festive color palettes. It is a color palette that I am naturally drawn to but there are references to graphic design and skate and street art. 

I did graffiti for twelve years. The way I make the paintings and the way they are constructed refer a lot to that, even if the poses are classical. [The figures] are statuesque. I am not looking at a Michelangelo sculpture and directly referencing that but  these are all in my head. I had realized that I started making this work after I had come back from my honeymoon in Italy and we visited all of these museums where every building had these incredible renaissance marble sculptures. I can’t help but think that seeing all that before I started this body of work had an influence. All of these works have very classical poses.

AR: I am thinking of the complicated folds of drapery in the Pieta when I see the fabric painted here.

AF: Yeah, to see all the exquisitely carved marble was incredible. And it is funny because I’m not really that attracted to that normally. But I appreciate it a lot more after seeing it in person. You see the statue of David and you understand how amazing it is.Another thing I am interested in is that the paintings look very graphic in photographs but they are actually very tactile.  For example, this hat is just cut paper pasted on there and it is fairly loosely done.

AR: That reminds me, when I would see your work reproduced in print or online I was always surprised to read that these were made with oil, acrylic, paper, and various mixed media. Seeing these in person is quite a different experience. What is your approach to using mixed media in your work?



Shades That Set Fire to the Sun,
2012, acrylic, collage, colored pencil on paper mounted to canvas

60 x 36 in 152 x 91 cm. Courtesy of Gallery Wendi Norris

AF: How I arrived at using all of these materials is that I kinda have art supply ADD. I would go through these six month phases in art school where I would do collage, then switch to drawing, the paint, then I would do ink and watercolor, colored pencils– I love all of them! Five or six years ago I decided that I wasn’t going to limit myself to what materials I use or even the medium.  I’ve done some photography and sculpture too. For example, these floor boards are collaged monoprints. They are monoprints on paper that are then collaged on. The skin of all the figures are painted with oils while the rest is acrylic. There is digital collage on some of them, where I am taking photographs in people’s homes, printing them out archaically then collaging them back into the painting.


The Laws of Order (detail) , 2012. acrylic, collage, colored pencil on paper mounted to canvas
72 x 60 in | 183 x 152 cm
Image courtesy of the artist and Gallery Wendi Norri
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I didn’t want to limit myself to one material so over time it has created a hodge podge but I think it also speaks to the content of my work in the various references to high and low art. From graffiti art to baroque and rococo. I like that mixture.

I want all of that in the work. If someone just seeings one painting by me I don’t think it really works well. I always like to show my paintings in groups of  at least two or three.  I feel it is necessary to have a dialogue because there are lot of different references in the work. It isn’t one clear thing. For example, I could talk about graffiti and its influence in the work all day. Or I could talk about the art historical references or pop art. I could even talk about the boarders of these paintings both reference graffiti and Persian miniature painting. There are all these cultural and historical hybrids that are all smashed into each other.

AR: I think it works well with anything goes agenda in contemporary art as a digestion of tropes from the past and present. Can you speak more about the flower pieces and these smaller works?

AF: These two bigger flower paintings are part of bigger series based on Dutch or Flemish Golden Age paintings. I have a couple books of floral still lifes of that era and what I have been doing is photocopying the reproductions of those paintings, scanning the parts of reproductions, then printing out specific flowers from the original paintings and using them as in paintings and also taking the composition from the original paintings. I am trying to breath new life into this amazing moment in art history. It has also turned into a cliché because it is popular, kinda like impressionism. It is hard to make a good impressionist painting. For me that is really interesting. I am not big on flowers, it is not like I have a green thumb or anything.  I am into death metal and graffiti and skateboarding. For me, to make flower paintings is almost humorous. But I am trying to take something that I don’t like and make it interesting. Or at least that is my hope. So I am taking these old paintings and remixing them.


Shades That Set Fire To The Sun (detail), 2012, acrylic, watercolor, ink, collage, colored pencil on paper mounted to canvas, 3’x5′

The flowers in my painting are the flowers from the original paintings. It is the shape and basically the same color. Then I will mix in a childlike generic flower shape next to it. I like the idea of having a reproduction of a reproduction of a reproduction. The paintings are a reproduction, the digital images of the flowers are a reproduction, then there is this generic reproduction of a reproduction— there are all these levels of filtering. Much like with the figurative paintings where I take a photo of someone then do a digital mock up then I am drawing it. It is getting filtered through the computer, through my hand, through the camera and then through the materials over and over again until it turns into something that has a surreal bend to it. So I am trying to do the same thing with the floral still life paintings—breath new life into it. Like I would never do a straightforward portrait and I never thought I would be doing flowers. Really, I am taking these popular and basic images in painting and trying to fuck with them. I praise them, poke fun at them, challenge them and make them contemporary. So all of these small flower paintings are skins. I only use oil for living things, it’s this rule I have because oil painting is more alive. It is illuminates light in a different way. I was scraping off the yellow paint from the palette and when I scraped it off I realized that the oil paint skins looked like flower petals so I took the residue from the painting to make the petals. Again, it is another form of remixing. I am remixing the residue of a painting. A lot of the collage elements are reworked. Here is a failed painting that I collaged on top of. They connect because each flower painting has the residue of the figure painting. And then, the small figure painting, it is also the same concept. I am taking the images of the figurative paintings then making these small paintings.



Rise of the New Hope, 2012, acrylic, collage, colored pencil on paper mounted to canvas, 60 x 36 in Courtesy of Gallery Wendi Norris

 

AR: The smaller works are done afterwards?

AF: Yes, it is the same concept of remixing in the image. It was a way of reworking the image. I can’t help but wonder, what would look like if the stripes on that blanket was a gradation of one color rather than multiple colors.

AR: But don’t you use Photoshop as a tool for these? Why do you feel the need to paint it?

AF: It’s just different. It is never going to look the same as paint. My Photoshop mock ups never look like the painting. To me, they are rough sketches. Once you put the paint down it really changes the look and feel of it.

AR: And would you say you can get your ideas out pretty quickly? Are you able to make these paintings quickly?

AF: The big paintings take about a month to a month and a half.

AR: And that is working every day?

AF: Yes, but I work on multiple pieces at a time. So I may work on one large painting at a time and then with two or three small pieces. And that is working with assistants. These new works are very, very labor intensive. But I paint pretty fast. A month to a month and a half to crank out a painting is a long time for me. I used crank out paintings twice the size of this in a couple of weeks. So now that the works are getting representational and sophisticated, I am becoming a little more and more obsessed with them and slow down, especially with the collage elements. I love the idea that from 50 feet away they read as paintings and as you get closer you realize they are handmade with all of these imperfections. I really like the fact there is a strip of paper that cuts into the leg, it disrupts the illusion of the painted leg. For me that is not a mistake, that is a happy moment. I like that the painting can feel more representational but in some parts feel flat and not too precious. Because I am very aware of how ornate and decorative my painting aesthetic is, I like to fuck with that in as many ways as possible. And that is why I like collage. Collage is a lot harder to get things to be specific or as tight as some other parts. It makes it more human for me.

AR: For me, it allows me to have moments of intimacy through discovery with the painting but I also enjoy its graphic aesthetic from across the room.

AF: Yeah, I love polarities. I want the painting to feel loose but tight. I want them to read differently from distance vs close, I want there to be moments of abstraction and representation, to be moments of beauty and grotesque. Everybody says that the flesh looks decaying or with pockmarks. I am aware they can be written off as pretty paintings and I am always trying to figure out a way to fuck with that. I don’t want to make them too precious.

AR: How do you arrive at these flesh tones?

AF: In this new work, I go back to older modes of painting, the new ones are glaze paintings but the older ones are done in chunkier style, more Philip Guston-esque. But the color choices in the entire painting is usually a more formal concern. For example, the colors in the blanket in this piece set the tone for the rest of the painting. I wanted the skin to really pop off of it. I started using these colors for the bodies is because I don’t want to viewer to be able to know much about the figure, man or women, young or old. I want to mess with that as much as possible. A lot people thought this was a guy, its actually a girl. So the viewer is left trying to figure out who this person is. All the titles of the paintings reference who these people are but it is encrypted, like the paintings. My dream is that one day maybe ten years later the collector and my friend (the sitter) would both be at one of my openings. They would somehow start talking and the collector would learn what all of the objects in the painting meant, then the piece would have a whole new meaning. It is like a delayed satisfaction.



The Earth Is But One Country (Eastern Bred, Southern Fed)
2013. acrylic, ink, collage, oil on paper mounted to canvas
48 x 72 in | 122 x 183 cm
Image courtesy of the artist and Gallery Wendi Norris

AR: That is great about the work. There is anonymity but it is also deeply personal.

AF: I like cliché moments in paintings. For me that adds tension to the work. It’s like, ‘seriously? I am adding a giant shaggy dog in the middle of the paintings?’ It could be almost cringe worthy.

The Earth Is But One Country (Eastern Bred, Southern Fed)- detail
2013. acrylic, ink, collage, oil on paper mounted to canvas. Image courtesy of the artist and Gallery Wendi Norris

AR: Well they are also intelligent and informed paintings and it is clear that these “cheesy” themes are done with intention. You make them interesting.


The Earth Is But One Country (Eastern Bred, Southern Fed)- detail
2013. acrylic, ink, collage, oil on paper mounted to canvas
Image courtesy of the artist and Gallery Wendi Norris

AF: That is what I am hoping to do. And the wall painting slowly gradiates through the gallery. I was in Paris over the summer and I went to the Louvre for the first time. I think the room was Napoleon’s Ballroom. It was floor to ceiling Rococo floral wallpaper. It was so gaudy– my mom would love it. But it is also really beautiful. I was really interested in this room, there were all of these official portraits paired with this wallpaper and it made me think of this project (the commissions) again. So I first thought that I would wallpaper the whole show but then I realized it would be too direct. Then I started thinking about the line drawings for the paintings. So this is a collage of the line drawings to the floral paintings. It is tipping a hat the ornate backdrop of the paintings during this time but not being that exactly.



Installation Image courtesy of Gallery Wendi Norris

AR: And what about the way you hung the show?


Installation image courtesy of Gallery Wendi Norris

AF: Originally I was going to hang everything in a row but these painting have a lot of subtlety. So the reason why the small paintings are hung irregularly is to disrupt the viewing process. Most artists have the tendency to walk into a gallery and glaze over the work. Even if they like the work, they spend 10 seconds top on a painting. So I wanted to interrupt that and make the viewer pause. I hung the paintings really high and low so you literally have to go on your tippy toes and then squat down to look at them. This interrupts the scanning. Hopefully even if they scan the large paintings, they take a pause for the small ones then return to the large ones.

AR: It is a great unity in the work. Every painting displays disruption and tension. Extending it outside of the painting into the hanging of the work creates an artwork itself. You are engaging the interruption in the viewer experience of each painting and the exhibition as a whole.

AF: Thank you. Yeah, especially in LA, a lot of craft based [work] like mine is not really in vogue. Half-assed abstraction is really hot right now. I feel like there is an extra challenge for me to get people to pay attention to the work and interact with it. They could be easily written off because they are bright colored paintings or really pretty and my hope is that if people look at them a little more, they will see they are more sophisticated. I have all these different ways I try to get people to stop and acknowledge the work.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Installation Image courtesy of Gallery Wendi Norris

For example, I use the borders of the paintings. Initially they were a reference to Persian miniature painting borders that function as windows into a story or a narrative into a painting. I like the fact that they cut off the edge and acknowledge that the image ends here. In contemporary painting, it is an illusion that the image is continuing outside of the canvas. I wanted to direct that and say this (the painting) is where everything ends. I don’t want you to think about outside of the edges. But then over the years the borders began to get deconstructed and started weaving in and out or the painting. They start to become a formal element that becomes a road map for the painting to direct the eye. Because they are so dense there are points the border will push the painting outward then flatten it.  I want to make a painting that is really flat yet has space at the same time.

AR: I am interested in how you arrived where you are now. You spoke about grad school a little bit but I am interested in how the work has shifted and grown into what it is now. You said earlier that you never thought you would paint portraits or flowers How did you arrive on this subject matter?

AF: When got into grad school I just finished undergrad. I was doing a lot of graffiti. I was spray-painting freight trains. It was an obsession I was doing for twelve to thirteen years. I was in art school. By day I was taking critical theory classes and by night I was vandalizing stuff. I had these two interests. That was very evident in my work. I was doing these cultural hybrid paintings that were kinda like abstract text-based work were I made up my own language. It was written in a graffiti aesthetic and it was lyrics to punk songs that I grew up listening to America but everything was phonetically sounded out in Farsi. It was a hybrid language that only someone who grew up in America, listened to punk rock, and spoke Farsi could understand.

Culturally, I always felt like an outsider in the Middle Eastern community and the American community.  I always felt stuck in the middle so I was commenting on that. That work was really colorful, like this current work, but it was uncontrolled and chaotic. It was a fiesta of color, pattern and mark making. There wasn’t a foundation to put it all together. Over they years it has become more refined to where I focus my attention on, say the figure, and it allows me to hone in some of the aesthetic decisions in the painting. It has been really helpful to have something to attach my formal interests to. So over the years the process has gotten more refined and sophisticated. There are more art historical references in the paintings now and there are still cultural references in the paintings but it is subtler.

You could talk about these paintings in a totally different way. You can talk an Iranian who came to America after the Iranian revolution where women had to cover themselves head to toe. You can talk about veiled women and concealed identity and what that means. You can talk East and West and the Persian miniature painting reference. I am totally aware that these can read as very different paintings. All of those things are in there and I don’t shy away from it. There are so many things I am constantly thinking about. When I first did these I was like ‘oh my god, I am painting about hijab!’

I show in Dubai quite a bit. There is such a clash of eastern and western culture all living harmoniously in this one place. It is really interesting, you’ll see a girl in a bikini next to a woman in a burka and they aren’t bothered by one another. They are completely coexisting. It is surreal, amazing, and awesome and how the world should be. I started making these after I went to Dubai and I am sure that was a huge influence. So all the references are there but instead of beating you over the head, I am stirring in all these different ingredients into the pot. It will be interesting to start showing these [paintings] in Dubai and see what the read on them is there.

AR: When did you start showing there?

AF: In 2005. My gallery, The Third Line, was actually the first contemporary art gallery in Dubai. They pretty much kick started the entire contemporary art scene there. They are amazing because they started when there was no contemporary art, art handlers, nothing.

AR: And what was your experience showing in a place new to the contemporary art market?

AF: It’s been amazing. I’ve shown there eleven times now. Dubai is this stopping point for both the Middle East and Europe so everyone there is highly educated and  worldly. When the gallery started there it was perfect timing because there were all of these wealthy, highly educated cosmopolitan people there dying for culture. Everyone wanted to support the gallery. Now there are tons of galleries there. Actually, I was the first artist to show with them. I showed while they were building their permanent space.

AR: How did you first develop that relationship with them?

AF: They found me online.

AR: Really?

AF: Yeah. I am a big proponent of people having websites. I have had so many amazing opportunities through Facebook and Instagram. A lot of artist think it’s stupid but really it is just another way communicating. It’s a way to share the work with people and give them access.

AR: And you do that with your magazine as well, right?

AF: Yeah. When I started my magazine there were no blogs. It was a very selfish tool for me to connect with other artists. I just thought some artist’s work was really amazing. I wanted to talk to them and know what their practice is like. It has changed and shifted over the years but that is the basic concept. Now it is so different. There are a million art blogs but back then it was Amir’s personal reference book that other people got to read. It was a zine that came out of a punk aesthetic. Like a DIY photocopy thing. The first three issues I did in high school was a black and white punk zine with some art in it.

So Dubai, I go there now and there are ton of galleries there. There is an art fair there that my gallery, Gallery Wendi Norris, attends. Can you imagine going to New York one hundred years ago when there was no art scene and know the one gallery there? So it has been really interesting to watch this global art scene come out of nothing.

AR: And to be there from the very beginning.

AF: Yea, it has been really, really interesting. They are such pioneers. Because there was no established art market they had to do a lot of outreach and education programming. They functioned as a gallery but also like a non-profit or a museum. They would have book readings and artist lectures and for all of the openings they would print a catalogue because they wanted people to get what the work was about. People really caught on and now the art scene is really sophisticated.

AR: So because it was so fresh and new and you being the first artist, were you apart of the outreach at all?

AF: No, I would just go there, have my show, then head home. But I would interact with people. Like my first show, the collectors where just the dealer’s friends. It was really DIY. One of the commissions I am doing is the first collector who has now bought work from every show I have had out there. It was cool to go to his house and see all these old works from 2005 in his house.

AR: It sounds like it has been a really great experience.

AF: Its been really touching because I don’t go back to Iran.  Dubai was the first place I have ever been to where I feel completely at home. I don’t feel like a complete outsider.

AR: Were you born in Iran?

AF: I was born in Iran but I haven’t been back since I was five. But if i went back there everyone would think of me as an American. I mean, I speak Farsi but there I am completely Americanized. But I cannot help but feel that in America I will always be seen as an immigrant. Not in a bad way but when someone thinks of an American, they aren’t thinking me.  Maybe to some people but for most of the country it is definitely not the case. New York and LA, no one thinks twice. You go to West Virginia, things change.

When I go to Dubai, I blend in, no one looks twice. It really feels calming. I have always felt like a weird cultural hybrid. My old website used to be called hybridheart.com. All of my work was about that. Everybody there is from somewhere else. My opening reception there were people from Kuwait, Nigeria, Russia, Sweden, America. It was a cornucopia of races. There were fifteen different shades of brown! It was really nice for me.

AR: But even living New York City for a short time or living in LA, it isn’t that experience? Do you still feel like an outsider there?

AF: It’s not the same. I don’t think about it too much. My wife, she looks Irish but she is actually Puerto Rican and every once and awhile some old people will give us a look. It may just be in my head but I don’t feel completely “in”. Even with my friends but I feel it constantly. When I am in Dubai I don’t feel it at all. When I was there last with my wife I told her that and she was like ‘I don’t know what you are talking about.’ Because she is Puerto Rican but she looks white. Sometimes she will go to a bodega and they will start speaking Spanish about her then she’ll shock them with her Spanish. But she has never dealt with that feeling. It doesn’t matter if she is Puerto Rican because she doesn’t look Puerto Rican, she looks white. I definitely don’t look white. No one can figure out that I am Iranian but they think I am Mexican or Indian or some other ethnicity.

AR: That is interesting that you are working with themes of identity in others when your life in America has forced you to deeply consider your own.

AF: Yea, but it is funny that the work that was really popular in Dubai at first was work dealing with cultural identity with a lot of Middle Eastern cliches. When I started showing there I wanted to distance myself from it, which financially wasn’t the best move but I wanted to challenge the people there. When it is a young art scene, people are going to want to connect with what is familiar to them. I am a Middle Eastern artist but really, I am just an artist. I don’t want my nationality or who my parents are to dictate what genre of art I am in. I don’t want to be a part of that; I want the work to stand on its own.

AR: I think that is really important. That is a sincere approach.

AF: Yea. You see the exoticfication of the unknown in the art world a lot. Like when Indian and Chinese art auction prices go through to roof. There are some artists in America that use it to their benefit, bumping up the ethnicity as a marketing ploy. Some of it seems sincere but some it seems like they are just trying to make a sale. It is important to me to make sincere work. I love art, I love painting, I love color, and art history and I want the paintings to feel sincere. I love color and beauty and I want to make work that my mailman can enjoy but also a museumgoer. I want the work to be accessible but informative. That goes back to Beautiful/Decay. I’ve studied theory and I can get into that and we can talk about that if you want to.  But I also want these to be available to someone who simply loves colors. I love colors too. What is wrong with that?

I think beauty has turned into this ugly word in art. I like art that is beautiful. It can be black and white and beautiful or super colorful or conceptual and beautiful. One of my favorite artworks ever is Felix Gonzalez Torres sculpture with two clocks. It is just a readymade but when I read about it was heartbreaking- these two clocks that are set and one dies before the other. It touches me in a profound way and it is beautiful. I think weather it is conceptual, formal, abstract, whatever, I want there to be some beauty in it, something that really touches you.



Installation image courtesy of Gallery Wendi Norris

AR: Personally, I totally agree.

AF: I always get nervous about all of the embellishment in the work because I don’t want it to be overly pretty but at the same time I am trying to make pretty work. I don’t like work that is super decorative either. It is beautiful but I can’t have it just be beautiful. There needs to be a little tension or uneasiness. Something that just fucks with the beauty and adds another layer of depth.

AR: You are really aware of the viewer’s experience in this work. Do you think through your own experience of looking extensively, first with the zine that has now grown into Beautiful/Decay, frequenting galleries and even you’re engagement social media has informed the way you present your work?

AF: I get 100 emails at least from artists who want to be featured on the website. I am constantly looking. I see so much work that is almost amazing but not quite there yet. I am not going to be satisfied until someone walks into my show and starts crying. It is never going to happen but that is where I set the bar for myself. It is really cheesy but that is what I want. I want to change their life somehow. Because when I see amazing work, like when I first saw Lari Pittman’s paintings, I was like ‘holy shit!’. It was undeniably amazing. Or when I was a teenager and I first saw Barry McGee’s work, it changed my life! It changed my life. It doesn’t happen often but I want to be able to do that one day. I want to change a world view or how someone thinks about art has shifted a little bit because they saw this work. I think with music it happens more often, especially as a teenager, but art is a harder medium. Movies can move you to tears all of the time but with painting and sculpture it is hard to hit someone at the core. Everyone says when you go to the Rothko Chapel it moves you to tears. I have seen a million Rothko’s and maybe I’ll cry from boredom, but if that happens for people, that’s amazing. What a better compliment to literally move someone in such a way?

AR: Well, that is a good bar to set.

Amir H. Fallah is currently exhibiting in works in the co-curated group show Desaturated Rainbow on exhibit until May 18th at Field Projects Gallery in New York, NY. The exhibit will travel to Kopeikin Gallery in Los Angeles in July. Fallah is represented by Gallery Wendi Norris in San Francisco and The Third Line in Dubai. He is also the founder of Beautiful/Decay Magazine. You may visit his website at www.amirhfallah.com

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ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

Rachelle Reichert is a San Francisco based artist.  Her paintings have been nationally and internationally exhibited including exhibitions at the German Consulate in New York City, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Galleria il Sotoportego in Venice, Italy, Sloane Fine Art in New York City and Southern Exposure in San Francisco.  Rachelle received her BFA from Boston University in 2007.
http://www.rachellereichert.com


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