Around the time Amir H. Fallah and I were discussing sitting down for an interview, I saw several other interviews posted on various blogs and websites about him and his work, so be sure to check them out for further conversations, pictures and information here, here and here. Then on a lovely SoCal day, I visited his Highland Park studio to talk with him in person about his work.
Virginia Broersma: Could you talk about what you’re working on right now?
Amir H. Fallah: I have one show that I just shipped off which is opening in June- the paintings are all based on Dutch and Flemish Golden Age paintings. What I did was take reproductions of these famous and iconic paintings from that era, scanned them, cut out specific flowers within those paintings, and then printed them out archivally and used them as collage elements. They’re paintings of paintings, and reproductions of reproductions. The show is called “Arrangement”. It’s a word play on flower arranging, or the arrangement of a painting, or the history of appropriation of Master works by contemporary painters.
Right now I’m working on these two figurative paintings – are part of a commissioned series that are all based on photographs and are portraits of art collectors in their homes. The paintings are all pre-bought before I started making them. The whole project is talking about the history or portraiture, specifically commissioned portraiture, and then trying to deconstruct that process and reverse the power structure between the artist and the sitter. Historically the person commissioning the work was in power – they were the one calling the shots and dictating what the work would look like. I wanted to figure out a way to do these portraits without compromising my artistic process. I wanted to give myself the freedom to change things, manipulate colors, edit things out, add things without having the sitter dictate what the image needed to look like. I don’t want to be a slave to the collector; I want to be a slave to the image.
VB: You talked about the floral pieces that have a link to the Dutch and Flemish flower paintings and still lives, and you then you have this project dealing with the patronage and collectors through art history- do you think having the link to something art historical is what is important to you in your work? Or is it a secondary consideration?
AF: I was never interested in artwork that was about artwork. I actually hate artwork that is about other artwork, I really don’t like it, and I don’t like floral paintings, and I don’t like portraits, so I’m trying to tackle all these things that I don’t like in art, and try to (at least for myself) make them interesting, or to figure out a way of working within them.
VB: So you like the challenge of working with something that is not necessarily what you are drawn to?
AF: It’s not even that, no – just somehow I ended up here. My older work was dealing with abstraction, and then I just allowed the work to go wherever it wanted to go and somehow I ended up making this work that’s taking on these historical traditions. They’re taking on more significant types of imagery in art, like the still life and the portrait – two of (probably) the most cliché forms of painting ever. You walk into the Levitz Furniture store and they probably have these shitty paintings of floral still lives and shitty portraits, they’re art world clichés, and I kind of like that. I like the idea of taking these things that are tired and old and not interesting, and trying to have a different take on them, to breathe new life into them. I don’t know if I’m doing it or not, but that’s what I’m trying to do: to make it interesting for myself.
VB: What’s the most difficult part of the process for you?
AF: I’ve always disliked painting the figure; I’ve actually avoided it until the last couple of years. All throughout college and grad school I never painted the figure, primarily because I didn’t think I was good at it. I had a fear of it, and it was like one of those things where I thought I don’t think I can do this, it’s not in me. So it was kind of exciting- stressful and exciting – to take on this thing that I wasn’t proficient at.
VB: So would you say that’s the most enjoyable part of the process for you? Working through a challenge and feeling accomplishment?
AF: No, No, I don’t think that’s where my interest lies in the paintings, My interest lies in taking something representational and for lack of a better term, taking a creative approach to it, or an out of the box approach. Trying to figure out ways to make an image that reads as a painting, but that still has a lot of collage elements – for me, that’s really exciting. Also translating a fabric into this kind of stippled effect is very interesting for me.
There are a lot of formal concerns that interest me because they’re inventive ways of making marks. I’m really trying, with all my work, to straddle this line between something that has a lot of pure beauty in it, like beauty in line, form, color, shape. But I also want there to be an element of tension, or an element of mystery or the unknown.
I want to make a painting that’s beautiful, but I don’t want to make a painting that’s just beautiful.
VB: When I’m working in the middle of a project, there’s a point where I start to see the next step. The next things I’m going to work on. So you’re working on these right now, do you know what’s coming next for you?
AF: I have some ideas, nothing really to speak about, they’re still in their infancy, but one of the things that’s rewarding with the figurative work is this element of surprise of me walking into somebody’s home and then having to make a painting out of their stuff. If you’re painting from your imagination, you’re drawn to the same things, over and over again, but when I’m walking into somebody’s home, I’m a slave to the things they have. So I have to figure out how to make a plush toy with a furry mustache work in one of my paintings. I would NEVER put that in one of my paintings! You know, this cliché, pop culture object, like a rubber duck. I’m not drawn to those elements, so there’s this element of the unknown and I like that because it becomes this challenge of how to make this foreign object fit into your world.
And so because of that there’s a lot of room for experimenting and different types of painting. There’s all this inventiveness and technique that comes out in having to paint these objects that I wouldn’t normally paint.
Right now I’m really interested in what I’m doing, and I’ve recently realized that; before I was thinking that these floral pieces were a completely different body of work, but now in my mind, they’re really melding conceptually with the figurative paintings and there’s a dialogue between the two worlds. For me that’s really interesting, because that’s not what I set out to do but now I think there’s potential for even further dialogue between the two.
VB: I recently saw your work at the Museum of Art and History in Lancaster, as part of the exhibition “SuperCallaFragileMysticEcstasyDioecious” – where else can we see your work?
AF: This summer I have several upcoming shows. I have a solo show in Dubai in June at The Third Line Gallery. I’m in a group show in July at Zic Zerp Gallery in Rotterdam, curated by the Los Angeles artist Danni Tull, called “Archaic Revival”. I’m also in a show at the end of this month at Gallery Ernst Hilger in Vienna, and then in July I’m in two group shows in Los Angeles- one is at Kopeiken Gallery and the other one is at Koplin del Rio.
Amir H. Fallah is represented by Gallery Wendi Norris in New York and The Third Line in Dubai. His work can also be seen at www.amirhfallah.com. Images courtesy of Gallery Wendi Norris and The Third Line.