May 132024
 

“A beautiful figure without a tongue”, 2024, oil and pencil on canvas

“A beautiful figure without a tongue”, 2024, oil and pencil on canvas (detail)

“Open Season”, 2024, oil and pencil on canvas

“Open Season”, 2024, oil and pencil on canvas (detail)

“Where our love once lay, a dark and tortured jungle grew”, 2023, oil and pencil on canvas

“Where our love once lay, a dark and tortured jungle grew”, 2023, oil and pencil on canvas (detail)

A sense of foreboding looms over the paintings in Sanam Khatibi’s exhibition We Wait Until Dark at P.P.O.W gallery. In the details are smaller skeletons, ritual objects, and dead animals blood soaks the ground. Life and death are personified in both the figures and the natural surroundings. Flowers bloom or wilt, bones are scattered, a hummingbird shares a moment with a skeleton in one painting while a dead bird lies on the ground in another. Khatibi’s works have many potential meanings, like their art historical predecessors, and leave it to the viewer to come to their own conclusions.

From the press release-

…People who devote their lives to art can often cite an event that placed them on their destined path. Among the earliest memories Belgian artist Sanam Khatibi recalls is the day she discovered a book on Hieronymous Bosch left out on the table by her mother. She was five. That one might advance from consuming the rapturous reproductions of The Garden of Earthly Delights at such a young age to painting expansive, primal scenes of a troubled Paradise is one excellent example of artistic “fate.”

In Khatibi’s paintings and sculptures, the veil between desire and restraint, life and death, and the natural and spirit worlds proves thin. Again and again, the artist returns to t­he figure of a nude goddess navigating a verdant, savage land beyond the protective scrim of “civilization.” In the absence of technology, politics, bills, e-mail, and even clothing, she exhibits her most feral qualities for survival: devouring, eating, attacking, killing, and hunting. Khatibi’s subjects are perennial (desire, seduction, domination, submission), and her references to allegorical forms are extensive (17th-century Dutch still life vanitas, the motif of Death and the Maiden, antiquarian amulets, and anthropological relics), all channeled into displays of human folly and erotic obsession.

Paintings by Khatibi are full of expressions of voracity: for sex, earthly delights, experience, and transcendence, and what happens when you tempt the devil. In Where our love once lay, a dark and tortured jungle grew (2023), a fey skeleton seizes a beautiful maiden by the hair under a lightening blue sky –– a grotesque quid pro quo that recalls Lucas Cranach the Elders’ The Ill-Matched Couple (1553); or even Kawanabe Kyōsai’s Hell Courtesan (1831–1889). Decrepit and aging, his skull sprouts strawlike strands of hair, the last indication of vitality. In Open Season (2024), an Amazonian goddess places an intimate offering of amulets and animal sacrifices before a pool of water. There is a sense of reckless abandon: a human skull, a pomegranate cracked open, blood spilling over the cerulean earth––a feast for ravenous souls.

Khatibi’s Eden is repeatedly transformed into a Bosch-like tale of passionate, potentially fatal encounters (a locus amoenus turned upside down into a “locus terribilis”). In A beautiful figure without a tongue (2024), the skeletal personification of Death reappears. A maniacal grin spreads across his decaying face as he slinks away, clutching an ornate vase to his chest. Are these the spoils of Death to be hoarded in a cavernous underworld?

Throughout the exhibition, Khatibi faithfully intertwines two genres of painting (figurative landscape and still life), leaving seemingly ancillary details from one scene to reveal as sharp memento mori in another––as in Overnight Black Aphids Appeared, growing on the tips of the Sophora Sun King (2023). Here, the reappearance of skulls, amulets, and small creatures sans personnages gives the impression of a romantic sojourn set apart from the larger narrative. Each of Khatibi’s objects pulses into realism with near-scientific observation, appearing magnificent and fragile, possibly even forbidden. Placed against a velvety black ground, they fall into shadow as if pulled amorously into the afterlife. –Lola Kramer

Also included in the exhibition are several smaller works, like the one pictured below. In these darker paintings the details stand out against their black background, but the mystery of their meaning remains.

 

“Overnight Black Aphids Appeared, growing on the tips of the Sophora Sun King”, 2023 oil on canvas

Apr 272024
 

“Pale Rider”, 2019, Oil on canvas

The large painting above is from Srijohn Chowdhury’s 2019 exhibition, A Divine Dance, at Anat Ebgi in Los Angeles.

From the gallery-

Srijon Chowdhury’s paintings are characterized by moody symbolist compositions of richly colored floral and domestic settings. He conjures poetic and allegorical narratives through the use of myth, memory, and repetition.

Pale Rider, the largest painting in the exhibition, depicts an angelic woman with flowing hair riding horseback; its monumental scale envelopes viewers in a mystical narrative. The rider appears translucent and wields a scythe as she moves across a meadow of blooming flowers—an allusion to death and birth. In the foreground, there is a fence composed from a poem by William Blake titled “A Divine Image” that Chowdhury has turned into a sigil—an ancient practice of transforming pictorial text into a symbol that is considered to have magical powers. The poem speaks about destructive abstracts of human nature: cruelty, jealousy, terror, and secrecy.

Chowdhury’s work confronts universal physical and emotional themes. Soft aura of moonlight, glow of flowers, and dancing flames invite quiet contemplation. He sensitively vacillates between despair and hopelessness at the human condition, while brightening at joy, beauty, and hope that like flowers, life will go on.