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 212023

“Star study, portrait of my mother”, 2023

“Night reading (garden path, a pear halved, portrait of my mother, two birds)”, 2023

“Page unfolded (stoneware vase with peony scroll)”,2023

“Night studio (kingfisher, bone comb, moon through clouds, ink lily)”, 2023

“Night reading (moonscapes, garden window)”, 2023

Margot Samel is currently showing Perimeter, a series of dreamy, personal paintings by Olivia Jia.

From the press release-

Painted in what the artist has described as a ‘nocturnal’ palette, these works have a somnambulant quality, appearing as if scenes encountered in a state between sleep and waking. Each is constructed around a tableau that the artist has arranged, often incorporating material collected by herself, or in the possession of family members. Ideas of kinship and heritage – in this instance informing Jia’s own diasporic identity, as the child of Chinese immigrants to the United States – are negotiated through the constellations of elements she gathers together in her compositions. Staged in a studio workspace, depicted either late at night, or in an imagined facsimile of that location, these paintings act as tools with which a greater degree of self-recognition might be arrived at.

It could be said that our sense of belonging is partly understood in relation to our belongings, and the belongings of those closest to us. This is a principle that Jia employs to reconcile personal narratives with broader cultural dynamics. Artifacts resembling family heirlooms, lost during periods of political upheaval, are sought out in the annals of art history. Genres, be that of the Still-life, Huaniaohua, the Chinese tradition of ‘Bird and Flower’ painting, or American Naturalist illustration become prospective frameworks to be infused with anecdote or biographical allusions, and mined for accidentally shared motifs. What is being honed in these paintings is an iconographic system, one that reflects on the points at which individual experience intersects with collective accounts.

Images, carefully folded for storage, and books left open at resonant pages, frequently act as framing devices within Jia’s compositions. These devices draw our attention to the mechanics of printed reproduction, and its capacity as an authoritative repository for knowledge. What they also highlight, however, is how affect can be produced through combinations of such factual information. The sombrely lit surfaces upon which these objects and images are depicted are at once tabletops or pinboards upon which objects might be placed, and psychic spaces onto which desire might be projected. Here, the act of painting itself is presented as analogous to the nature of Jia’s arrangements of collected material: as it too constitutes an archival structure in which the objective properties of documents and the subjective nature of memory are able to coalesce.

This exhibition closes 4/22/23.