Ab-Anbar is pleased to present an exhibition of works by Iranian artist, Majid Fathizadeh. Born 1978, Zahedan, Fathizadeh received an BA in Painting and MFA in Illustration both from Tehran University School of Fine Art. Presenting his seventh solo show, this is his first exhibition with Ab-Anbar.
Combining masterful painterly technique with condensed allegorical imagery, Fathizadeh’s works address broad metaphysical questions faced by humanity — such as, can cultural institutions redeem the species from its most basic instincts? This series of figurative paintings depict compelling if ambiguous scenes, often conveying an ambience of bleak narratives or struggle. People in a forest walk away into the distance, while a figure in the foreground remains hunched over a body (or an animal) lying prone on the ground; people surround someone huddled beneath a desk who appears to be speaking into the bell end of a ceremonial horn; a crowd in a public square jostle one another and lift banners and flags to the sky, all the while presided over by three figures at a dias. Each painting suggests a tale, the details of which we intuit do not need to be made explicit.
Consistent in each of Fathizadeh’s paintings is his ability to conjure imagery out of darkness. He works a muted, earthy palette, creating what Thomas Micchelli in an essay accompanying this exhibition calls a “permanent twilight.” Against a background of grays, browns and blacks, Fathizadeh uses red, pink, yellow and white highlights to give contour to his figures. What results is the impression that each work is lit from within. This technique of creating an interior source of light in a painting has many antecedents in art history — most notably, perhaps, in the work of Rembrandt.
A strong tendency in contemporary art practice for over 100 years now has been a mistrust of painting’s ability to appeal to the emotions. When applied to the goal of illusion, a well-honed figurative technique is thought to traffic in a suspect persuasion. In a 2015 interview, Fathizadeh acknowledges that this dynamic is active in his work: “Painting, is it just something ‘sentimental’ or is it made for some end, some application?” It is a question gets at the central paradox of Fathizadeh’s practice. The artist’s exceptional painterly skill renders scenes that are immediately recognizable, but without revealing specifics of circumstance or location. If the result is meant to persuade us, to what further end? Working within what Micchelli calls a “fully realized world,” Fathizadeh combines aspects of the genre of History painting with content that is often overtly allegorical. For instance: the artists’ landscapes populated by giant fish, each one lying on its side and administered to by humans; this is powerful imagery that points to a number of possible meanings. Fathizadeh’s practice references pre-20th century European traditions in painting, and through his work, these traditions become useful again to the present. Most importantly, the historical perspective he conveys shifts the register of these paintings from the specific but the universal.
A few evident influences on Fathizadeh are Honoré Daumier (social commentary) and Gustave Courbet (naturalistic depiction of the common people of humanity), along with Francisco Goya (reportage and allegory) and Hieronymus Bosch (the grotesque and allegory). Transcending his own position working within the contemporary world, the artist takes from his forebears the ability to, as Micchelli notes: “Penetrate the membrane of the real and delve into the unaccountable horrors lurking in the psyche.” Through the broad vista of historic traditions in painting, Fathizadeh depicts humanity’s inability learn from the past. The human drama he shows us is an inability not to repeat our worst tendencies, time and again. This tragic view of history takes on added resonance in 2016, a year in the grip of full throttled historical change. It's a view that is redeemed by Fathizadeh’s ability to distill such a complex range of emotions and ideas into concise pictorial expressions.