Abbas Akhavan

Study for a Painting

Shifting away from the practice of image making through the medium of painting, I am interested in reducing painting to its fundamental surface or fabric by working with the basic structures of painting: canvas weave, frame, pigment and paint.  The medium of painting is the subject of my painting.  However, unlike traditional painting, which is realized through the application and addition of paint to the surface of canvas, my work aims to create painting through the reduction of materials, a subtraction of depth, color and surface.

Monochromes play a significant role in the history of painting.  After Kasimir Malevich’s white paintings, monochromes became the basis of a rich tradition, instrumental to the works of artists such as Aleksandr Rodchenko, Yves Klein and Pierre Manzoni.  Historically, monochromatic paintings have strived to produce endless surfaces of purity and infinity, freeing painting from figuration and giving way to the experience of the sublime.  Working in the monochromatic tradition, the intent of my practice is to both perpetuate and subvert the rich history of painting.  In Monochrome foundation makeup; Burnt Almond & Buff Beige (2005), I use foundation makeup as a medium in order to flatten the monochrome as much as possible, drawing attention to the skin deep nature of painting and its ideologies.  The foundation makeup plays with several traditions in painting, functioning as an age defying tool that conceals the age of painting and its perpetual state of death, while literally beautifying the surface of the canvas.  The paintings also resituate the monochrome within the history of figurative painting by resurfacing and infusing the pure space of the sublime with politics of race, gender, and identity.

I am also concerned with the binary of art and labor.  As a middle ground, craft-making functions as an important site in negotiating and potentially reconciling such divisions.  Traditionally repetitive labor stands in opposition to timelessness, originality and individuality, the distinguishing elements of the ‘masterpiece’.  Combining the aesthetics of modernist high art with the traditions of craft, I reincorporate and meditate on the place of precision, practice, habit, process, the steady hand, and the repetitive stroke in artistic practice.  Through the precise and laborious act of unstitching the canvas weave, in works such as Monochrome 1 –unstitched canvas (2006), I deface the surface of the canvas while opening and accentuating the inherent grid of the weave. The grid has historically been an aid in the invention of linear perspective and an essential instrument for pictorial representation.  In the Modernist works of Piet Mondrian and Agnes Martin, the grid embodied the structures that underlie the material and spiritual world.  However, the grids in my paintings only allude to images in vain; these grids are defaced reductive studies of the basic structure of the canvas and the frame behind it.  Similar to Lucio Fontana’s cut paintings of 1959, my unstitched paintings, while giving way to light and depth, bring attention to the very physical structures of painting that have created and maintained so much history, ideology, and authority.  

Study for a White Monochrome: bleached canvas (2006) is another form of painting through reduction.  The soft white square is realized through the application of bleach to the canvas.  The white square calls to mind Mark Rothko’s work or Malevich’s White on White (1918).  However, Study for a White Monochrome (2006), is ‘painted’ through the removal of the natural pigment from the canvas.  The canvas is reduced beyond a blank canvas and the image becomes a negative image.

My interest in the relationship between artistic practices and art history has contributed to the evolution of a particular ethic of production in my own body of work that concentrates on the processes of re-evaluation, re-reading, and re-invention in an attempt to complicate and question the traditional role of the artist as inventor and/or author.  Painting, because of its rich history and influence, has always been an integral part of my practice and life.  The opportunity to live and work in Europe surrounded by and gaining direct exposure to the art and history it has to offer would not only be an enriching life experience but will also contribute immeasurably to the continuing dialogue with this tradition that I am seeking to achieve through my own work.