Artforum: Critic's Picks, Amir H. Fallah

Daniel Gerwin, Artforum, October 2, 2020

Known for his maximalist, floral tableaux and portraits of people shrouded by richly patterned fabric and often surrounded by objects referencing their own histories, painter Amir H. Fallah presents a new body of work here that departs from his earlier style. The three large tondos in this exhibition are closest to his previous efforts because they repeat signature floral motifs. While still suffused with all manner of flowers and ornamentation, these have now been infiltrated by illustrations taken from children's literature. The show itself is a kind of children's book, each piece conceived to communicate core values to the artist's five-year-old son. Paintings in the main gallery are structured in ways novel to Fallah's oeuvre, every canvas subdivided into blocks of appropriated imagery in apposition, reminiscent of James Rosenquist's iconic F-111, 1964-65. But while F-111 portrayed a national cultural moment (as understood by white Americans specifically), Fallah explores his own experience and ethics.

Set against saturated color gradients and motifs from geometric abstraction, the appropriated tableaux within each painting encompass four main themes: racism, animal rights, pride in his Iranian heritage (rug patterns and figures from Persian miniatures abound), and science. Fallah is an immigrant, a vegan, and an atheist, and his central concerns are linked insofar as the predominant human attitude toward animals-and nature more generally-is characterized by the same exploitative entitlement and cruel disregard that underlie the genocides and enslavements of colonial history, which were often justified in biblical terms to suit the colonizers' needs. Strikingly, Fallah's pictures glow with an unmistakable optimism, laments expressed in radiant colors. What the paintings may lack in subtlety (a clenched fist is paired with a raised paw in The Animals of the World Exist for Their Own Reasons, 2019) they make up in chromatic wealth, inventive design, and pitch-perfect rhythm. There is magic to be found reading between the lines, where somber commentary collides with pictorial play, further enlivened by a father's love for his son.

 

Daniel Gerwin