In our predominantly consumerist society, it is increasingly difficult to disconnect ourselves from our belongings. Barbara Kruger summarized the contemporary Cartesian dualism when she created her 1987 piece, “I Shop Therefore I am.” The more we define ourselves through our endlessly multiplying clutter, the harder it is to relate to others who don’t share our specific collection of objects onto which we project meaning and the illusion of importance. To create the works in his current exhibition, The Collected, at Gallery Wendi Norris in San Francisco, Amir H. Fallah hijacked individuals’ possessions to create narrative portraits through their stuff.
Immediately Fallah subverts the quality of a traditionally “good” portrait; in each painting the figure is almost entirely obscured by textiles that slip back and forth between the perception of depth and two-dimensionality. He denies the viewer what would be, for many portraits, the pivotal opportunity to render a likeness. Instead, Fallah concentrates on their favorite items as well as whatever bits of personal detritus he finds compelling. So while the portrait is created through objects, they may not be the objects that the subjects would have chosen to define themselves. Impressing his subjective interpretation of the sitter, Fallah reclaims his artistic liberty and separates himself from the likes of a hired caricaturist merely creating something to please the client but not necessarily depicting anything insightful or illuminating. Demanding even more freedom from such a role, when the portraits are commissions, the clients are not allowed to see the paintings until they are completely finished.
The resulting works are a celebration of form, texture, line, and color but most importantly risk and failures. Fallah utilizes a multimedia and layered technique, combining collage, printing and painting, building each work in sections. The material aspects are always rendered first, using water-based media. Once that aspect is complete, Fallah completes the organic elements in oil paint which he feels better captures the luminosity of living things. Rupturing depth and perspective, the graphic borders of each painting break away from the edges of the canvas, weaving in and out of textiles, body parts and objects as a sort of road map through the painting. The compositions are both fluid and fragmented, embracing the moments when things don’t quite align, giving the works a sense of honesty.
In an attempt to walk the line between seductive and tacky, Fallah hand painted a floral motif on the gallery walls with references to overly romanticized wallpaper of the 17th and 18th centuries. The reductive nod to the Baroque interior decorating technique creates a balance of whimsy in contrast to the narrative-saturated paintings. The entire collection of works is a pendulous examination of high and low art, and how an individual can be represented. Fallah achieves equilibrium through his openness to experiment with radically different methods, whether they are traditionally acceptable or not. Ultimately, and perhaps most interestingly, though the subject matter is a specific individual surrounded by their specific things, through his choices Fallah reveals more about himself than anything else.
The Collected is on view at Gallery Wendy Norris March 14–April 27.