Art Insider: Amir Fallah’s colorful paintings reflect his personal history from Iran to US

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Narrative tapestries represent personal identity, rainbow-colored “beasties” prance across paintings, and proposals for survival in a changing environment.

Amir H. Fallah at Shulamit Nazarian

Amir H. Fallah, “The Animals Of The World Exist For Their Own Reasons,” 2019. Acrylic on canvas, 66 x 96 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Shulamit Nazarian, Los Angeles

At Shulamit Nazarian in Hollywood, Amir H. Fallah’s new paintings cull references from various histories and cultures to create compositions that read like narrative tapestries. Figures pulled from Iranian culture (where the artist was born) sit alongside Greek architecture or scenes of Americana. Out-of-date maps detail geographies that have long been debunked. Beautifully rendered patterns and florals are punctuated by cartoony woodland creatures that the artist appropriates from his son’s children’s books. Fallah commandeers the style of each reference he renders — some images are painted in flat graphic shapes, while others appear hyperrealistic. 

Previous work of Fallah’s has often delved into portraiture, painting a subject shrouded and surrounded by their belongings. Here, Fallah has removed the central figure and instead created a map of his own cultural influences; from his childhood in Iran, to his involvement in U.S. skater culture, to American histories that here read like propaganda.    

The gallery writes, “Each painting serves as a diary of lessons, warnings, and ideals that the artist wants to pass on to his son and together become a site map, providing coded insight into the formation of an identity while investigating the cultural values passed between generations.”   

“I am not this hair, I am not this skin, I am the soul that lives within,” at Shulamit Nazarian (installation view). Image courtesy of the artist and Shulamit Nazarian, Los Angeles

In a project space at the gallery, Fallah has curated a group exhibition that is on view alongside his solo show. Titled “I am not this hair, I am not this skin, I am the soul that lives within,” the show includes work by four artists who (similarly to Fallah) deal with portraiture in unconventional ways. Todd Gray’s stacked photographs juxtapose African landscapes with tamed European gardens. Daniel Gibson’s thick oil painting depicts fantastical florals enveloping a figure’s striped legs. Francis Upritchard’s uncanny figures have a strange scale, somewhere between doll and child. Amanda Ross-Ho’s “Untitled Smock (Accident)” is an oversized replica of her own painting smock that she accidentally spilled red paint onto (each red stain has been faithfully recreated). Together, these works seem to depict a personage without a realistic representation, much like Fallah’s examination into how influences and cultural references might inform a person’s psyche. 

Both shows on view: September 12 – October 31

Maija Peeples-Bright at Parker Gallery 

Maija Peeples-Bright, “Goose Lady Godiva,” 1969. Image courtesy of the artist and Parker Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo credit: Paul Salveson

Walking into Parker Gallery’s solo exhibition of Maija Peeples-Bright is like jumping into the fantastical world of the artist’s own creation — one in which Lady Godiva is adorned with prancing geese, and alligators, pandas, and giraffes mingle with millipede-corgis. For Peeples-Bright, the animal world is exuberant, playful, and in full technicolor. At the opening over the weekend, the 78-year-old artist sported a bespoke tunic, hat, shoes, and facemask, all hand-painted by the artist, and depicting her exuberant animals that she calls “beasties.”

Peeples-Bright was involved in the “Funk” and “Nut” artists of the ‘60s Bay Area, and her exuberantly-painted “Rainbow House” was a central hub for California funk artists like Roy De Forest and Robert Arneson. Her Parker Gallery exhibition is a retrospective, containing paintings and ceramic works from the last 60 years of artistic production, and examines Peeples-Bright’s whimsical and imaginative style. 

In “Goose Lady Godiva,” a triumphant Godiva has glowing yellow hair that’s filled in with turkeys, and skin that is adorned with geese. She rides into town on a horse-like creature that is an amalgam of dogs, fish, and other interlocking “beasties.” In Peeples-Bright’s idiosyncratic language, humans and animals layer and co-mingle to create textured landscapes that playfully argue for the interconnectedness of all living things. 

On view: September 13 – October 31, 2020

 Colleen Hargaden at Hunter Shaw Fine Art 

Colleen Hargaden, “Capsule Two: Portable Apothecary,” 2020. Photo credit: Ruben Diaz

Colleen Hargaden’s “Strategies for Inhabiting a Damaged Planet” at Hunter Shaw Fine Art gives us just that. In the first gallery, the artist presents two “capsules” that offer the viewer practical survival skills (growing your own sprouts) and herbal remedies (making your own herbal tinctures and salves). Each capsule is a solar-powered kit that presents a how-to video and includes supplies and a PDF manual. These art objects break down barriers between artwork and utility, offering a more fluid and generous relationship with the viewer. 

In the second gallery, the artist has recreated shot-for-shot a film called 

H20 ,” which was made by photographer Ralph Steiner in 1929. Steiner’s original film depicts various states of water — bubbling brooks, dripping rain pipes, raucous ocean waves. For Hargaden’s recreation, she remade each shot within LA County, and scouted locations carefully. For a few shots that the artist was unable to attain due to the changed infrastructure around water over the last 90 years, she simply included a blank screen with a text description of the missing shot. 

Taken as a whole, Hargaden’s work offers proposals for understanding, cultivating, and living in harmony with our changing environment. Going further, the artist translates these desires into practical tools for inhabiting a damaged planet, and offers pathways forward that attempt repair.  

On view: September 12 – October 25

Fall is back with lots of new shows, but museums are still unsure when they can open to the public 

The Hammer Museum in Westwood is opening its biennial, “Made in LA,” later this month, although an official date has not been announced. Photo credit: Elon Schoenholz/CC BY-SA 2.0

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the art world is forging ahead with annual fall openings. Dozens of galleries have opened with by-appointment viewing, although museums are still unsure when they can welcome the public. Major exhibitions planned (like “Made in L.A.” at The Hammer and Pipilotti Rist at MOCA) are still awaiting clearance from the county about when they can safely open. I talked to Steve Chiotakis about some exhibitions I’m looking forward to this fall, and the uncertainty of museum timelines for reopening. 

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