Lush, Painterly Photographs from Tami Bahat
Closing Reception February 17th, 6pm – 9pm
Building Bridges Art Exchange, Santa Monica
By Genie Davis
With “Revising Humanity: Secrets and Lifetimes”, photographer Tami Bahat creates astonishing painterly works that are rich and lustrous, works that echo Renaissance-style artworks and form images that haunt and glow.
Bahat unassumingly says of her work: “I hope to display a bit of humanity and connect with others through the imagery.” But the artist does far more than that, creating a fascinating amalgam of classic images and modern technique. There is something dream-like about her subjects and execution; it’s as if she were reimagining the work of the Old Masters and making their style most decisively her own. The images are often witty and yet profound, speaking of the human condition in a way that transcends time, and exists in a kind of netherworld which is both indefinable and universal.
With this sort of mythic visual approach, the Los Angeles-based Bahat nonetheless creates her tableau in a fairly-prosaic way. According to the artist: “My models are typically family or friends. I prefer photographing ‘ordinary people’ as they tend to project something very honest and vulnerable.”
Curated by Marisa Caichiolo, Bahat’s solo exhibition here is made up of radiant, wonderful portraits of people and animals that at first glance could indeed be paintings. The viewer is absorbed by an uncanny sensation that classic images are being reincarnated and absorbed into the current cultural zeitgeist.
Bahat uses vintage costumes and poses that evoke 16th and 17th century paintings, but which also seem to exist outside of time. Her palette reminds one of careful works in egg tempura on wood panels, as warm and precise. Around her images, which seem to contain their own illumination in faces and figures, the backgrounds are dark, or fade into darkness, making the central images even more immersive and compelling. This technique also enhances the dream-like aspect of the works. The subjects often seem otherworldly themselves, with the inclusion of children and animals perfectly poised, and even furnishings positioned in seemingly symbolic ways.
The mysterious and beautiful stories that Bahat creates have an alchemic feeling – one wonders who her subjects are, and exactly what they are doing the moment they are “off screen”. There is a transformative magic swirling about the subjects, both in terms of the light that infuses them and the expressions Bahat captures.
According to Bahat: “I’ve always been moved by other lifetimes and people, their stories… humanity and all the complexities that live within us. Also, a connection to worlds that no longer exist. I acquired some costumes from the L.A. Opera House, and after a shoot with one friend, I was so excited to explore other characters.”
And explore she has. We’re introduced to twin girls, only half revealed from a dark background, holding a silvery snake. Below them is an antique silver tea service. A weary looking man in Renaissance-period dress writes a letter by candlelight, his form, too, emerging from the un-seeable shadows. A woman and a simian sit in matching, back to back chairs, staring in opposite directions. Another woman, clad in white, hunches forward on a chair, her face hidden inside the folds of a red leather book. A beautiful cat yowls over a silvery fish, a red pomegranate glowing like an orb on the table beside them. In each of these works, the central images are delicately, beautifully illuminated; the backgrounds a dense cloud of darkness. The figures – people, objects, animals – seem to pop out from this unrevealed space, adding to the sense of magic and mystery.
Constructing stories of the past seems natural to Bahat, who says her father introduced her to the works of the Old Masters at an early age. Long fascinated by these artists’ distinctive use of light and emotional heft, Bahat’s contemporary interpretation of their style, her gorgeous subjects and innate respect for natural beauty, have merged in a wondrous exhibition that defies categorization. The show closes February 17.