Like Ghosts: Rema Ghuloum and HK Zamani
through April 8
JAUS, Los Angeles
By Lorraine Heitzman
There is currently a show at JAUS that highlights two equally vibrant but divergent voices in contemporary abstraction. The work by Rema Ghuloum and HK Zamani surprisingly complement one another and the juxtaposition of the paintings by these two Los Angeles artists heightens their differences as well as their strengths. Each artist shows work that is representative of their focus over the past few years; in the case of Ghuloum, it is her investigation of subtle color relationships and complex surfaces and for Zamani it is his bold, minimal forms that despite their simplicity and perhaps even their intent, suggest narratives. Both their work explores memory and paint, though each through their own particular lens.
In the warm lighting of the gallery, Ghuloum’s paintings virtually glow and the tactile qualities of the surfaces are lively and sensuous. Her interest in materials and process is evident and two paintings, Ana and Return to Saturn are particularly captivating here. Is there a term for a cubist painting that uses organic shapes rather than geometric ones? Ghuloum’s interest rests in abstraction and, although Return to Saturn may be a still life of sorts, the underlying imagery, if there is any, is obscured to the point where the shapes are less a way to describe form than the means to deliver color. Ana is similarly fractured, but armed with the title it is possible to make out a face and other images. Standing before her work though is not a guessing game, rather the viewer becomes enthralled and immersed in a mood. Ghuloum achieves her rich textures through a process of layering and removing the oils, acrylics and acryla-gouaches she uses in each piece. Even her smaller paintings, like Stream and Bahr succeed in conveying an expressive, atmospheric landscape that feel like spiritual maps, or psychological states of mind.
Zamani’s curious paintings are as uncomplicated as they are oblique. The larger paintings are surprisingly simple for their size with a single, central and almost cartoonish shape set against a stark background. Untitled # 13 has such an image; it appears to be a ship, either nautical or celestial, and the painting itself looks like it was torn from a coloring book belonging to someone who couldn’t stay within the lines. Untitled #1 is also a ship of sorts; the skeletal structure rests on water with black above and below and is topped by a green shroud. These are contradictory paintings because the images are undecipherable but at the same time rendered in a straightforward manner. Like hieroglyphics Zamani’s paintings suggest stories even without the viewer understanding their meaning. The paintings convey mysteries, effectively communicating through a language that is entirely of Zamani’s imagination.
“Many of my dome and tent paintings of the past years were less about paint than image,” Zamani says of his work. “Their recent transmutations are about paint. These paintings are portraits. Perhaps even self-portraits, fragile portrayals. Some are ruins, some are vessels, and transport. The new images in these paintings continue to grow out of, or away from their predecessors. They are sometimes devils, then angels. Some are on land, in sky or sea, occasional remnants, reformed or transformed. They are a return as well as departure, departure from the dome image and back to the way I used to paint.”
Both Rema Ghuloum and H.K. Zamani are well known figures around Los Angeles. Zamani has been the force behind PØST Gallery that has given opportunities to hundreds of local artists since 1995. Ghuloum is part of the curatorial collective, Manual History Machines. It is satisfying to see their work together in this inspired and unexpected pairing. The vivid contrast between their styles plays to their individual strengths and to the surprising success of Like Ghosts as a whole.