Chimento Contemporary, Los Angeles
through August 24
Written by Shana Nys Dambrot
Art historical citations are activated by context, going beyond homage or references to individual styles or those of an era, or to specific works of art, to create meaning when the viewer must consider not only what was done, but when, and by whom. Often this takes the form of claiming, or reclaiming pictorial and art historical real estate for a latter-day maker interested in staking out space in the canon once reserved for others.
“Kitchen” is slang for the small grove of hair that grows on the nape of the neck, the most recalcitrant and unmanageable of all the hair on the head. As slang this is specific to black hair, and includes a wide array of tools specially produced for the purpose of grooming it. So when contemplating Hasef’s electrically vibrant mixed media paintings, with their panoply of references to the canon of Pop, post-Pop, and global techniques and aesthetics, it’s of paramount importance to keep track not only of the processes and materials, but also of the imagery. Hasef’s formal lexicon is strong, but the content of his pictures is more than an occasion to flex it — it’s a deliberate narrative gesture that reclaims elements of American visual culture in the name of black culture. Specifically, black hair culture.
Like Mark Bradford, Hasef grew up in a family hair salon and was inspired by the tools and materials that surrounded him. Bradford explored tropes of modernism and AbEx but used the unconventional materials of tissue papers, dyes, and waxes to accomplish his earliest collage-based works. Hasef, for his part, somewhat inverts that formula, instead being inspired to investigate established contemporary fine art styles, replacing their object prompts (flowers, candy bars. skulls) with the tools of a different trade.
Where Hasef makes mixed media assemblage work reframing actual objects culled from his source sites, he’s tapping into another Los Angeles art historical tradition — assemblage and its deep roots in the Black Art movement. His supercharged and eccentric palette touches on everything from East African pop-infused textile design to abstract color field painting to post-digital color theory, and strengthens the case that these works are equally about the visual discourse as they are about a heritage story. It’s a beautiful fusion.
With hints of Alex Katz, Baldessari, Roland Reiss, Fahamu Pecou, Andy Warhol, and Ellen Gallagher, Hasef engineers large-scale, impossibly crisp hybrid works on canvas. Built from a foundation of digital printing and augmented with oil paint and gold leaf, regal works like “The Edge Layer” and “Sunday” present singular totemic tools, or generate a kind of mandala from their orchestration. In other works like “Straight Crispy,” “2 Clippers” and “Line Up,” the tools are accompanied by a leaf or palm frond in what could be a visual pun on gardening and its gear, but also generates more exciting and impactful color stories and adds a fresh sense of surrealism and whimsy. “Clip It” is the most elaborate of such works; its lattice of silver blades creating a futuristic, architectonic pattern and a kind of robo-botanical central object motif.