Big Bear and the Dragon 2016, oil on linen, 30”x 24”
A friend who had read a couple of my reviews (at least one) said I don’t want to like paintings.
That’s not true! I do want to like them! Or maybe partially true? Because I want to love them.
Anyway, I’ll give that some thought, and true to form, admit I wasn’t all that interested at first in Tabatabai’s paintings; I made a swift analysis: cool, nonobjective, oddly textured grids. Then since I was there, idly looking at Big Bear and the Dragon, I noticed a fir tree in the lower right corner.
My mind (?) got to work and made the whole painting a forested mountainside (which happens to be a place I like to go) on a crisp, cool autumn morning. I noticed other evergreens, light flashing on a deciduous tree, the blue at the bottom became an ice-cold, rapidly rushing stream carrying sticks and other flotsam. I asked myself, “Is the color too sweet?” and the painting said “No”.
Birth of Adam on the Beach 2016 30” x 24”
When my gaze drifted to Birth of Adam on the Beach, which seemed smaller and simpler, I thought tree broken by light, then no, the strokes don’t actually support the fractal range of a tree, then I thought the cool humanist rationality of della Francesca, then crucifix but it doesn’t quite make a cross, but then I noticed what could be the bloody ground beneath which supported crucifix and thought Syria and then for relief, the detail of blue strokes to the left of the cross. And then I accepted, though it’s never quite happened like this before, that when looking at Tabatabai’s paintings, a series of images might flow through my mind appearing, reappearing, disappearing and being replaced by others.
The painter in me started to take a closer look into how the paintings were made. At first some sort of grid was established. Then a series of brushstrokes invariably underlined with a darker stroke– as if each stroke must have a shadow. Sometimes these strokes reinforce the grid and sometimes are piled up randomly (?) or purposefully, it’s unclear. But then I realize that the size of the strokes varies subtly, implying but not forcing dimensionality–the smaller denser groups slowly begin to indicate deeper space.
Orion and the Hare, 2017, 42”x 36”
I did happen to overhear the artist say the paintings were inspired by the starry night sky of somewhere out west where he lives. But I like to consult my own feelings and thoughts and could even make an argument that the shadows always underlining the strokes of paint suggest a more terrestrial space where the light usually comes from above. And I found Orion and the Hare, the painting that most looks like a picture of constellations, forced and clunky, the only painting in the show that formed a single unchanging gestalt.
My Ancestors, 2013, 69”x 56”
My Ancestors, the largest painting in the show has a larger grid and larger strokes. It suggested monochromatic cubism, two dimensional folded and unfolded origami and embossed steel plates like the ones that cover holes in the street. I looked at the brushwork at the edges, larger exuberant strokes that were not always shaded, a white light flickered at the top, — and then the absolutely flat, two dimensional diamonds and squares began to project into three dimensional space starting with a parallelogram that became a horizontal plane with a pile of nails.
My Ancestors detail