ArteEast is pleased to present an interview with artist Amir H. Fallah as part of our Artist Spotlight.
Amir H. Fallah creates paintings, sculptures, and installations that utilize personal history as an entry point to discuss race, representation, the body, and the memories of cultures and countries left behind. Through this process, the artist’s works employ nuanced and emotive narratives that evoke an inquiry about identity, the immigrant experience, and the history of portraiture.
Fallah interrogates systems of representation embedded in the history of Western art. His ornate environments combine visual vocabularies of painting and collage with elements of installation to deconstruct material modes of identity formation. Portraits of veiled subjects capitalize on ambiguity to skillfully weave fact and fiction, while questioning how to create a portrait without representing the physicality of the sitter. While the stories that surround his subjects are deeply personal and are told through the intimate possessions they hold most dear, his work addresses generational immigrant experiences of movement, trauma, and celebration. Fallah wryly incorporates Western art historical references into paintings formally rooted in the pattern-based visual language of Islamic Art. In doing so, his paintings possess a hybridity that reflects his own background as an Iranian-American immigrant straddling cultures.
ArteEast: You tap into so many themes and ideas for your work that are based on your personal experiences as an immigrant and artist of color. These themes are more relevant than ever today considering the current political and social climate. How have the events of the past few weeks affected you personally or from a creative standpoint?
Amir H. Fallah: About a year ago I started working on a new body of work revolving around life lessons I wanted to pass on to my son. Many of the themes revolve around belief in science, social justice, empathy, and the effects of colonialism on people of color. I never thought that everything in the paintings would come to a boiling point a month before I was supposed to exhibit the work. Ironically the show got postponed because of those very topics that are addressed in the paintings.
It’s been truly surreal to see statues of Christopher Columbus being pulled down all over the world. I made three paintings that deal with Christopher Columbus that I started over a year ago. It’s probably the most timely work I’ve ever made and I’m anxious to share it.
AE: Do you ever try to differentiate between the political and nonpolitical in your work?
AHF: The personal is always political and all my work comes from a sincere personal place. I don’t think of my work as political but it addresses a lot of topics that are coming up in politics today.
AE: What do you hope people take away from your work?
AHF: My hope is that I seduce viewers both visually and conceptually with the work. I want to attract them with the visual and then let the content take over. I am always trying to make work that is very generous and gives a lot to the viewer. The more time you spend with it the more you get.
AE: LA’s art aesthetic plays such a significant role in your work. Can you tell us about that, and explain how graffiti, street art and studying art in LA all contributed to helping you form your style and aesthetic?
AHF: I’m not sure what aspect of living in LA has impacted the work stylistically. With that said there is a sense of freedom and openness in LA that is liberating. It allows you to experiment in ways that I think would be hard in NYC where the pace is so much faster. Here you have space to think and play which I always found helpful.
The graffiti influences aren’t really from LA since I was mostly involved in that world in my teenage years on the east coast. Those influences become more subdued and subtle as the work progresses. The biggest lessons I learned from graffiti is not being scared of working large, embracing color and embellishment. These references can also be found in a lot of different interests of mine like graphic design, illustration, Persian miniatures, and Islamic ornamentation. The influences are coming from a lot of various sources and I’m cramming them together and trying to make some sort of visual harmony amongst the chaos.
AE: How, if at all, have you been making use of this time of self-isolation? Have there been any creative gains or challenges?
AHF: This has been very challenging for our family as both my wife and I work and we have a small child who is constantly bored. We try our best to keep him entertained but it’s an uphill battle. With that said, one of the best things to come out of the quarantine is falling back in love with works on paper. I’ve started a daily routine of making works on paper on my dining room table while my son draws or makes things with Play-Doh. They are very intimate and relaxing to make and have opened up some new avenues in the work which is always nice. A lot of the work is about being a father, and having my son sitting next to me while I’m making the work has been incredible. I’ve been documenting them on Instagram and you’ll always see kids’ art materials in the background of the drawings and on the table.
AE: What have you given thought to doing or creating once the global pandemic subsides?
AHF: I just want to jump back in. I have a lot of projects that are currently on hold and I can’t wait to get back to them.
AMIR H. FALLAH ONLINE:
Fallah received his BFA in Fine Art & Painting at the Maryland Institute College of Art and his MFA in painting at the University of California, Los Angeles. He has exhibited extensively in solo and group exhibitions across the United States and abroad. Selected solo exhibitions include the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tucson; South Dakota Art Museum, Brookings SD; Schneider Museum of Art, Ashland OR; San Diego Art Institute; and the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Overland KS.
In 2009, the artist was chosen to participate in the 9th Sharjah Biennial. In 2015, Fallah received the Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors Grant. In 2019, Fallah’s painting Calling On The Past received the Northern Trust Purchase Prize at EXPO Chicago. In 2020, Fallah was awarded the COLA Individual Artist Fellowship and the Artadia grant. The artist has a current solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tucson and has a forthcoming solo exhibition with Shulamit Nazarian, Los Angeles.
The artist is in the permanent collection of the Pérez Art Museum Miami; McEvoy Foundation For The Arts, San Francisco; Nerman Museum, Kansas City; SMART Museum of Art at the University of Chicago; Davis Museum, Massachusetts; The Microsoft Collection, Washington; Plattsburg State Art Museum, NY; Cerritos College Public Art Collection, CA; and Salsali Private Museum, Dubai, UAE.