LondonNadia Ayari - We Saw Stars
Taymour Grahne Projects presents We Saw Stars, a solo exhibition by NY-based artist Nadia Ayari.
A Measure of Time, Repeated
by Fawz Kabra
“Maybe this is a dream version of a world where branches are loops, skies are bright blue, and leaves are untethered,” Nadia Ayari deliberates about the paintings in We Saw Stars. Here, she allows herself to restructure her rules and process of painting. Materializing a constellation of metaphors that bend in and out of past and futuretime, a loop, viewed from an observation deck in the depths of a universe blue like lapis lazuli. We Saw Stars references that moment of emergence from the underworld, “Where we came forth, and once more saw the stars,” Dante’s poem evokes a resurfacing, also conjured here in Ayari’s process and tribute to Nejma, her grandmother whose name also signifies these incandescent gases from light years away, a supernova that has provided the artist with a renewed anchoring clarity and unfixed gravity.
Traveling in and out of the frame, the elements repeat in sets of three: the branch, the leaf, the flower. The central figure, this time, a spiny pink sprout. Its pointed petals drape like armor, exposing or concealing a piercing pupil at its dark center. The plant’s form and characteristics are a synthesis of former protagonists, the eye and flower, which inhabited Ayari’s earlier paintings from 2006 to 2010. She describes the eye as a provocation, while the bulbous protrusion surrounded by petals arrange machinations. In Jetty II (2020) two branches bend towards one another. Each of them lined with a series of pink flowers that hang upwards and down the branches. The petals hanging above peer at the flowers below, whose dilated pupils gaze right back up, a repeating one-eyed monster staring back at itself in awe. Branches twist in infinity and the flowers blossom within as giant leaves tend to the pods in Loop III (2021). The paint as material reveals a highly designed surface and a texture captive by the repetitive interaction of the brush. The effect produces a viscosity and thickness to the painting’s surface that is both a crust and an image at once.
The roles are different, and the logic Ayari once placed on her protagonists has rewired. The branch no longer holds the leaf, it is no longer the place where the narrative emanates from, it is not straight or perpendicular. The circle, loop, infinity replaces the continual line that once entered and exited the frame. The bend of the branch allows the flowers to touch. In Kiss (2021), the branch circles around an uncanny closeness between the flowers. An embrace or a stare down? An unfurling or cowering of petals? Ayari’s poetry gives us [the indeterminacy of] language, which likewise conjures these forms and sequences. In the poem Horoscope (2020), constructed of twelve stanzas, Ayari imagines obsidian shapes that float in hues of purple, traveling through time and other science fiction landscapes. She writes,
Impossibly, the bulbous obsidian shape
closes in on a mate. It moves
through the dioxazine colored night excited, dreaming of
their first touch
Likewise, the one-eyed monster appears as a vain creature. Not really a Cyclops but not fully a flower, the one-eyed being lives its life only seeing itself when looking at others.
The protagonists are not fixed in their position, they change in relation to their world, and poetry develops a textual rendering as Ayari builds the paintings. Her paintings take time, and their process are the organizing principles of her days in the studio. A gradient of forty-eight pinks means a whole eight-hour workday of mixing, colors on the flowers take two to three hours per flower to make, while the wet-on-wet technique requires her to work, uninterrupted, through a single form. The measure of time is an experiment in time travel. Within the painting’s frame, the past and future are pulled together to liberate the present, as viewed from the observation deck demarcated by the subtle squish of the soft pink carpet beneath our soles. The protagonists in Ayari’s paintings defy a fixed persona, their configurations in relation to one another changes, and in Loop IV (2021), the infinity loop travels diagonally across the surface, trekking across the blue depths, it is inhabited by a choreography of leaves and flower, held delicately together in a distinct arrangement.
Each painting is a measure of time, the depth and width of concentric circles that, for Dante and Virgil, promises a way out of the underworld to another realm, and for Ayari too, this release happens gradually – to take the time, to make the painting. But it also demands the time to look within and around, combining involuntary histories with speculative imaginaries. The paintings in We Saw Stars mark these emergences where both the inherited and unfamiliar are combined to materialize another mythology or imaginary, to emerge out of the concentric layers imploding from within the same center.
Nadia Ayari was born in 1981. She has had solo projects at Luce, Turin (2009), Monya Rowe, New York (2011), The Third Line, Dubai (2013), Taymour Grahne, New York (2016), Untitled, Miami Beach (2016), London (2019) and has participated in the 12th International Cairo Biennale (2010), the 3rd Thessaloniki Biennale (2011) and Art Dubai Projects (2014). Her work has also been exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery, London, and Monica DeCardenas, Zuoz, Maraya Art Center, Sharjah, Institut Du Monde Arabe, Paris, Gallery Diet, Miami, DC Moore, New York, American University Museum, Washington DC, Samson Projects, Boston, Abrons Art Center, NY, and Produce Model Gallery, Chicago. Ayari earned her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design (2007) and has been a resident at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Drawing (2006), the Fine Arts Work Center (2010) and AiR Dubai (2014). Her works are part of the MACAAL collection. This fall, her paintings and sculptures will be included in Moma PS1’s “Greater New York” show. Ayari lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.
Courtesy of the artist and Taymour Grahne Projects, London