LondonShirazeh Houshiary: Pneuma
For the artist’s 13th exhibition with Lisson Gallery and her first on Cork Street, Shirazeh Houshiary presents a new body of work: the first presentation in 15 years to focus exclusively on her paintings.
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The five new paintings – Pneuma (2020), Forgetting the Word (2020), Enigma (2020), Pieta (2021) and Loci (2021) – manifest an abstraction that is at once haptic and optic; their surfaces taut with a connective energy that holds pigment and fine skeins of pencil-work in mesmerising suspension.
The works arise from a meditative practice that takes breath as its medium and conceptual framework. For Houshiary, the physical manifestation of breath is the word. As is the case in each of the paintings the artist has produced over her forty-year career, at the basis of these works is a web formed from two words, superimposed onto one another and inscribed with focussed repetition. Houshiary uses words to approach something wordless, the interconnectedness of all things.
Houshiary’s process is inherently physical. To produce these finely wrought surfaces and their depths, she must inhabit her canvases. Placing them flat on the floor of her studio, she moves across them, building layers of inscriptions on top of the sediments formed from pouring water mixed with pure pigment. Concentrating on dynamic movement, the mind and body unify.
The paintings in this exhibition each have the same dimensions, an extended human scale. They present a space that is at once intimate whilst seeming to move indefinitely outwards. Formally, they play host to a correspondence between parts – all five works explore a dialogue between two fields, making visible the oscillation between visibility and invisibility, existence and non-existence, darkness and light.
The title work, Pneuma, manifests as a continuous current of energy running down the centre of the canvas, extending out in liquescent threads of pigment that permeate the white ground. Here, the areas of absence appear as two worlds drawn together, held by the charge of the central intervention that is not a fracture but a frequency.
In Pieta, a penetrating tissue of markings moves between form and formlessness, the potency of the ink-blue pigment taking on a visceral quality, drawing the viewer into an interior space where growth and decay are enmeshed.
Where Pneuma and Pieta have a liquid presence that concentrates in deep pools and limpid boundaries, Loci is vaporous, its surface billowing and layered. Forgetting the Word takes this vaporous quality to a new register, the pigment rendered so nebulous as to become vibration.
The spaces described are each formed from a synthesis of blue pigment and white ground. In contrast, Enigma emerges from darkness: its winged specter appearing like a phosphorescent flare. The multilayered structure of the painting is held together by a scribed membrane, oscillating between soft, subtle, flexed movements and brittle cleaves. It folds and crumbles as if it has fallen out of time and space to leave no definable boundary.
Installation view of ‘Shirazeh Houshiary: Pneuma’ at Lisson Gallery, Cork Street, London, 22 June – 31 July 2021 © Shirazeh Houshiary, courtesy Lisson Gallery