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Hadi Tabatabai @ Brian Gross

“Thread Painting 2011-11”, 2011, thread, acrylic paint and ABS on Dibond, 54 × 50 × 3/4"

In his delicate combinations of squares, rectangles and floating lines, Hadi Tabatabai makes a strong case for the ongoing vitality of the minimalist credo: that by neutralizing the ego ambitions of the artist and by eliminating all forms of extraneous visual noise viewers can become aware of their own perceptions.  It’s a time-tested, high-Modernist formulation that connects the seeming opposites of science and religion, logic and belief, craft and high art. By ratcheting his own practice of it up to a level of asceticism and obsession that would have even Agnes Martin smiling, the Iran-born Berkeley artist scores a significant victory in the realm of optical illusionism.

The seven multi-panel monochromatic (black-against-grey) paintings on view range from small to medium-sized.  He builds them by stretching lengths of thread over painted panels, so that what we see are lines laid down on top of other lines — all of which appear to reside at indeterminate depths. They sow visual confusion about boundaries — between surface and background and about how the works themselves are made. The animating visual conundrum is how seemingly unmoored tendrils of thread can appear to lay on the surfaces of the pictures without falling away.  The artist creates this illusion by painting certain lengths the exact same color as the backgrounds. Those demarcations between light and dark colors create geometric shapes that are, at least from across a room, the ostensible subjects. But the more interesting aspect is the illusion of infinite depth that we experience while looking into these spaces.
“Thread Painting # 35”, 2010, wood, thread and acrylic paint on plywood, 17 1/8 × 33 3/8 × 1”
The macro view of Tabatabai’s pictures suggests close ties to classic minimalists like Martin and John McLaughlin. The close-up view, which brings us face to face with their optical characteristics, suggests affinities with the Light and Space movement. Admittedly, light, by itself, is a bit player in these hermetic pictures, but the sensations of spatial dislocation that strike us right at the edge of perception are the same ones that occupy the imaginations of James Turrell and Robert Irwin.  If Tabatabai made his paintings ten times bigger they’d register the same kind of impact as Turrell’s and Irwin’s.  As is, they operate mostly in a liminal zone, their plastic activity taking place within a depth of an inch or less.  


It’s notable, and perhaps no surprise, that before he became an artist, Tabatabai studied construction engineering. At a vastly reduced scale, his work reflects the same concerns with bodily space that architects strive for when they design a building. 
Thread Painting 2011-1, 2011, 48 × 40 5/8”
You can see it in the precise lines of Thread Painting # 35 where, at the bottom, the strings are glued together to create a delicate web whose matrices recall suspension bridges. Those lines, which are precisely spaced and exactingly painted, also bring to mind both stringed instruments and the endlessly repeating rhythmic cycles of Philip Glass. Thread Painting 2011-11, by contrast, presents rhythmic chaos masked as order.  The largest piece in the show, at 54 x 50 inches, it consists of nine panels that display four squares. Each is divided across four panels which, in turn, subdivide those squares even further. The most obvious associations are to windows, doors, recesses and porticoes. But instead of looking at this geometry lesson from a point-blank position. stand back.  After a few seconds the relationships between “positive” and “negative” space start to dissolve and soon it becomes difficult distinguish between them.
For most artists, creating work like this would be a migraine-inducing cerebral process.  For this artist it’s an act of devotion, a meditation. 
As he told works & conversations editor Richard Whittaker in a 2008 interview: “When you look at something small…it brings you closer to yourself….Whereas most things just bring you out into the world. I think it’s much more important to come back to ourselves, to understand. I’m interested in the point of origin: where is it as human beings that we connect with each other.”
Hadi Tabatabai: “Portals” through December 23, 2011 @ Brian Gross Fine Art.
About the author:
David M. Roth is the editor and publisher of Squarecylinder.

One Response to “Hadi Tabatabai @ Brian Gross”

  1. Connie Goldman says:

    Thank you for posting this review of Hadi’s show. His work is more than deserving of critical attention and praise.


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