This September, Taymour Grahne Gallery opens its doors with an inaugural exhibition by acclaimed Iranian painter Nicky Nodjoumi. Featuring large-scale oil paintings in the main gallery and works on paper in the lower gallery, Chasing the Butterfly and Other Recent Paintings explores Nodjoumi’s surreal hybridization of historic and contemporary imagery intercut with sharp political commentary.
Born 1942, in Kermanshah, Iran and based in New York since 1981, Nodjoumi uses his practice to explore the intersection of his personal history with the politics of alienation and dislocation. Combining historic references, social realist critique and surrealist abstraction, his compositions feature multi-layered human figures engaged with bizarrely counter-poised animals, theatrically staged against indeterminate backdrops and barren landscapes.
Not unlike the work of the German Social Realist Neo Rauch, Nodjoumi’s paintings suggest the intention of a narrative reading, but are instead cryptic and open-ended. In Inspector’s Scrutiny, 2012, warriors from traditional Persian miniatures join with anonymous suited men in the struggle to tether and subjugate a supine horse, creating a scene that is both politically charged and ambiguously unresolved. Nodjoumi’s figures are continually spliced and rejoined on fractured registers with mismatched proportions, a spatial discrepancy that heightens the work’s disjointed layering of history and identity. Underlining this jarring sense of removal from reality and providing material textuality to the work are the artist’s sketches and clippings, also on display.
This uneasy perspective is balanced by the artist’s humorous, yet bitter satire. In Time to Pray, 2012, a family of apes grouped in a pose redolent of ritual worship are in fact engaged in coital activity, overseen by a supplicating mullah, who seems to vindicate the absurdity of adherence to religious stricture.
In Nodjoumi’s works on paper, politicians and businessmen cut from the day’s paper are extricated from their public personae and recontextualized in undefined circumstances, often framed within the confines of a rigidly structured grid, echoing unnamed systems of authoritarian order.
As artist, writer and curator Phong Bui considers in the exhibition’s accompanying catalog essay, “Nodjoumi’s newest paintings evidence a negotiation between political convictions—ones that belong squarely neither to his native home nor his adopted one—and the intricate yet obdurate language of painting he has created for himself out of necessity.”