Kamrooz Aram, Ornamental Composition for Social Spaces #14, 2017, Oil, wax, oil crayon and colored pencil on canvas, 78 x 68 inches

This past winter, Hales Project Room mounted a show of work by Kamrooz Aram and Anwar Jalal Shemza.  Shemza’s paintings were wonderful, but I am going to focus on Aram because he is one of my favorite painters and his work has challenged and inspired my own paintings to a great degree.

Hales Project Room is a small space, just one room. The show included two wonderful paintings by Aram, “Ornamental Composition for Social Spaces #14” and “Ornamental Composition for Social Spaces #15.” Each painting is comprised of Persian paisley textile patterns, geometry and flowers. The traditional imagery he uses is painted over, wiped away, drawn back into, and reimagined. Aram combines modernist gestural abstraction and the pentimento of Persian ornament to create a new contemporary expression. The paintings appear as something akin to a well-loved Persian rug and a Cy Twombly Lepanto painting mixed together. Aram, born in Iran in 1978, is an artist whose work explores the conflict that results when the traditions and aesthetics of a culture that have existed for thousands of years become influenced by the philosophies and aesthetics of modernity. He attempts to come to terms with modernism’s preoccupation for self-discovery through automatism while including ancient artistic devices and ornaments meant to describe specific cultural traditions and beliefs.

Kamrooz Aram, Ornamental Composition for Social Spaces #15, 2017, Oil, wax, oil crayon and colored pencil on canvas

What I find so refreshing and beautiful about Aram is that he does not critique either paradigm – the new or the old. He simply describes the process of integrating the two. His gorgeous and deft use of material is not cynical or sentimental.  He has skirted being defined by tradition, modernism or post-modernism by replacing theory and ideology with personal expression. This is not deconstruction; it’s reconstruction.  Even though most of the paintings are created using dirty turpentine-soaked rags, these paintings glow with a backlit-stained-glass-window quality. The large gestures and “wipe-aways” are controlled in a manner that embellishes the formal pattern rather than destroying it, and often what is erased is replaced with the same image that was removed.

In his paintings, Aram describes the predicament of being a progressive artist while also wanting to integrate the imagery and textures of the culture in which he and billions of people were raised. He is not critiquing the past or offering a prescription for the future. His paintings are the messy and beautiful expression of a person filled with love and doubt.  His paintings remind me that we all find ourselves in a unique time but we are dealing with ancient problems. He shows us that an artist can be fully aware of the limitations inherent in sentimentality and romance, and yet still want to believe.

Brendan Carroll, Stained Glass and Stucco #4, 2018, Oil and wax on canvas, 70 x 58 inches

Brendan Carroll is a painter who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.  He studied psychology and art at Providence College and received a MFA from the Maryland Institute College of Arts. His artwork has been shown in galleries in Baltimore, New York, and Atlanta. His paintings are in the permanent collection of the High Museum of Art and Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia.