Cat­nip for mid­cen­tury de­sign fans

Los Angeles Times - - CULTURE MONSTER - By Sharon Mi­zota cal­en­dar@latimes.com

The paint­ings of French Syr­ian artist Farah Atassi at Ghe­baly Gallery hark to Pi­casso and Cu­bism, re­duc­ing ev­ery­day ob­jects — vases, tele­phones, gui­tars — to flat, el­e­men­tal shapes that dis­solve into ri­otous parox­ysms of pat­tern.

The works also clearly draw from mid-20th cen­tury de­sign, which is per­haps why they look new. The cur­rent vogue for the clean lines and clear col­ors of ev­ery­thing mid­cen­tury turns these paint­ings into hip­ster cat­nip.

That said, they are grit­tier than one might ex­pect. Un­der­neath the flat shapes and hard edges, one can eas­ily dis­cern ridges and whorls from pre­vi­ous it­er­a­tions. The fi­nal paint­ings may look like cheery, breezy de­signs, but they feel hard-won. The un­der­ly­ing tex­ture al­lows you to see Atassi thinking things through, try­ing things out. They con­vey a grav­ity and a per­son­al­ity that a flat­ter, cleaner im­age could not.

A pen­chant for vis­ual am­bi­gu­ity also saves the works from be­ing sim­ply pleas­ing or pretty. The still lifes are es­pe­cially com­pelling in this re­gard. They typ­i­cally de­pict an ar­range­ment of ob­jects on a ta­ble or shelf, but this sur­face is only barely dis­tin­guish­able from the sur­round­ing walls. Both are cov­ered in high-con­trast, brightly col­ored pat­terns.

The ob­jects also re­in­force this vis­ual con­fu­sion. For ev­ery rec­og­niz­able vase of flow­ers, there is a shape that might be a wall hang­ing or a dec­o­ra­tive screen or per­haps just an­other shape. It could be some­thing ab­stracted beyond iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, or not.

The im­ages vi­brate, not only with color and shape, but with the ir­re­solv­able na­ture of their im­pos­si­ble spa­ces. This ten­sion is noth­ing new in paint­ing, but it’s a plea­sure to see it ex­plored with such verve and as­sur­ance.

The back­ground ma­te­ri­als for the show men­tion Fer­nand Leger as an­other touch­stone for Atassi, who is based in Paris. But I also see a lit­tle of the Amer­i­can modernist Stu­art Davis, and jazz. Both are grounded in re­al­ity but are ca­pa­ble of tak­ing us some­where else en­tirely.

Pho­to­graphs by lanternier fred­eric Ghe­baly Gallery

FARAH ATASSI’S “Blue Guitar,” 2017, shows she is thinking things through and try­ing things out.

ATASSI’S “THE SWIM­MER,” 2017, has the clean lines and clear col­ors of mid­cen­tury de­sign.

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