NEW YORK, NY.- Taymour Grahne Projects
reopened to the public on December 3 for the continuation of its current show 'The New York Times Drawings 1996 - 1998,' a solo exhibition by NYC-based artist Nicky Nodjoumi (b. 1942) of his iconic newspaper works from the 1990s. The show is the artists first London solo exhibition.
Nicky Nodjoumi's works have been acquired by prominent museum collections worldwide, including: the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the British Museum in London, LACMA in Los Angeles, the Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi, and the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, among others. In 2014, Nicky had a solo exhibition at the Cleveland Institute of Art titled 'The Accident, and in 2019 a solo exhibition at the Kansas City Art Institute, titled The Long Day. The artist lives and works in Brooklyn. His shows have been reviewed by major publications, including The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Brooklyn Rail, and the Boston Review, among others.
As the early light streams through the windows of his Brooklyn studio, Nicky Nodjoumi sips coffee and reads the morning papers. After some moments of deep reflection on the news of the day, hell reach for his brushes and drawing pencils and begin sketching directly on the newspaper. This has been his longstanding morning ritual, and the drawings have become a visual journal of sorts.
In a way, his newspaper sketches form an archive of Nodjoumis artistic process. They help reveal the way Nodjoumi connects politics to aesthetics and form with content. They reflect echoes of diverse of art historical references from illuminated Persian manuscripts to Picasso, from medieval Chinese paintings to surrealism, from erotica to political graffiti. The sketches illustrate the way ideas percolate in his mind and become transformed to imagery. The spontaneous gestural works offer insight into ways Nodjoumi has re-imagined figuration into an artistic form distinctly his own.
In the 1960s, Nodjoumi studied art at the University of Tehran. There the training was largely mimetic, the emphasis on representational painting. In the early 1970s, he studied for his MFA at the City College of New York. At the time, the focus was on minimalism and abstraction. Neither modality suited the artist. For Nodjoumi, creative expression was intrinsically connected to his activism. He followed his own path, experimenting with composition and form, with color and imagery. He pushed the boundaries of figural painting in his search to manifest the relationship between art and politics, between the artist and society. That connection is more immediate, more visceral in his newspaper sketches.
Only in recent years has Nodjoumi publicly shown this body of work. For years, one could only see them during visits to his artist studio. They began as a private exercise, a manifestation of his ongoing engagement with social, political, and philosophical concerns. He uses the sketches to grapple with his thoughts, to find a visual language to express them onto the canvas. Some are portraits of friends and family, some are pictures of political figures based on press photos in the newspapers, others are allegorical representations social conditions hes been reading about in the news. The exhibition at Taymour Grahne Projects in London features a rare Nodjoumi self-portrait.
Some of these images mark a passing moment, an ethereal trace of a fleeting thought that came and went. Other figures in the newspaper sketches reappear, redrawn again and again until they became incorporated into one of Nodjoumis large-scale paintings or ink drawings. His triptych Masterpiece (2012), for example, was inspired by a photograph of a theatrical performance he saw in a newspaper. Two men in suits are engaged in a fistfight while another stands to the side, quietly reading a book. In the background, the artist has drawn Rostam on his horse Rakhsh engaged in battle, imagery inspired by a lithographed illustration from the Persian epic, Shahnameh. The artwork is a rumination on the insipid role of violence in society, and it helps illustrate the ways his newspaper sketches become foundations for his larger artworks.
Underlying all of Nodjoumis artworks are fundamental social concernsthe struggle for justice, a resistance to political repression, and an insistence on human dignity. The newspaper drawings offer glimpses into his imagination and his artistic processthe way he thinks through ideas, plays with allegory, uses visual juxtaposition. Collectively, they offer a vivid window onto the creativity of one of the most consequential artists of our generation.
Shiva Balaghi, PhD is a cultural historian. Her writing and curation focuses on the arts of the Middle East.