Naeemeh Kazemi is a young painter from Tehran; she lives on the outskirts of Tehran in a three-room house decorated with large, beautiful ceramic vases. Her studio is sited some distance from the house. Kazemi’s work consists of a dense array, nearly anarchic in its lack of arrangement, of disparate objects, mostly taken from nature: flowers and plants, many of them red, painted with botanical accuracy; often, not always, in the midst of the flora, we find figures referencing the history of painting. There are renderings of what look like small putti–figures that place the art in a westward cultural direction. Most interesting about the work is Kazemi’s determination to paint in such a way as to dissolve geographic particularity; no one knows exactly where the influences come from. The art seems to have come from a very broad cultural range.”La-LaLand,” the title of the show, refers to a semi-exalted state of mind, determined by a relaxed, imaginative point of view. Kazemi’s works manage this way of thinking very well.
Such a range is no longer a novelty. Cultural eclecticism has been a well-known given in contemporary art for roughly two generations or more. Kazemi’s art borrows to build and maintain an atmosphere that incorporates many kinds of imagery. The wide range of allusions found in the work convinces us that in current art practice and also in current nature, breadth of interest enables the painter to choose what to concentrate on. In an untitled painting done in 2022, the major figure, in the center of the painting, is a nearly naked St. Sebastian. More than a few arrows pierce his torso and limbs; his body is evidence of the traditional visual tripe of the Christian martyr. As for the head, we see only the lower part, which seems grotesque, disfigured. To the painting’s right, the pale face of a woman, wearing a cap and a red bodice suggests the recognition of Netherlandish historical painting. Together, the two figures establish a –the result of an intricate ground, unusual skill, and art historical awareness–all of which support the far-reaching efficacy of this work.
Naeemeh Kazemi, Untitled, 2022, Oil on canvas, 59 x 79 inches
In another painting, composed of a wealth of flowers, leaves, and berries, we see a young woman’s profile on the right; she looks left, across the width of the composition. The female figure also wears a long earring that falls from her ear for a distance of a few inches: an example of cosmetic decoration coming from another century. It looks like a pale pink group of poinsettias has taken over the middle of the painting, which otherwise is too crowded with other flowers and, at least for this writer, plant forms too hard to identify. Kazemi is merging the ongoing, more or less eternal present of natural the with the historical specificity of figures we cannot exactly pinpoint in time, but which suggest a cultural outlook whose specificity is at odds with the plants and flowers and their long continuity Another painting, from 2023, has several striking images within the general mass of natural confusion: an egret in the upper register, a profile of a woman from a historical Western painting, who looks towards a gray-and-white tabby cat, and a young man with a very expressive left eye holding an apple.
As it happens in Kazemi’s compositions, the surrounding milieu, often containing bright red natural forms, creates a busy but elegant array of colors and forms. Kazemi does take a chance in filling the canvas with a large number of natural forms, whose pictorial effects are so various and different from each other as to introduce a note of extreme confusion. into her paintings. The overflowing wealth of nature becomes, in the artist’s hands, a metaphor for creativity–the forms and colors that light up the images we meet in her art. And the figures, painted with true feeling for historical precedents keep the memory of earlier cultures alive. The two merge in a near mass of visual confusion, of visual indices that carry true visual weight. As Kazemi knows well, the image can be re-envisioned so that meaningfulness, as well as beauty, organized or unorganized, can be transformed into memorable art.
Image Above: Naeemeh Kazemi, Untitled, 2023, Oil on canvas, 63 x 57 inches
Header Image: Naeemeh Kazemi, Untitled, 2023, Oil on canvas, 59 x 79 inches
All images are courtesy of Leila Heller Gallery