The style of Siavash Talaie’s singular paintings, echoing academic classicism, nineteenth-century genre painting and even totalitarian art, are the result of several years of continuous exploration and effort.
His work shows static and serene subject matter imbued with a deeply symbolic mode of representation, with figures that appear to be carved from stone and separated from the world by their impermeable shell. These figures have an air of oppressive, stifling stillness. The palette is generally muted – sometimes colourful, but never expressive, the brushstroke is invisible and the drawing dominates.
The enigmatic character and indirect references of the paintings, as well as the increasing ambiguity of their titles suggest that his inspiration comes more from other works of art rather than nature. Although he takes much inspiration from Jasper Johns and Joseph Beuys, he consciously distances himself from them. Placing enormous value on the material act of creation, he exploits available creative means to fashion a pictorial world whose superior harmony carries great yearning and longing. Rather than creating a ‘new’ art compatible with our contemporary, digital world, technically these works represent an indictment of our modern alienation and a plea for universal reification.
The viewer is drawn into a pictorial world heavy with memory, but also critical of schematic notions and suggested narratives, disturbingly populated with images at once familiar but unknown, in stark contrast to our comfortably familiar surroundings. Embedded in this art is a manifestation of the mindset of classicism, in particular the embrace of the art and mythology of old, possibly exhausted and over-refined, long defunct cultures and civilizations. Whilst this could be considered an avoidance of current challenges, it could also be the artist taking a stand and working to acquire insight into himself: a sort of romantic longing to become one with the universe, but also hinting at enigmatic connections which remain unknown.
Talaei acknowledges the difficulty of recognising intent in his work, but sees value in the difficulty and obscurity of his statements. He is interested not so much in striving for generally greater epistemological or philosophical awareness, but merely in giving form to his own self-expression.
This is an art bearing profound doubts about man’s self-image and worldview, as well as his faith in the future. It may be particularly apt to quote Giacometti here when he said: “I have the impression or the illusion that I make progress every day. That motivates me.”
The work could echo the environment of absolute rule and subjugation, a trauma experienced by the artist, but the conclusions drawn from this are uncertain. The paintings are poised, promising no more than they can deliver and proud of their sobriety, but otherwise obscure, hinting at interpretation rather than denial of any narrative. Whilst not disavowing doubt, neither does the artist advance clarity or certainty, leaving indeterminacy, ambivalence and obscurity as his defining features: narrative content remains concealed and the work becomes a riddle.
But if the work is to endure, it must always provoke fresh attempts to read its narrative, even if that narrative remains unsolvable. As long as it is clear that the work contains meaning, no matter how incomprehensible, it will yield expressive force and continue to stimulate the viewer.
The artist also explores the fundamental issues raised by his painting in theoretical texts. These texts are not easily read, betraying the conflict of an ambitious intelligence prepared to elucidate ideas to a point, but not bring them to clear definition, preferring instead to leave them in an indeterminate state. They do, however, give some insight into the intellectual work that has accompanied his creative processes.
The work of Siavash Talaei gives expression to his defence mechanisms, articulating his acceptance of doubt, where the experience of uncertainty transcends being a mere threat and instead becomes the precondition to his own freedom. By avoiding direct engagement with ideas of ‘progress’ or political narrative, he creates effectively expressionless works which sidestep competitive confrontation with other artists. In so doing, he evades the possibility of both defeat and victory, protecting himself from failure and guilt at the same time.