When you go through the process of looking at a face and you meditate on it with pigments and brushes in hand, it is like living with the face. In a way, it becomes part of you.
Gagosian London is pleased to present recent paintings by Y.Z. Kami.
Kami’s portraits of introspective subjects project a broad and inviting presence. Using his own photographs of family, friends, and strangers as source material, he depicts faces as vessels to convey an almost sacred and universal atmosphere of reflection, often with eyes closed as though in meditation. The matte surface of his paintings resembles fresco, while the closely cropped, centered compositions evoke El Fayûm portraits of ancient Egypt. Beginning with a primary paint layer in warm terra cotta, subjects are rendered in a uniform sfumato that evokes a light tremor, imparting to the paintings the effect of movement. This sense of vitality may stem from the viewer's own associations with photographed figures in motion, but it transcends even the veracity of photographs. Kami does not aim to create photorealistic portrayals; rather, he seeks to evoke the presence of spirit.
In recent large-scale portraits, Kami emphasizes the process behind the paintings, taking mysterious liberties in his representation of individual features, as in the arresting Man with Violet Eyes (2013–14). In Daya (2014), a male subject in profile, he recreates a vivid memory of their first encounter. A thin strip of the earthy primary paint layer is visible at the bottom edge of the canvas, a glimpse behind the otherwise even surface of indeterminate skin textures and hair tones.
Depictions of hands joined in supplication, a common action spanning faiths, directly indicate Kami’s enduring concerns. White Dome paintings similarly convey a sense of universal spirituality in the form of a central white light that spills over countless rows of tiny white rectangles like mosaic, hand-painted or stamped onto the canvas. A single Black Dome alludes to the flipside of such enlightenment: Kami cites as examples the nigredo phase of metal decomposition during alchemical processes, and the spiritual crisis known in Catholicism as the “dark night of the soul.” His paintings possess a distinct sense of fluidity—between the various faiths and texts that constitute his philosophical influences; between representation and abstraction; and, most unexpectedly, between painted portrayals and life energies.
Y.Z. Kami was born in Tehran, Iran in 1956, and lives and works in New York. His work has been collected and exhibited by Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art, London, and many other institutions worldwide. Solo museum exhibitions include Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York (2003); “Perspectives: Y.Z. Kami,” Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (2008); “Y.Z. Kami: Endless Prayers,” Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art, London (2008–09); and “Y.Z. Kami: Beyond Silence,” National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens (2009–10). His work was included in the 52nd Venice Biennale (2007, curated by Robert Storr).
During preparations for an exhibition in London, Y.Z. Kami met with Gagosian’s Alison McDonald to discuss the evolution of his work, technique, and his combination of influences.
An exhibition at Gagosian, Paris, is raising funds to aid in the reconstruction of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris following the devastating fire of April 2019. Gagosian directors Serena Cattaneo Adorno and Jean-Olivier Després spoke to Jennifer Knox White about the generous response of artists and others, and what the restoration of this iconic structure means across the world.
Y.Z. Kami: Luminosities
Elena Geuna interviews the artist on the subjects of his childhood, his approach to portraiture, and the centrality of light in his practice.
Gagosian Quarterly Summer 2019
The Summer 2019 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring a detail from Afrylic by Ellen Gallagher on its cover.
Y.Z. Kami: Behind the Vanishing Point
Blaise Pascal, the seventeenth-century mathematician and philosopher, served as a crucial inspiration for Y.Z. Kami’s newest body of work. Angela Brown examines Pascal’s ideas and their relevance to these portraits and Dome paintings.
Fire and Water
Y.Z. Kami and Peter Marino discuss the power of bronze, the current state of architecture, and the infinite.
Paintings by Y.Z. Kami at Gagosian
Educator and artist Grace Adam and writer and lecturer Joshua White, both from The Art Channel, were granted access to Gagosian’s 2015 Paintings exhibition of recent works by Y.Z. Kami at Britannia Street, London. The pair speak in great depth about each of the works presented.