Los Angeles

Toba Khedoori

Toba Khedoori’s work is located in the gap between opposing strains of Modernism, between the optical and the constructed, the sublimated and the desublimated, the horizontal and the vertical, the floor and the wall. In her first solo exhibition, the artist presented three immense paintings on paper, each constructed of three panels stapled together and to the wall, which they nearly covered. These works are created in and marked by two distinct stages of production. Khedoori begins on the floor, melting wax onto the paper and then sponging it across in thin translucent layers; she then raises the work on to the wall where a penciled cartoon is painstakingly colored with an extremely small brush, which makes it look as if Khedoori had scratched pigment directly into the wax. Because the wax does not go on evenly, the puddles—rather than drips—that form are one of the many signs of the horizontal, which is also signified by the embedded dirt, paw prints, animal dander, and the artist’s own hair.

By virtue of their size, the paintings are connected to the mural but they resist the verticality and flatness of the walls; they curl up at the bottom and down at the top, the visible seams underscoring that they have been pieced together. At first glance, Khedoori’s images—a series of building facades punctuated by windows, an aqueduct or tunnel, and a permutating abstract polygon—look unremarkable but they allow her to construct a complex discourse about the visual.

Khedoori’s inquiry into representation is of a quasi-scientific nature especially in the two representational paintings in which the facades become an investigation of flatness, while the painting of the aqueduct looks at the problem of perspective or illusionistic space. In a stunning effect, the windows on these facades begin at the edge of the left panel and are continued until the outermost edge of the right panel, but the entire center panel has been left blank except for the muted stain of the wax, and yet the image does not appear discontinuous as the literal flatness of the work stands in for the represented flatness. The aqueduct painting also gives an elegantly literal depiction of perspective as the structure dematerializes first into its penciled underdrawing and then outright nothingness along the orthogonals.

These paintings are even more firmly rooted in technicity because of the implied source material for the images. Their bland exactness is intimately connected to the architectural primer or model, and Khedoori’s earlier work—paintings of sinking houses and a high-rise construction crane—did make use of models. In the current series, however, she has abandoned the actual model and these new works are slightly but disturbingly off balance. Unfinished traces of previous windows lying in between or behind the finished image counter the flatness of the facades, and though the aqueduct follows a vanishing point into space, its perspective is decidedly skewed. These objects become, despite the precision of their formal properties, remembered dream objects, turning science into an oneiric investigation. The struggle between the order of science or art, the desire to keep these objects whole, the refraction of dreams and the dissipation of memory is marked by the fits and starts that represent the paintings’ process—the half-finished beginnings that have been scraped away to leave a waxy colored residue. Similarly, the disordered and desublimated trace of the floor is present everywhere in the smudged dirt and effluvia that cling to all parts of the surface.

Andrew Perchuk